Tim Oldland takes a look at the smallest offering from Range Rover – can it still offer everything a Range Rover should be?
For many years the Range Rover was one of the best expressions of wealth you could make. Sitting at the top of the tree of the Land Rover brand it was capable off road, luxurious, expensive and made a statement. Shockwaves were sent throughout Surrey when they launched the Range Rover Sport in 2005 as people were up in arms about diluting the brand and making Range Rovers available to less wealthy people. If only they had seen what was to arrive in 2011 – the Evoque. This brought the Range Rover ethos to the masses and….?
Well so far, it has been the biggest selling Range Rover of all time and has boosted the brand to the very top of the sales charts. There have been close to half a million Evoques made in the four years it has been in production and this aspirational SUV shows no signs of slowing down. It remains an incredibly popular car in our Dream Car Competition so Tim Oldland has driven the Evoque to see how good it really is.
I have a confession – when the Evoque was launched back in 2011 I placed a deposit for one at my local dealer and waited. There were no prices yet and having only seen the concept I knew it was a car I wanted to own. Unfortunately the prices were then announced a while later and it turned out my spec was going to come in at around £40,000 – too rich for me. Instead I went and got a high spec Skoda Yeti and haven’t looked back. So after all this time I realised that I hadn’t even driven an Evoque even though I had a deposit on one, time to rectify that then.
When ‘my’ Evoque arrived I was rather pleased to see it wasn’t the same white with black wheels colour scheme as 90% of the Evoques around where I live in Brentwood (seemingly the Range Rover capital of the south). This one came in the confusingly titled Scotia Grey – I say that as in most lights it looks decidedly more green than grey – but anyway, it’s a lovely deep metallic colour that really shows off the lines of the Evoque very well. Of course being a press car this one was Autobiography spec meaning every bell and whistle option was added including the rather attractive 20-inch alloy wheels. Other treats for the outside include extra silver trim around the front intakes and the fantastic adaptive bi-xenon headlights. Despite being 4yrs old the Evoque really is still a very attractive car, having set the tone for the Range Rover and Sport that followed it, with the slim lights and high waistline. Of course that high and raising waistline means you have a very small rear window and rear visibility isn’t great, but the excellent surround camera system on this car certainly offset any of those worries.
Other than the obvious family styling outside, one of the areas that the Evoque can justify its premium pricing is the interior. Styled just like the Range Rover Sport, it has a high laid back centre console with the still-dramatic rising gear selector, two normal dials ahead of the driver flanking a large colour screen and acres of leather adorning every surface. Of course there would be less leather in the cheaper trim options, but the layout and design are still top of the line. All that is, apart from the infotainment unit. This car still had the old generation system which was old and very slow, but along with some other minor visual changes for 2016 it now has the much improved system from the Discovery Sport and Jaguar XE (both of which we have on test soon) so we’ll give it a free pass. Other niceties make the interior a great place to drive too, like the panoramic roof, head-up display and adaptive cruise control.
Another area that has been improved are the engines and not a moment too soon. This car had the 2.2 litre turbodiesel lump with 190bhp and it was a rather gruff, if potent unit. You never felt short of power, but it certainly let you know when it was delivering it. Thankfully now the 2.2 has been replaced by the new 2.0 litre Ingenium engine also in the Jaguar XE and LR Discovery Sport. It now has 180bhp, but performance is unaffected while economy is greatly improved, as are emissions and cabin noise. We’ll be driving the Ingenium equipped Evoque soon and will update with a mini-review then.
The driving experience is the same though thankfully as there aren’t any major changes there, and with good reason. The Evoque is a revelation for a small SUV – the wide stance and huge tyres gave this car the kind of handling you would expect from something like a Golf GTi. OK so the ride is certainly on the firm side but you can’t have the looks of the 20-inch alloys without some compromises. But pitch the Evoque into a corner and it settles nice and level and the grip levels mean you can put the power down early and rocket out from the apex, helped by the engine staying right in the power band thanks to the 9-speed auto gearbox. Of course this is all largely irrelevant as most Evoques will never be driven anything like that. They will be used as family cars and in that respect there are a few flaws.
Rear headroom isn’t great; thanks to the sloping roofline and when you combine that with the high sides it can be a little claustrophobic in the back. Again styling and packaging mean that the boot isn’t very big either, quite a bit smaller than rivals. But this isn’t a car bought by the rational areas of the brain – rivals are more practical, more economical and cheaper. But the one thing they don’t have is Range Rover’s unflappable image – one that genuinely makes it an aspirational brand and keeps the Evoque selling in massive numbers. They even sell huge numbers of the 3dr Evoque Coupe, one that is even less practical yet appeals to the style conscious buyers out there.
We’ll reserve final judgement until we’ve driven the Evoque with the new Ingenium engine, but on the basis of this test there really is a lot going for the Evoque. The sheer feeling of luxury means that I’d take one over the rivals from Audi, BMW et al, maybe I shouldn’t have cancelled that order after all…
Images thanks to Steve Hall Photography