HYPE COMES IN many sizes, some under, most over. Easily forgiven when the product being flogged needs all the help it can get. The Evoque has had more than its fair share in the shape of several motor show unveilings, a barrage of press releases plus ‘Hello Evoque’, ‘Pulse of the City’, Victoria Beckham and full-size wireframe sculpture campaigns. Thing is, the Evoque didn’t need much marketing in the first place. It should be enough being a smaller, lighter, vastly more efficient, just as luxurious Range Rover that could easily double as a concept car. As long as it’s as capable off-road as the badge demands and isn’t a dynamic mess on tar, sales are likely to soar. Have Land Rover engineers tripped up even slightly? We were invited to the RAF Valley airfield near Anglesey, Wales – the ideological birthplace of the brand – to find out.
In the parking lot, we’re confronted by the arresting shape of the Evoque in both three- and five-door bodystyles. In the metal, it’s a striking mix of graphic elements, lush sculpture and jewel-like detailing added to proportions that mess with your volumetric perception. The baby Rangie is not a car you can easily dismiss or forget.
We opt for a petrol Dynamic in Colima green, with optional MagneRide continuously variable suspension. Strategic choice. South Africa will only get the top-spec Dynamic and Prestige trim, rather than the cheaper Pure line, both paired with four-wheel drive and six-speed automatic transmissions. I press the starter button, watch the gear selector dial rise in Jag-style greeting and set off, passing one unpronounceable sign after the next. I mean surely there are way too many consonants in Llanfairyneubwll? SA-bound cars will all feature satnav and loads of little luxuries, but it’s the architecture, material choices and tight build that confer proper Range Rover-style luxury, albeit on a three-fifths scale. There’s the prestige of twin-stitched Windsor leather, real aluminium bits and a premium soft-touch dash. As with the exterior, there’s great interior design continuity, with signature chamfered corners placed throughout. The only tangible letdown is the flimsy feel of the window switches, a minor gripe in an otherwise fabulous cabin.
You may think from the ‘chopped’ roofline and the sliver of window glass down the flanks that the Evoque is only fit for petite contortionists. Not so. While it certainly champions style over space (and visibility too), it is more capacious than you think, as a ride in the back seat of a coupe model proved. Scalloped side panels accommodate elbows while the standard panoramic roof provides a dose of metaphysical headroom.
Not long ago, 19in rims seemed shamefully excessive. They’re standard on Prestige with even more outrageous 20s on Dynamic. The 55-section tyres on our launch cars did little to mar the impressive ride. Third-generation magnetorheological damping feels well sorted, magnetically arranging particles in the dampers within 10ms to be either stiffer or softer. It’s twice as fast as the system fitted to an Audi R8 and is not caught out by dips and crests. Over two days of varied surface conditions, only really abrupt surface changes breached the cabin. Even with Terrain Response set to normal, body control is remarkable, thanks to a non-intrusive yet highly effective stability and traction control system. The chassis may have started out as a Freelander, but extensive re-engineering has totally transformed its character, with much of the added dynamic prowess down to all-new suspension and a massively reduced centre of gravity.
The Ford-sourced (EcoBoost) turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine produces 177kW, massively outshining the 3.2-litre six still serving top Freelander models. Direct-injection and twin variable valve timing make for a clean revver with plenty of early torque, though I felt its responsive and sporty character would be better exploited with a manual ’box. As with many auto boxes these days, the tendency to change to fuel-saving top gear almost immediately can be irksome, but is saved by the transmission’s S-mode and the standard steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. The other engine option is a refined diesel delight. Wresting 140kW and 420Nm from 2179cc, it’s a better match for the auto and should be around 20 percent more fuel efficient too.
Variable-ratio speed-sensitive electric power assisted steering makes its Range Rover debut here. It felt a little artificial on the petrol version we drove first, but brilliantly linear and precise on the diesel-engined model.
And to the fashion-only question? The Evoque is not just good on tar, it’s got decent off-road credentials too. In typical Range Rover launch fashion, we ventured where many owners wouldn’t dare to tread, over obstacles, down rocky tracks and through deeply-rutted mud. The Evoque and its electronically-controlled Haldex centre coupling never skipped a beat. It’s ready for the latte run. Minor quibbles? Visibility over the bonnet when off-roading is severely restricted thanks to a seating position closer to bathtub than tank commander, and a complete lack of ceiling grab handles. Both likely victims of must-have exterior style.
And that’s just it, the Evoque majors on desirability. Few who lay eyes on one don’t instantly say ‘I want’. Even the sceptical will be swayed by a stint behind the wheel. Price tag aside, any minor drawbacks are easily outweighed by its breadth of talent. Range Rover’s game-changer is the real deal. Believe the hype.