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Range Rover Evoque (2019) prototype review: mission impossible

Published:04 February 2019

Range Rover Evoque (2019) prototype review: mission impossible
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By Ben Miller

The editor of CAR magazine, story-teller, average wheel count of three

By Ben Miller

The editor of CAR magazine, story-teller, average wheel count of three

► Early drive of 2019 Evoque
► An off-road trail experience
► With CAR's editor at the helm

Have you done much in the way of off-road driving?’ comes the quite justified enquiry. Justified since this car’s consumed every waking moment of engineer Scott Higgins’ last three and a half years, and the near-vertical water slide of a drop ahead – sculpted in low-mu mud and bordered by unyielding trees should we go off piste – looks keen on tripping up our new Evoque prototype, if not comprehensively redesigning it around a stout trunk.

‘A fair bit,’ I lie, the sliver of truth the fact that the bit I have done, in a Discovery on snow-dusted rocks, emphatically rammed home the point that, with a modern Land Rover beneath you, knowing what you’re doing off-road is no longer necessary.

With the engine running, we pause at the top of the precipice to activate a couple of the Evoque’s new systems. Terrain Response 2, configured on this car via the twin glossy touchscreens of Touch Pro Duo (borrowed from the Velar and standard on higher spec new Evoques) looks gorgeous and works with such clear-headed logic that it is, thankfully, idiot-proof. Tap the icon that best represents the environment you’re moving through or just go for Auto mode and let the car decide. As well as Mud and Ruts, we prompt Hill Descent Control, peg the target speed to its slowest setting and secure all loose items.

Now, ready for the off, there’s only one issue – I can’t see anything. With the car still on the flat, any view of the track ahead is obliterated by the Evoque’s admittedly very pretty clamshell bonnet. It’s a perfect illustration of the merit in ClearSight Ground View, a system Land Rover first teased as Transparent Bonnet on 2014’s Discovery Vision concept.

Read more on ClearSight and other Evoque tech here

Using a combined feed from cameras in the grille and beneath the mirrors, Ground View brings up a digital field of vision on the infotainment screen some 15 metres across and 8.5 metres deep, your front wheels ghosted in to help you place the car.

‘The image comes as you start moving – you’re effectively looking at the past, so it’s not live, but the system gives you an accurate picture of the terrain under the front of the car,’ explains Higgins. ‘It’s great for positioning, and it’s not just an off-road feature – it’s just as useful steering clear of kerbs in the multi-storey car park.’

Range Rover Clearsight camera

He’s right, though it requires discipline to look at the HMI screen and not just gaze uselessly at the bonnet. And while our S-spec car has analogue clocks, it’s a shame higher-end cars (SE and beyond) can’t show Ground View’s feed up on the digital Interactive Driver display.

Confident now that we’ve deployed every bit of the help the Evoque can summon, I send it over the edge, whereupon… absolutely nothing untoward happens. There’s a short stretch so precipitous and greasy with overnight rain there’s nothing the car can do, so we freefall. But the very moment the standard-issue snow-and-mud tyres get any kind of hold the Evoque’s systems kick in, arresting our speed – my feet stay off the pedals – and making forward progress as easy as picking my course and nudging the wheel one way or the other.

Refining the recipe

‘The off-road performance target was easy: it had to be better than the outgoing car,’ says Higgins. Wading depth, should you ever need it, is up 100mm to 600mm, while careful packaging has preserved much of the first Evoque’s lumpy-terrain clearance despite a 20mm wheelbase increase.

‘The longer wheelbase lets us move the occupants further back and improve rear knee-room while also packaging a larger fuel tank and the electrification systems,’ says Higgins. That electrification takes the form of a 48-volt mild hybrid system now, a Land Rover first and employed almost universally across the new car’s powertrains. Late in 2019, an altogether more powerful plug-in hybrid will arrive.

‘The new car was designed from the outset to be electrified,’ continues Higgins. ‘We’re sitting on top of the battery for the 48-volt mild hybrid system, but it doesn’t impact cabin space or off-road capability and breakover angle; we wanted to retain the existing footprint, the same external dimensions, the same capability. The PHEV will come, with a bigger battery, a rear-axle electric motor and the three-cylinder petrol Ingenium 1.5.’

Evoque 2019 wading

The mild hybrid’s belt-driven starter-generator is designed to give a refined high-torque start, and to come into its own in urban driving. ‘Below 15mph the engine will cut out, giving a refined roll to a standstill as the generator recharges the battery. Then the engine re-starts quickly and quietly when you’re ready to go again.’

The weight penalty for all this hybrid harmony and efficiency? Some 30kg, according to Higgins.

Range Rover Evoque: engine testing

An hour ago, mention of a Jaguar Land Rover Ingenium diesel and words like ‘refined’, ‘quiet’ and ‘smooth’ would have had me rolling around in the Herefordshire mud in stitches. But now, as we slalom on through the woodland, Higgins briefing me on his baby as I work the wheel and spray filth up its camouflaged flanks, the concept’s entirely plausible. Though Scott’s had to re-engineer the car to make it happen…

‘Three years ago, when we started the engineering journey, the brief was simple: transform the refinement,’ he tells me. ‘This is a new platform; the door hinges are the only carry-over parts.’ It’s stiffer than the outgoing body and benefits from the work we’ve done separating the frequencies at which different components resonate, to boost refinement. ‘We also spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel with the design team, tweaking here and there. Drag’s down to 0.32 [the outgoing five-door was 0.36].’

Sure enough, Evoque’s newfound sense of luxurious isolationism persists in the face of the D180’s machinations (the middle child of three diesel offerings at launch). At idle it’s barely audible, and – perhaps because I’m concentrating – I barely notice it dipping in and out.

‘It’s about reducing the noise in the first place, and blocking more of it out,’ explains Higgins. ‘We worked to get the pilot injection tune right, then the layers we put on the dash, the resonators, the injector covers and so on.’

While the mild hybrid system is primarily about boosting fuel efficiency and cutting CO2, it’s also able to strategically deploy its electric twist. ‘There’s a little electric boost, to help torque-fill when you’re expecting to have to wait for the turbodiesel to spool up, and to help acceleration at low speeds,’ says Higgins. ‘Of course, the plug-in will be a very different kettle of fish: much more powerful, and with more options for its torque strategy.’

Right now, I need all the boost I can get. Up ahead the path climbs a steep earth bank riven with tree roots before belly-flopping into mud again the other side. Twice it feels like we’ve made it, only for the Evoque to run out of momentum. ‘More positivity, without just gunning it,’ smiles Higgins. ‘There is a difference.’

Sure enough, third time lucky. With a little more of the D180 hybrid’s thrust deployed, we’ve the momentum to conquer the climb even as the tyres begin to struggle. Thereafter the terrain flattens off, the track’s surface shifting to something vaguely man-made. Higgins gives me his tacit blessing to go a little quicker.

Evoque prototype wheel

In a more familiar environment now, I’ve time to take in more of the car. The driving position, not to mention much of the cabin architecture, feels familiar – same sense of security and seclusion from the tank-slit side glass, same great combination of sporty snugness with sat-high smugness, same appallingly small rear screen – but it also feels good. Then there’s the fabric, in this car a vegan-friendly blended textile made in part from strands of eucalyptus bark. Sounds weird, feels great. Feels expensive.

The track, though rock-studded and wet, is no challenge for the car. The competence with which the suspension soaks up the rough ground is impressive, and this on a car without the optional adaptive dampers (they’re mandatory with the range-topping 21-inch wheels). To some extent, a softening of the car’s suspension set-up versus the first-gen Evoque explains the forgiving ride.

‘We didn’t want to lose the agility of the first car, but this one’s both a little smoother and more comfortable than before,’ Higgins tells me. ‘We’ve softer spring and damping rates but we spent a lot of time in Wales, on the road, with [development driver] Mike Cross getting the set-up right. He was behind the move to more comfort but wouldn’t accept a trade-off in agility – it’s all in the tune.’

Range Rover Evoque: under the skin

Also doing their bit here are numerous upgrades Land Rover’s engineers have made under the skin. To the stiffer body structure, and via new high-strength shock towers, the new Evoque employs a heavily revised strut front suspension (with hollow cast-aluminium knuckles and a type of vibration-killing hydro-elastic bushes normally reserved for Range Rovers) and Velar-derived integral-link rear suspension. There’s increased use of aluminium, cutting weight and, crucially, unsprung mass. The front lower control arms are aluminium, as is the subframe. At each corner aluminium hubs mount steel outers via locking rings, Land Rover’s first use of this solution, while the anti-roll bars are hollow, further saving weight. On the adaptive dampers, the accelerometers have been moved from the body to the hubs, so they can more quickly and accurately detect movement. The new steering system employs a more symmetrical twin-pinion set-up, increasing feel and accuracy while cutting weight. This, you soon surmise, is a pretty thorough job.

The all-wheel drive’s also been evolved, as Higgins explains: ‘We’ve a split of standard driveline and active, with active fitted to the high-power variants. We’ve gone to a purely electrical system on the second-generation GKN active driveline, rather than hydraulic, so it’s quicker to respond and a little lighter. The standard driveline employs a driveline disconnect, which cuts out the propshaft and the rear axle when they’re not required. The benefits are significant: a 75 per cent reduction in drag at 70mph.’

Torque vectoring is by brake on standard cars, but with the active driveline the Evoque gets a little keener, a little more WRC. Now the outside rear wheel can be fed additional torque to quell understeer, while active management of the power your greedy right foot’s unleashed can be used to help neutralise oversteer. The system’s very effective on Jaguar’s E-Pace and F-Pace, lending the cars levels of traction, composure and agility that complement the pokier engine options beautifully. Much of Land Rover’s contextual spiel may talk of the car’s natural habitat being the urban environment rather than the rural one, with all the congestion and single-digit average speed that implies, but the Evoque promises to be a keen companion on windswept back roads.

Evoque mud hop

The track winds on across the hillside, rough but grippy, and the Evoque relishes my inappropriate speed. The taut steering – here in combination with 20-inch wheels – feels good and swells confidence, while the car’s grown-up refinement salves my worries about breaking Higgins’ precious prototype. I can tell the going’s rough but its lumpiness is heavily filtered by the time it reaches us. At the same time the revised nine-speed auto gearbox is fluid and intuitive, prompting you to leave it to its own devices rather than get involved.

As with the first Evoque, the more you drive, the more the SUV-ness of it gets left behind: it may look like one but as you gel with it so it morphs into a kind of lofty warm hatch, one blessed with the pliancy and wheel travel to smooth even the most careworn B-roads. If it has lost a little of its outright composure and body control along the way, we haven’t the grip or the space to find out here.

Gerry McGovern on the Evoque

‘I have a little joke with our dealers,’ Land Rover design director Gerry McGovern tells me, a mischievous smile on his lips. ‘I say to them, “You can tell it’s an Evoque – it’s even got the little window at the back you can’t see out of…”

‘In a way, that alone is proof of the way in which the original LRX changed our business,’ continues McGovern. ‘It was commercially successful and it helped the business understand that designers had a key role to play in making our vehicles more desirable. It would have been obvious to make the rear window bigger – lift the roof, lower the belt line – but then you’re losing the impact of those key ingredients. Take them away and you end up with normality. So we challenged the engineers to come up with a solution, and they have [ClearSight rear-view mirror]. I’ve been a very vocal supporter of technology as an enabler of design, and not just technology for the sake of it.’

McGovern and I are talking at the Evoque’s global unveiling. The new Evoque’s swapped the camouflage and mud of Eastnor for Nolita Grey paint under lights and the hipster playground of Shoreditch. The new car looks comfortable here, and more convincingly a Range Rover than its predecessor; sleeker, more sophisticated, more expensive, and with panel gaps you can’t prod even a persistent pinkie into.

I put it to McGovern that this car’s evolutionary design is a product of the fact that the new Evoque is the first time he’s replaced one of his own cars.

‘This is the first time, but I approached it more with affection than trepidation – I don’t really get nervous any more,’ he smiles. ‘I told the designers that I didn’t want them forgetting the first car – there’s always the temptation to start again. We needed to remember that there’s a large following for this vehicle, and that the Evoque still sticks out from the crowd. For me it was about taking the same ingredients and refining them, making them more relevant. The reductive approach you saw on the Velar wasn’t really possible when we did the first Evoque – we were limited by the technology; the precision and sophistication of the surfaces, the panel gaps. Our ability to do that now drove the design of the new car to a degree. This is recognisably an Evoque, but the next generation. The less design-literate might say, “It looks the same.” Well, look at it properly.’

Evoque prototype uphil

Was the designer in McGovern happy to play safe? ‘Let’s be clear: this decision wasn’t at board level – it was above that. When it comes to the design decision-making process at Land Rover it’s Mr [Ratan] Tata, it’s Ralf [Speth] and it’s me. Design at Land Rover cannot be by committee. The discussion was between that small group, and I was the one saying this needs to evolve. Mr Tata and Ralf, they have their views, but whether they’re talking to Ian [Callum] at Jaguar or me at Land Rover, Mr Tata will say, “That’s my opinion but you’re the expert. It’s your decision.” And I’m comfortable with that.

‘There’s still nothing quite like it on the road, even though the Chinese have copied it exactly! The 911, the Range Rover – these are icons but not many vehicles are. I’m not saying this car is an icon yet. But the 911 and Range Rover have both evolved beautifully over time. This car had to be both new and yet unmistakably Evoque.’ 

The shockwaves of the Evoque’s 2011 arrival are still being felt. First-generation Evoque sales were in excess of 100,000 units per year from the get-go, peaked in 2014 at 125,000 and are homing in on 800,000 in total as the car’s phased out.

Like the Range Rover, the Porsche 911 is the envy of rivals everywhere for the deftness with which it has, for decades, balanced timelessness and modernity. Range Rover may yet find itself with a second icon on its hands.

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  • Range Rover Evoque (2019) prototype review: mission impossible
  • Range Rover Evoque (2019) prototype review: mission impossible
  • Range Rover Evoque (2019) prototype review: mission impossible
  • Range Rover Evoque (2019) prototype review: mission impossible
  • Range Rover Evoque (2019) prototype review: mission impossible
  • Range Rover Evoque (2019) prototype review: mission impossible
  • Range Rover Evoque (2019) prototype review: mission impossible
  • Range Rover Evoque (2019) prototype review: mission impossible

By Ben Miller

The editor of CAR magazine, story-teller, average wheel count of three