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2012 Range Rover Evoque. (Mark Dye/Land Rover)
2012 Range Rover Evoque. (Mark Dye/Land Rover)

2012 RANGE ROVER EVOQUE

Evoque more than just a pretty face Add to ...

Fashion statement or feisty off-roader? Fashion statement, of course.

That’s the Range Rover Evoque. Naturally, the Rover people jump about saying their new baby SUV can ford muddy streams and ease down a slick slop with the best of them and they’d be telling the truth.

The Evoque’s all-wheel-drive system can find traction when a wheel or two is in the air or slipping on ice. That’s because the AWD can schlep power to the wheels still grounded.

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That’s good. So is the terrain knob. It lets the driver dial up throttle and traction setting best suited for the ground underneath: Mud and Rut dampens throttle response, while Sand speeds them up. If you want a serious low-range setting for crawling, it’s not here, though.

Fashion statement? Think of the Evoque as the actress Charlize Theron. Lovely to look at, but more than just a pretty face – she’s capable and so is the Evoque.

Capable of turning heads, in fact. Tata Motors’ Land Rover unit has put out a handsome and completely novel-looking crossover SUV with the handling of a tall passenger car and a turbocharged four-cylinder engine bought from Ford.

The cabin looks like something that would appeal to Estee Lauder spokesperson and English actress Liz Hurley and the exterior is a bold combination of muscular features – think of the actor Jason Statham in four-wheel form.

Oddly, we’ll get only two AWD Evoques in Canada: the four-door hatchback version – which will be the volume model – starts at $46,995, while the coupe/hatchback has a base price of $52,595. The only engine choice for Canada: a 240-horsepower, direct injection, turbocharged four-cylinder bought from former owner Ford that is sold as the EcoBoost in the new Explorer.

That engine is mated to a six-speed automatic with standard paddle shifters. Performance: 0-100 km/h in around seven seconds, which is good and plenty fast.

Jaguar Land Rover Canada (JLR) should have found a way to sell one or more of the turbodiesels sold elsewhere. The best of them is as strong as the turbo gas engine and gets 25 to 40 per cent better fuel economy. Sounds like the engine for me.

We won’t get the front-wheel-drive Evoque, either, and that makes sense. After all, JLR says the Evoque offers “all-weather, all-surface capability” and you don’t get that with front-wheel-drive.

The Evoque, the smallest Range Rover, is not alone in this growing segment of small, upscale SUVs, by the way. The main target is the $38,500 X1. A forthcoming Audi Q3 (no pricing yet) will surely offer competition, too.

In a nutshell, the Evoque is relatively light (1,680 kg for the four-door) and aerodynamic (0.35 coefficient of drag). While the basics were derived from the LR2, all the major suspension parts were redesigned for lightness and better geometry and it is the first SUV to use MagneRide adaptive dampers.

Indeed, the car-based Evoque is a study in how engineers take weight out of a car using lightweight materials such as aluminum for the bonnet, roof and suspension components, and composite plastics for the one-piece tailgate. These moves have helped the engineers reduce weight by about 100 kg versus the Land Rover LR2.

The cabin is comfortable and looks smart, with excellent seats, soft-touch plastics, flush-fitting switches and rich leather. The designers have gone with sporty aluminum trim and sensible instruments and controls. Attractive features include a start button on the dash beside the twin-dial instrument layout. A bigger screen for navigation, phone, audio and all the rest sits above the console. There is a surprising amount of cabin and cargo space for a car less than 4.4 metres long, though rear-seat legroom is tight

Fashion statement or no, the Land Rover engineering types love to carry on about the Evoque’s packaging. This car does offer class-beating ground clearance, a commanding driving position and good head room, though the ride height is not so much as to make entry and exit a chore needing a stepladder. Access is simple and car-like, despite the ground clearance.

To manage ride quality, the Delphi-developed MagneRide adaptive damping system uses metallic particles in the damper fluid to react when a magnetic field is applied, stiffening the damper to tie down body pitch and roll. The computer-controlled system can change the damping force up to 50 times a second.

That means the Evoque is tall yet agile. It has little trouble handling corners even when you’re driving like something approaching Statham’s Transporter, yet it can manage quite well when the pavement disappears or is covered with ice or snow.

The question mark of all question marks is quality. The Land Rover brand finished third from the bottom in the latest J.D. Power and Associates three-year Vehicle Dependability Study. Not good, though the JLR people insist this Evoque will be better.

At least the Land Rover brand in Canada finished seventh among luxury brands for resale value in the 2011 ALG Retained Value Awards. There is value in a fashion statement, even if it has a history of not being entirely bulletproof.

jcato@globeandmail.com

Tech Specs

2012 Range Rover Evoque

Type: Compact SUV

Price range: $46,995-$52,595 (freight $1,270)

Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 240 hp/340 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.1 city/10.7 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: BMW X1, Mini Countryman, Acura RDX, Infiniti EX35

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