Picture the Range Rover: an overpriced, boxy luxo-utes favoured by rich folks who rarely, if ever, use them to their full potential. Range Rovers are absolutely formidable off-road, yet rarely get the chance to prove it. Mostly, they’re grocery-getters and cottage-schleppers.
That applies to the smallest model – the Evoque – as well. Despite having a Haldex four-wheel-drive system that could probably take it up the side of a cliff if necessary, this made-in-the-U.K. compact SUV is an urban vehicle. A trendy little runabout that acquits itself surprisingly well in the city and is likely to be passed over by those whose idea of a good time is getting stuck in mud up to the window sills.
It’s a funny-looking little spud – especially the two-door, which is what I drove this time around; technically, it’s called the Coupe. With its sharply-raked roofline and tiny rear windows, it looks like it’s been squashed by a giant Monty Python foot. Definitely a departure for this company.
Unfortunately, this also affects visibility – a lot. Backing up is about as difficult as can be, and peripheral visibility out back is virtually non-existent. I’m hard-pressed to think of another vehicle I’ve driven that presents as much of a challenge when it comes to parallel parking – maybe the new Camaro. Yes, you can get a back-up camera, and it beeps like it’s wounded when you get too close to the car in front or behind, but this doesn’t help much.
Elsewhere, the Evoque has a round Jaguar-type knob where the stick shift lever would normally be. This didn’t bug me and I got used to it almost right away. That said, when it comes time to go back and forth between Reverse and Drive – parallel parking, for example – it sometimes hesitates and forces you to wait while it makes up its mind. Form over-function here, I’d say.
Power is handily provided by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder that develops an impressive 240 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque. This engine was developed in part by Ford before Land Rover was taken over by Tata, in 2008. There is but one transmission choice: a six-speed automatic, and the Evoque has full-time four-wheel-drive. Weighing in at a svelte 1,770 kilograms, this gives it lively performance, with excellent off-the-line snap and oodles of reserve power during kickdown. Land Rover is giving the Evoque a 0 to 100 km/h time of about seven seconds and that seems fair – certainly, in the city, it’s no slouch.
Excellent comfort factor as well. Unlike other Range Rovers in days past, ergonomics and switchgear are readily understandable and standard equipment level is high. As well as the usual modcons – one-touch power windows, climate control, keyless entry – you get a hill descent control, hill start assist, cruise control, steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles and Bluetooth. My tester, the Pure model, also had a heated steering wheel, a huge power sunroof, and slick little “puddle” lights mounted on the outside mirrors. These light the way when you get into the car at night. A small thing, but nice.
What slipped my mind most of the time while driving this one is that it is, in fact, a rough-and-tumble off-road bushwhacker – it’s still a Land Rover, after all. But, in terms of handling, balance, and driving dynamics, it felt like an econobox – a nicely trimmed and solidly built econobox, to be sure. I drove this one in much the same way I would a VW GTI or Mini Cooper.
Not bad storage room in the back, either. One-touch folding rear seats reveal 1,350 litres of cargo space. By way of comparison, a Honda Fit is good for 1,622 litres, while a CR-V has 2,007 litres. Unfortunately, the sloping rear roofline of the Coupe severely limits the size of your cargo – bulky objects won’t fit, but you can get the dog back there, or a couple of golf bags. The Evoque will tow up to 1,585 kilograms.
Both the Coupe and four-door version of the Evoque deliver 10.6 litres/100 km in town and 7.1 on the highway. This isn’t bad. Hyundai’s Santa Fe is about the same, while the CR-V is slightly thriftier. The Evoque is way more fun to drive than either of these two, however.
2013 Range Rover Evoque Pure Coupe
Base Price: $48,095; as tested: $54,945
Engine: Turbocharged, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 240 hp/250 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift feature
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.6 city/7.1 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: BMW X3, Audi Q5, Acura RDX, Cadillac SRX, Lexus RX350
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