Before we get started, can we just clear one thing up: what sort of car is the Evoque meant to be? Hot hatch, coupe, SUV? Well, it’s a bit of all three really. The five-door model will tend to appeal to buyers looking at other small SUVs, like the BMW X1 and Audi Q3. But Land Rover sees the three-door, or Coupe, in JLR parlance, as a rival for cars like the Audi TT.
It’s certainly looks good enough to pull in TT buyers. Does the cabin look like it’s come straight from a concept car too?
Not quite but it’s still a great place to be. The Coupe has a lower roofline than the five-door, but there’s not a huge difference in rear room – although getting in the back isn’t the work of a moment. Both have genuine space for four, unlike the TT and Peugeot’s RCZ. The driving position should suit all shapes, and despite the pillar-box rear window, visibility is actually good. Except for the huge blind spot created by the elephant’s ear wing mirror and chunky door pillar - blame EU legislation for the mirror mess.
Autos get the Jaguar rotary gear selector that rises from the centre console, behind which are a couple of buttons allowing you to tweak the terrain response off-road system, switching between, tarmac, sand and mud settings to suit the surface. And cars with the optional dynamics pack get another symbol, a twisty road graphic. Select this and the dials turn from glowing white to red.
Our top of the range Dynamic certainly felt luxurious and well screwed together, but as with cars like the Jaguar XF, there are a couple of areas that spoil the illusion – the lightweight action of the glovebox lid and centre console cubby, for instance.
What’s under the skin?
Nothing revolutionary. No hybrids, no electric motors and, sorry US readers, no V6s either. There are a couple of four-cylinder turbodiesel engines, one developing 150bhp and the other 190bhp, plus a 240bhp turbocharged petrol four that’s essentially the next Focus ST motor. The 150 gets a six-speed manual ’box, the 190 a choice of six-speed manual or auto, and the 240 is auto only. They’re all four-wheel drive, bar the 150, which you can specify without the rear driveshafts for a £750 saving. Unconfirmed but almost certain to appear next year is a 300bhp hot hatch version of the 240 petrol.
What’s it like to drive?
Nothing like the Freelander it’s very loosely based on. It feels taut, secure and sporty, with vastly better body control than the Freelander, and quick witted steering. Imagine a car with the dynamic polish and poise of a small Ford combined with the vitality of a Mini Cooper. Land Rover’s engineers talked of wanting hot hatch and coupe drivers to be able to jump into the Evoque and still feel like they were in a similar machine, and that’s exactly how it feels. Magnetorheological adaptive dampers are optional and were fitted to the car we drove. For the most part the ride is excellent, but very occasionally the whole car will start pogoing, and that’s a trait that’s much more evident in Sport mode. The body control is good in Normal mode, but the car stays noticeably flatter in Sport, and the steering firms up too. It doesn’t improve true feel – but the weighting increase makes cornering at medium speeds smoother.
And the engines?
So far we’ve only driven the 190bhp 2.2 diesel. It’s best described as nippy, rather than quick – 62mph takes 8.5sec – but it’s fast enough to make use of the chassis, and returns 44mpg. It’s impressively refined unless wound out pointlessly to the limiter, but there is some turbo lag to deal with.
And how does it cope in the rough?
Off road? Few buyers are likely to find out and we haven’t tried it ourselves, but we have ridden shotgun alongside Land Rover engineers at their test track crawling up huge hills and can confirm it does everything you expect a car with a Range Rover badge to do. And if you do spend a lot of time on rutted tracks, the adaptive dampers are worth shelling out for. They don’t just improve handling on-road, but smooth out the worst of really bad unsealed tracks too.
I’m sold, and if the price is right, so is the car
And that’s where it comes a little unstuck. A bottom-rung front-wheel drive Evoque Pure will set you back £27,955 and comes with leather, but takes a slothful 11.2sec to reach 62mph. A more powerful four-wheel drive Dynamic or Prestige on the other hand, costs £40k. Add parking sensors, a decent hi-fi, the clever dampers and glass sunroof and you’re edging towards £45k – silly money for what is essentially a small diesel hatchback. Okay, so it doesn’t have the badge, but is a Scirocco R really worth £10k less?
The Evoque looks sensational and is genuinely good fun to drive. It’s too expensive, but we can’t imagine that getting in the way of sales success.