There’s still marketing magic in the iconic Land Rover brand – despite its having been mired to the axles in a two-decade-long sales bog during which it changed ownership three times – and this is being revealed by a turnaround led by its latest offering, the hot-selling Range Rover Evoque.
Land Rover sales globally grew dramatically last year with the 32,000 Evoques shipped to dealers making the major contribution. And those dealers, including the 24 here in Canada, are clamouring for more.
This has meant a thousand jobs being added at the Halewood plant in Britain, which will now bang out Evoques 24 hours a day. And, with the idea of capitalizing further, Land Rover has tested hitherto un-waded Range Rover waters with an Evoque convertible concept at the Geneva auto show.
During the 1990s, struggling Land Rover was bounced from Rover Group to BMW and then to Ford before being sold by the latter, along with Jaguar, to Tata Motors of India to become its Jaguar Land Rover Group (JLR) in 2008.
Last year, a seemingly born (yet) again Land Rover outpaced Jaguar in contributing to record sales levels for the JLR group. In Canada, Land Rover sales shot up 27 per cent to 3,228 from 2,547 in 2010 and, this year to the end of February, were running 64.4 per cent ahead of last year, with Evoque, which arrived in October, accounting for most of the increase.
Land Rover execs must be breathing a sigh of relief over Evoque’s reception as it’s the lead vehicle in a planned major overhaul of the brand’s product offerings that will include a new Range Rover next year.
The model that’s making all this happen, and the first new vehicle since Tata took over, is a long stretch conceptually from the ruggedly primitive “Landies” that beat the bushes in inhospitable parts of the world to create the original Land Rover legend. Ditto for the large and luxurious original Range Rover, for which a “get you anywhere” reputation included dangerous terrain such as Rodeo Drive.
The Evoque, which is available as a great looking five-door (the model tested) at a luxury-level $49,995, or an even prettier three-door at pricier still $52,595, is hoped to bring a new type of buyer to the Range Rover family. Those who wants to tread on the planet a little more lightly, but still enjoy the prestige attached to the Range Rover brand and don’t mind paying for the privilege.
The Evoque is based on the LR2 platform, but follows in the tire prints of the Range Rover Sport in its on-road performance orientation, with no really rugged underpinnings or low-range transfer case, although it still has a sophisticated AWD system and all-terrain electronics, and it’s still reportedly very capable in dealing with the rough stuff. But it’s more compact than the Sport by 417 mm and a lot lighter.
The only engine offered is a 2.0 litre, turbocharged direct-injection four that makes 240 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque, routed to the wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted with steering-wheel paddles.
Despite balance shafts, the engine exhibits a little four-banger style lack of smoothness, but plenty of enthusiasm – and makes the Evoque pretty sporty in its own right, capable of getting to 100 km/h in 7.6 seconds, accelerating hard out of corners or up to highway speeds.
This substantial power is backed by a long travel independent suspension that helps it deal with cottage trail ruts and bumps while delivering a composed and comfortable highway or urban ride. But it’s also taut enough to work well on secondary road curves while following directions from the driver transmitted through a steering system with a deft touch and feel.
Fuel economy ratings are 11.4 litres/100 km city and 7.1 litres/100 km highway, and are significantly better than the not much bigger, but six-cylinder-powered Land Rover LR2 at 14.1 litres and 9.1 litres. The onboard readout showed an average of about 12 litres/100 km after a week of semi-rural running about, and 10.2 litres/100 km at a keeping up with traffic highway cruise.
As noted, the Evoque is a compact design which means there’s enough cabin room to fit four fairly comfortably, although rear seat knee room is at a premium and it’s a bit confining with that swept-back roofline. There’s 1,444 litres of cargo space with the 60/40 split rear seat folded, accessed on the tester by a large, power operated hatch.
Up front, the leather upholstered seats are big-bolstered and comfortable for extended periods and the dash is interesting, functional and trimmed in brushed aluminum. The cool gear selector, a round knob that pops up out of the console, has been borrowed from Jaguar. A lot of attention has been paid to detail, fit and finish and, as you’d expect for this kind of money, there’s a wealth of equipment ranging from a large touch screen that, among other things, shows the around-the-vehicle image from a 360-degree camera.
The Range Rover Evoque is premium priced compared to some of its rivals, but if exclusivity is important in the things you acquire in life it will certainly provide that, along with a great look and an enjoyable driving experience.
2012 Range Rover Evoque
Type: Compact luxury crossover
Base price: $46,995; as tested: $49,695
Engine: 2.0 L DOHC, I4
Horsepower/torque: 240 hp/250 lb-ft.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.4 city/7.1 highway (premium recommended)
Alternatives: Land Rover LR2, BMW X1, Audi Q5, Infiniti EX, Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class, Volvo XC60.