Monday, 8 April 2013

Test Evoque

Took to it for the wrong reasons. Range Rover virtues go without saying; fine off-road, reliability (nowadays), fit and finish, soft premium leather well-tailored with twin-needle stitching. Looked at it for about a day in the driveway, pondering the style. Evoque is radical. From the start, with the LRX prototype, the coupe mode and rakish roofline were certainly bold, rewrote the rules for compact SUVs. Evoque, when you look at it, was really the first to discard the upright angular shadow of the World War 2 Jeep. It rejected the notion that an SUV had to look rugged and cross-country. It made a statement on proportions. It was never going to be even faintly agricultural, unlike any Land Rover hitherto.

Evoque shares a production line with Freelander, with a third of its underpinnings, yet is lighter. It looked too pretty to be cross-country-capable, the rising belt line and sleek roof contradicted bulky BMWs, Audis and Toyotas. Demand for it – they can’t make enough of them - shows Land Rover was right tackling younger, urban tastes, welcoming newcomers who would never have thanked you for a Land Rover, until now. A rich vein of buyers has been waiting for a mini SUV, with premium appearance, luxury, off-road ability and shrink-wrapped like this.

I have been driving a 4-door. The 2-door is 3cm lower, so getting in and out can be challenging if you are six foot two (so I’m told) but the 4-door’s headroom is perfectly adequate. Boot space is scarcely generous if you expect the magnitude of other Sports Utilities but it’s fine if you think more regular estate car. So, unexpectedly perhaps given all the gismos and the success, it was the detailing of the Evoque I found made it special. After a few hundred miles the style and the twin-needle stitching are taken for granted and it was the refinement and precision of switchgear and clever items that combined to make Evoque a thoroughly civilised car.

Handling is quite car-like, except for a bit of turbulence on averagely patchy cambered B-roads. Autocar called it “fidgety”, which is about right and Evoque is neither very fast nor outstandingly economical. It will probably be called on to tackle green lanes rather less than other Land Rovers, but for outright off-road it has the modern gadgetry that enables it to go pretty well anywhere sensible. You may not want to embark on Expeditions and I’d prefer a petrol to a diesel. I have always liked diesels since my shipbuilding days but something this refined deserves the smoothest, quietest engine you can find. I would go for 20in wheels to reduce road noise and I’d probably go for a more eye-catching colour than the black press car.

Within weeks of launch Evoque was accumulating awards faster than almost any model in the industry. Its Range Rover ambience is superb. The detailing? User-friendly sat-nav and displays. Crisp cruise control switches. Clever little button that closes the tailgate. This is a deep thought, practical-size Range Rover, and a credit to JLR and Gerry McGovern.

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