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2012 Range Rover Evoque (NickDimbleby/Jaguar Land Rover)
2012 Range Rover Evoque (NickDimbleby/Jaguar Land Rover)

Range Rover Evoque

Newest Range Rover is fast, fashionable and feisty Add to ...

There is a restrained feistiness to the folks from Land Rover as they count down the days to the launch of the 2012 Range Rover Evoque ($46,995 base).

Other than the original 1940s Defender, a true Jeep knock-off, says chief designer Gerry McGovern, this car is the most important in the company’s history.

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“It will change the urban landscape,” he says without a hint of modesty, pointing to the Evoque’s massive wheels, rearward-diving roofline and the rising beltline, which form a kind of sideways “V” and really is unlike anything else in this compact SUV class.

Everyone at Jaguar Land Rover understands what’s at stake here. While they point to 20,000 Evoque pre-orders for something that won’t hit Canadian showrooms until October, the big picture has JLR aiming to sell three times that number each year. Or more.

Nothing short of the healthy future of Land Rover is on the line here. The first all-new Land Rover model since India’s Tata conglomerate bought JLR from Ford in 2008 is a tangible expression of what Land Rover and the Range Rover sub-brand want to be.

“The Range Rover will revolutionize the way people see our brand,” says JLR’s Canadian boss, Lindsay Duffield. I said feisty, correct?

Still, the Evoque must change the Land Rover quality story. The Land Rover brand finished third from the bottom in the latest J.D. Power and Associates three-year Vehicle Dependability Study. Lousy long-term quality scores suggest problems for the kind of truly profitable future the brand wants.

The good news from Land Rover’s perspective is that the brand in Canada finished seventh among luxury brands for resale value in the 2011 ALG Retained Value Awards.

The Evoque design does, though, look to be a winning effort and the drive is excellent. We’ll only get 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.

And the only engine choice for Canada will be the 240-horsepower, direct injection, turbocharged four-cylinder. No diesel-powered Evoques for Canada and no stripped-down loss leaders, either.

The Evoque, the smallest Range Rover, will compete in a growing pool of small SUVs, with the main target surely being the $38,500 BMW X1. A forthcoming Audi Q3 (no pricing yet) will surely offer competition, too. I’d argue the Range Rover is prettier than either.

It is also light (1,680 kg for the four-door) and aerodynamic (0.35 coefficient of drag). Land Rover derived the Evoque from the LR2 (known as the Freelander in most of the world), though Mike Cross, Jaguar Land Rover’s ride and handling engineering guru, says the engineers made some serious modifications. All of its major suspension parts were redesigned for lightness and better geometry and it is the first SUV anywhere to use MagneRide adaptive dampers.

This rig is pretty fast, too. The gasoline version, with its 2.0-litre, direct injection, turbocharged engine and six-speed automatic transmission, will do 0-100 km/h in a tad more than seven seconds. The gas engine, by the way, is bought from Ford, where it’s sold as the EcoBoost four-cylinder and is used in the new Explorer. It is excellent.

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.

Land Rover engineering types wax on about the Evoque’s packaging and they might have a point. The car offers class-beating ground clearance, a commanding driving position and good head room while riding 100 mm lower than the Freelander. Access is simple and car-like, despite the ground clearance.

Land Rover engineers are particularly excited about the Evoque’s MagneRide adaptive damping system. The Delphi-developed 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.

My first road-going impression is of an agile yet tall vehicle that has no trouble handling corners and can manage some pretty tough off-roading, too. This Evoque suggests Land Rover types might just have good reason to be so feisty.

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): 10.7 city/ 7.1 highway; premium gas

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

jcato@globeandmail.com

Correction: The fuel economy numbers were incorrect in the story above. They have been changed.

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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