Agile, composed, punchy: that’s the verdict after CAR’s first drive of the forthcoming baby Range Rover, the Evoque. Land Rover has finally allowed a handful of journalists into the driving seat, for a couple of laps of the company’s Oxfordshire test course, as the countdown to the Evoque’s September 2011 on-sale date intensifies.
What exactly is this new Range Rover Evoque?
The Evoque takes the Range Rover blueprint of a luxurious, capable 4×4, and shrinks it to a footprint fractionally smaller than the new Ford Focus’s. Whereas the heavy Range Rover and Range Rover Sport models necessitate V6 and V8 power, the Evoque’s compact size and a stringent weight optimisation programme deliver a weight range from 1595 to 1700kg. That means all Evoques can run four-cylinder engines, either a 237bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol or a 2.2-litre common-rail diesel, with 148 or 187bhp peak outputs. Add it all up and you have the most frugal, lowest emission Range Rover in the brand’s 41-year history.
Two hatchback bodystyles are available: a five door and a three-door, the latter of which Land Rover is marketing as a coupe. It has a slightly lower roofline and a slightly higher cost, around £1500 more than the five-door’s. Expect prices to kick off around £28,500 for a 148bhp diesel five-door; a two-wheel drive eD4 version, reducing CO2 emissions to beneath 130g/km, will cost around £27,500.
Enough preamble: let’s drive!
CAR tested a four-wheel drive Evoque prototype running the high-output diesel, which produces 187bhp and 310lb ft of torque, and returns 50mpg and emits 149g/km of CO2. The six-speed manual’s gearlever is close at hand, perched on the high centre console: Land Rover’s aim was to blend its trademark command driving position with the cockpit feel of a sports car. Imagine sitting in a broken-down TT on the back of a low-loader to get the picture. The gears are closely spaced, and shift with satisfying precision along each channel. Not that we got past fourth on the tight ribbon of tarmac, whose surface quality resembles the moon’s, with an endless supply of craters and bumps which provide the perfect playground for Land Rover’s chassis tuners.
The demonstration drive showcased the Evoque’s Magneride adaptive damping system. Metallic particles in the damper fluid react when a magnetic field is applied, stiffening the damper to tie down body pitch and roll. The computer-controlled system can change the damping force up to 50 times a second; Land Rover claims third-generation Magneride outperforms the standard damping system at both extremes of the dynamic and comfort spectrums. The system is only available with 19- and 20-inch wheels (standard diameter is 17 inches); it’ll be standard on the ‘Dynamic’ trim in the UK, and an £1150 option on ‘Prestige’ models.
What else can you tell me about the new baby Range Rover?
The Evoque’s steering is nicely judged, light and effortless and reminiscent of a Jaguar’s. It doesn’t feel as darty as a Range Rover Sport’s: more measured as you turn off the dead-ahead, then quickening noticeably as you apply increased lock. Variable assistance is from an electric motor, delivering a 2% saving in fuel consumption over a hydraulic system which can’t be disengaged when a helping hand isn’t required.
The common-rail turbodiesel sounds a bit gruff under full throttle, but with a torque curve the shape of Uluru, it hustles the Evoque along eagerly. Land Rover says 0-60mph takes 9.5secs, but it feels a little quicker. Powering up past 40, 50, 60mph along the tight, twisty sections, and the Evoque is kicked in multiple directions by the potholes, but the body’s reaction is crisp and unruffled. And the Evoque is impressively agile, turning sweetly into corners, and hanging on over crests under heavy load, despite the deflections of the rutted tarmac. In terms of its responses, the Evoque feels more like a sorted hatch than a wobbly SUV.
Engage Dynamic mode using the Terrain Response buttons and the dials turn red, and the Evoque feels more tightly lashed down – especially in the back. This is bad news for kids if their dad’s an enthusiastic driver. The steering also feels meatier.
All told, it’s a big tick for body control at pace: drive a little less ballistically and the Evoque negotiates ruts smoothly and quietly, though the ride remains on the firm rather than floaty side.
First, brief impressions of the Evoque reveal a composed and nimble 4×4, with real engineering substance beneath that sensationally alluring sheet metal. It’s still on track to be a smash hit.
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