Off-road in the Range Rover Evoque

Published: 05 April 2011

But is it a proper Range Rover? That’s the question you’ve probably been asking yourself since you recoiled in horror at Land Rover’s decision to parade Victoria Beckham around at the launch of the Evoque. Okay, so we know the marketing reasons behind that, it’s all about reaching out to a new demographic with a new type of car. But what about the old LR values? Can the Evoque cut it in the rough? That’s what we’ve come to Gaydon to find out.

The Range Rover Evoque: off-road

According to Murray Dietsch, the Evoque’s programme director, the Evoque is at least as capable off road as the Freelander it’s based on. And that’s despite a lower ride height. The front subframe sits usefully higher, so provided you’ve first removed the front towing eye cover, its approach angle is the same as the Freelander’s, while the departure- and breakover-angles are actually superior.

Because the Evoque’s final chassis tuning is still being signed off, we’re not allowed to drive the car off-road today. But we have been allowed onboard as a passenger for a taste of what it can do alongside two engineers tuning the new Adaptive Dynamics suspension. Adaptive Dynamics is Land Rover’s name for the Magne-Ride system supplied by BWI, formerly Delphi. It’s the kit used on the Ferrari 599 and comprises dampers filled with a special fluid whose properties can be tweaked by the application of an electrical current.

When we arrive at Gaydon, LR’s Ian Hulme and Rob Oakley from BWI have already been busy on the various off-road courses, Hulme at the wheel, and Oakley alongside him, laptop on knees. Although Magne-Ride has been around for a few years, and has even been fitted to an Acura crossover, this is the first time it’s ever been applied to a car with proper off road pretensions. The ECU controlling the dampers is helped by sensors relaying data about the steering angle, throttle position and vehicle speed.

On the paved access road to Gaydon’s off road courses, the Evoque feels firm but not uncomfortable, tackling an undulating series of left-rights with very un-SUV-like body control. Running down what Land Rover refers to as its Developing World track, a compacted dirt road with hundreds of small holes at either side, the dampers are automatically softened to minimise uncomfortable side-to-side head toss movement. You can clearly feel the rutted nature of the surface, but somehow the Evoque manages to glide along, fooling you into thinking it’s much smoother than it is. 

A blue trace on Rob’s laptop rises and falls on a vertical scale running from 0-100 as we tackle the course, 0 being billiard table-smooth tarmac, and 100 full-on rock crawling. Meanwhile, a second graph underneath shows the amount of current being applied to the dampers’ oil, which can adjust in less than the blink of an eye.

Like bigger Range Rovers, four-wheel drive (but not front-drive) Evoques get a Terrain Response system that allows you to select the ideal setting for the ground underwheel, be it Sahara sand dunes or the wet grass that’ll be the toughest obstacle most Evoques will need to deal with. There’s the expected Hill Descent function too, although this time with a twist. Instead of descending at a fixed speed, you can use the cruise control buttons to select a speed. If you select a speed that’s incompatible with the amount of grip on offer, the car will adjust its speed until it can cope.

And the hill holder function will maintain pressure at extreme angles and then, instead of simply releasing the brakes and leaving you sailing backwards down the slope, it will automatically engage hill descent going backwards. That’s a handy function if you get a bit ambitious with the gradient you’re trying to tackle. That only happened once all day, on a particularly steep, dirt hill that would make any Range Rover gulp. And it wasn’t for a lack of effort on the engine front. The incredibly refined PSA-Ford 2.2 diesel’s 188bhp and 320lb ft was more than up for the job. It's available with a choice of six-speed manual or automatics and in a meeker 148bhp form too. If you want the 240bhp 2.0 petrol four – essentially the next Focus ST motor – you have to have the auto ‘box.

As we leave the off-road stuff, there’s another section of twisty tarmac to deal with before we get back to the track control tower. The Magne-Ride dampers tweak up the body control and we fly through left-right transition as if we’re in a hot hatch, albeit one with an unusually supple ride. Despite Hulme’s ‘no comment’ when asked, it seems very likely that this system will find its way on to the 2012 Range Rover and future Jags too.

The more you spend time with the Evoque, the more you become convinced that it’s destined to be a smash. Although we’ve yet to get behind the wheel, we’re now experienced it both on- and off-road from the passenger seat and have come away seriously impressed. Prices start at under £30k, and if LR can get a hold of the quality problems that afflicted cars like our old Range Sport long termer, the Evoque is going to be a huge hit.

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By Chris Chilton

Contributing editor, ace driver, wit supplier, mischief maker