The Evoque is a completely new direction for Range Rover. It’s a new car in a new class for a new kind of customer – it’s far removed from the traditional uprightness of a Range Rover. We drove the Evoque SD4 as it’s the one that will be the popular choice when it is launched in India by end-2011.
The five-door Evoque is a compact SUV. Stand next to it, and you’ll see it’s about the size of an Audi Q3 — it is shorter and squatter than the baby Audi, and about a million times better-looking as well. Under the skin, the Evoque is suspended at the front by MacPherson struts and a multi-link rear. It is upto 100kg lighter than the Freelander, though partly because it is much shorter and partly due to more extensive use of aluminium, both in its body panels and suspension, and plastics in the body.
Step inside and you’ll notice one intrinsic Range Rover characteristic that’s missing — the commanding view out. You sit a lot lower and as a result it feels a lot sportier and very un-Rangie. This apart, you’ll love the interiors, especially the soft-touch surfaces on the dashboard, and the way everything feels properly expensive. Automatic Evoques get Jaguar’s rotary gear lever that rises from the centre console and, further down, switches for Land Rover’s Terrain Response off-road system that reconfigures the car’s software and hardware depending on the surface you’re driving on.
The cabin is a comfy place to be because the seats are widely adjustable, as is the steering and there’s more headroom than the roof-line would suggest. However, the huge wing mirrors obstruct forward view. And, if you can discount the short squab of the rear seats, it’s a lot more accommodating than you would think. There’s loads of legroom, good headroom and it’s nowhere near as claustrophobic as the tapering window-line would suggest. Indian cars will get the massive panoramic sunroof as standard. However, Range Rover has omitted a spare wheel which, in an SUV, is quite unacceptable.
Push the engine start button and you’ll be surprised by the lack of clatter from the 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel. The engine remains impressively refined even near its red-line. The 2179cc engine makes 187bhp and 42.8kgm of torque and the motor delivers this power in a nice, linear manner. However, it doesn’t feel very quick when you put your foot down. The six-speed auto isn’t the best around either, sometimes refusing to upshift or downshift despite repeatedly pulling the steering-mounted paddles.
Still, the Evoque shows remarkable composure and tight body control. There’s not a squeal from the 18-inch tyres on the car and it even changes direction eagerly. It’s just that the electric steering is too light and a bit inconsistent off-centre. The Evoque feels best when you’re not pushing on and with Dynamic mode switched off. It’s here that you’ll discover a ride that deals with most surfaces authoritatively with only the sharper bumps kicking through.
This SUV is far more adept off-road. In rainy conditions we selected ‘mud and ruts’ on the Terrain Response system and we could feel the dulled throttle response, essential for driving on slippery surfaces. You can even feel its traction control system monitor wheelspin as the Evoque claws its way up the slope. The thing is, the Evoque feels so capable over these non-existent sections of road that all it demands of you is to select the right off-road setting, steer and feed in throttle. It doesn’t have a low-range transfer case though.
Indian Evoques will be slightly different from the European ones. The biggest change is with the air-intake for the engine, which will be placed higher. Engineers are also working on tuning the suspension to work with smaller wheels and higher profile tyres. What this will do to the styling that demands big wheels is yet to be seen. And lastly, all Indian Evoques will get an industrial grade horn.
When launched, prices will start from an estimated Rs 49 lakh, and this is probably where the Evoque might get stuck. It is expensive, whichever way you look at it, and considerably more so than a Q3 or an X1. What you will get for the extra money though is a truly high-quality, stunning-looking and entirely desirable small SUV.