I will be the first to admit that I wasn’t crazy about the Range Rover Evoque when I first drove it in 2010. The looks were great, but the ride quality, driving characteristics and performance all felt lacking. The latest edition of the Evoque has a completely different feel, and matches with the engaging looks.
Range Rover (Land Rover, whoever) needed a compact SUV. Its first attempt was the disastrous Freelander, which received near-last place ratings for anything mechanical. Land Rover and Range Rover vehicles were selling well in the $50,000-plus segment, but had no reasonable, reliable product to compete with the juggernaut of Lexus with the RX CUV.
The Evoque debuted in 2011, and it was hotly anticipated. For generations, concept cars looked nothing like the production vehicles that came after the show crowds went home, but here was a vehicle that looked every bit as amazing as the LRX Concept twirling on the stand at the Detroit Auto Show, including the full-length sunroof. With a very un-SUV-like unibody, a steeply raked beltline and giant wheels, the Evoque had enough of a family resemblance to its Range Rover kin, but its compact size, modern design and affordable entry price (for a Range Rover) sent a message to the CUV builders which had been bumping along on old designs for years.
With almost 90,000 units sold the first calendar year, Range Rover had a winner on its hands. In the first two full years of production, the Evoque represented around 35 percent of total Land Rover and Range Rover sales.
What’s new over the last few years is the transmission. The first Evoque I drove featured a six-cog automatic that just didn’t deliver what the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder needed. In 2014, ZF provided a nine-speed automatic transmission — similar to the one that’s so successful in the Jaguar F-Type — and it appears to have cured about 95 percent of the complaints I had about the six-speed.
It’s still a turbocharged four, and it still takes a second to spool up and pour on its full 240hp, but it’s quick, able to hit 60 miles an hour in just under 7 seconds. Fuel economy improved to 21 mpg city/30 mpg highway, with a combined rating of 22 mpg. We saw 21 in heavily weighted city/country driving.
If you’re looking for lazy, Lexus style ride quality, this probably isn’t the vehicle for you. The Evoque provides a firm ride. Wheels on the SE start at 18 inches and they grow up to 20 inches in any trim, and they let you know they’re there, but in comparison with just about every other vehicle like this in the class, it’s the most fun to drive. Its short wheelbase and tight turning ratio make it a breeze to park, so the self-parking equipment in the HSE Dynamic seems unnecessary.
This one is the SE with an optional $3,000 Pure Plus package that includes (along with power leather seats with lumbar and memory, Homelink, fixed panoramic sunroof with blind, front fog lights, headlamp powerwash, and a power tailgate) 19-inch wheels with Goodyear EfficentGrip tires. Just a note for you folks in the Snow Belt: these are classified as “summer touring,” low-rolling resistance tires, meaning that you’re definitely going to want to swap for a decent winter tire, because they’re only rated to perform above freezing. All-wheel drive or not, these tires are definitely not meant for snow and ice.
The downside of the gorgeous design is visibility. The beltline rises six inches from front to back, so the rear window is a slot. Throw in a couple of headrests in the back seat and seeing out the back window is difficult. It’s true of everything in this class, from the Kia Sportage on up.
Two kids — an ever growing 11-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy in a booster seat — fit neatly in the back, with a fold-down armrest between them to minimize conflict. With those seats in place, you’re not going to get much more than a weekend’s worth of luggage in the cargo area’s 20.3 cubic feet. That’s about what you’ll find in a Ford Focus hatchback. A Mercedes-Benz GLA offers 23 cubic feet, and every other competitive vehicle goes up from there.
However, if you’re looking for a vehicle to haul strollers and all kinds of baby gear around, this probably wasn’t the vehicle you were looking at in the first place. The Evoque is definitely a statement.
I had a fuel nozzle stuck in the Evoque’s right, rear haunch the day before it was leaving my driveway, and had a potential customer driving a Lexus RX ask me a litany of questions about it. Because the market is littered with them, I drive a lot of entry-luxury CUVs. I’ve never had anyone cross a parking lot to talk about a single one of them before now.
2015 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
Base Price: $41,100
Price As Tested: $49,650 (not including destination charge)
Nearly sports car handling
Nimble in congested areas
Tight cargo volume with rear passengers