By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
James Bond’s Walther PPK was a lot like the new Range Rover Evoque: Compact, elegant – but very capable when called upon. Ditto the Evoque.
There’s a small but potent (and efficient) turbo’d four under the hood.
Almost 30 MPG on the road – and 0-60 in seven seconds flat.
Terrain-mapping AWD is at your fingertips – and the ability to ford nearly 20 inches of water.
You can go two-door – or four.
Let’s look some more… .
WHAT IT IS
The Evoque is a new addition to the Land Rover lineup, positioned as a stylistic and functional alternative to traditional Land Rover models. It is slightly smaller overall than an LR2 and quicker – and much more fuel efficient – than an LR4.
The emphasis is stylish on-street performance, but like all Land Rovers, the Evoque can still do amazing tricks off-road, too.
Prices start at $43,995 for the four-door in Pure trim.
A range-topping (and sportiest of all) Dynamic coupe starts at $52,895.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2012
The Evoque is all-new.
Quick on its feet – and easy on gas.
Handles better than any other Land Rover on-road.
Still has the goods off-road.
Two doors or four.
Price point is exclusive – but not too exclusive.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
I couldn’t come up with much. The Evoque’s daring styling (based on the LRX show car) doesn’t even impinge on backseat headroom (about the same as the upright LR2) or cargo-carrying capacity (ditto).
The one – small and subjective – thing I could come up with is the Jaguar style pop-up shift knob. It’s cool to look at but – in my opinion – less than ideal, functionally speaking.
More on that below.
UNDER THE HOOD
You wont find a big V-8 (or even a medium-sized six) under the hood of the Evoque. Instead, there’s a very small (for a Land Rover) 2.0 liter four, turbocharged, making 240 hp.
That’s a very solid number for such a little engine.
For perspective, the 3.2 liter six in the LR2 only makes 230 hp – 10 less from an engine that’s got two more pistons and 1.2 liter’s more displacement.
Here are two more numbers, even more solid: Zero to 60 in about 7 seconds flat. That’s more than two seconds quicker to 60 than the 230 hp LR2 – and about half a second quicker to 60 than the 375 hp V-8 powered LR4!
Then there’s this number (well, numbers): 19 city, 29 highway – by far the best MPG performance Land Rover (any Land Rover) has ever delivered.
As they say in Russia (with love)… how is possible?
By cutting the fat.
The Evoque is a super lightweight – for a Land Rover vehicle. The curb weight is under 3,700 lbs. (vs. 4,255 lbs for the only slightly larger LR2). That, plus the efficiency of a small, power-on-demand turbocharged engine, is what lets the Evoque be quick without also being a guzzler.
The standard – and only – transmission is a six-speed automatic yoked to LR’s highly regarded Terrain Sensing all-wheel-drive system, very similar to the set-up in the LR2, LR4 and other Land Rover models. It adjusts parameters such as throttle tip-in, shift points and the operation of the AWD system for Snow/Gravel/Sand/Mud or normal paved-road driving.
Max tow capacity is 3,500 lbs. with the optional electric trailer brake.
ON THE ROAD
Over the past several years, Land Rover has been systematically fixing the one glaring weak point of all its recent models – weak acceleration and poor fuel economy.
The LR4 got a brawny V-8 (instead of just a thirsty V-8) and the regular Range Rover got both a brawny naturally aspirated V-8 and – if the merely brawny didn’t do it for you – an optional supercharged and heroically powerfull V-8. Of current LR models, only the LR2 remains both slow and piggy – for the present.
With the Evoque, Land Rover took an altogether different road. No V-8, no supercharger.
It is the only four-cylinder LR model and the only turbocharged LR model, too. Beyond the mere fuel efficiency advantages, this little mongoose of an engine gives the Evoque a sports car sound and feel. The turbo spools quickly, building more low-end torque (250 lbs.-ft) than the LR2’s bigger six (234 lbs.-ft) and sooner, too. It also revs freely and fast, with either you or the six-speed transmission selecting the gears.
The Jaguar-style gear selector, however, is not my favorite.
Start the car, and it rises elegantly from a flush-mount recess on the center console. You rotate it right to go from Park to whatever gear you need – and also to go from the normal (and full automatic) Drive position to the (manual control) Sport mode. Once you’re there – in Drive or Sport or back from Sport to Drive – the transmission does your bidding (or its own shifting) with brilliant precision. Not-so-brilliantly precise is getting the knob to rotate easily, smoothly or quickly from position to position. You’re supposed to depress slightly, then rotate – but during the week I had the Evoque, I found the knob a bit recalcitrant. In Sport, it sometimes did not want to go back to Drive. And so also from Drive to Sport.
Sometimes, it took a little wrist work to get it into Park, too. Nothing major. Just not as easy or as speedy as a conventional (if less artsy-techno) gear shifter.
Handling, like fuel efficiency, sets a new bar for Land Rover.
Now, LR does a magnificent job with its other models – somehow finessing the pavement-crushing hulk of models like the LR4 (5,716 lbs.). But while these models aren’t frighteningly tipsy when driven reasonably, they’re not the proper tool for high-speed on-road work.
But the Evoque – being more than 1,000 lbs. lighter than the LR2, not nearly as tall (or top-heavy), with a slightly wider track and a longer wheelbase than the LR2 – is an excellent corner-carver. This can be made even more excellent by ordering the optional adjustable suspension (part of the Adaptive Dynamics package). It tightens up when you kick it up a notch, then dials it back (for a softer ride) when you’re flying straight and level. It also raises or lowers ride height, to improve off-road prowess or on-road ride quality.
I fully expected a bouncy ride on the proportionately huge 19 inch wheel/tire package, but your only worry here will be the cost of tires when the time comes.
I didn’t try the “twennies” – available optionally.
The short overhangs and compact packaging make the Evoque an easy-to-deal with city/suburban car, too – parallel parking-wise especially. The rear glass is keyhole small, but the side mirrors and bundled-in back-up camera compensate for this. Visibility to the sides and forward is excellent.
Though it does not have a two-speed transfer case (and so, no 4WD Low range gearing) the Evoque can take you places most people – and most vehicles – would be scared to venture. Despite the sportwagon profile, there is a minimum of 8.4 inches of ground clearance, 25 degrees approach angle and 33 degrees departure angle. Also a very tight (37.1 foot) turning radius.
Did I mention the Evoque can ford 19.7 inches of standing water?
AT THE CURB
Vehicles with show-car radical styling are often afflicted with functional compromises that quickly make you forget all about the Wow Factor. Examples include the Isuzu Vehicross (remember that one?) and (more recently) the Honda Accord Crosstour. Interesting to look at, but problematic to live with.
Not so the Evoque.
You’d expect, for openers, crippling back seat accommodations as a result of the dramatically sloping (and low-cut) roofline. It turns out that rear-seat occupants in the Evoque four-door actually enjoy slightly more headroom (39.7 inches) than backseat riders in the traditionally boxier LR2 (39.4 inches).
Rear seat headroom’s a bit less in the Coupe (38.2 inches) but that’s still surprisingly good – and livable – for such a radically styled vehicle.
I’m six-feet-three and over 200 pounds and I still had 2-3 inches of air between the top of my head and the ceiling.
There are two space-related issues, however. Getting into the backseat requires a bit of bending (if you’re tall) and though it’s advertised as five-passenger-capable (which it technically is), two in each row is the way to go. Three in back is really one too much – if those three are adults.
Three kids, ok.
Land Rover tacitly concedes the point by offering a no-questions-about-it “two seater” (molded buckets) option for the Coupe.
Overall dimensions for both versions of the Evoque are virtually identical (the Coupe’s about half an inch shorter) and at first glance, it is hard to tell one from the other until you look for the door seams. The chief noticeable difference between the two versions is the larger uninterrupted sheet of rear side glass you get with the Coupe.
The interior layout is cheerful and bright – finished in handsome two-tones (Almond and Espresso in the case of my test Evoque) with charcoal carpets and pewter trim plates and surrounds for the stereo speakers. If you so order, there are individual LCD display monitors built into the front seat head supports for the individualized viewing pleasure of the backseat occupants. A huge, almost full-roof-length panaroma sunroof is standard with either version. You can choose Min- Cooper like contrast color schemes for the exterior, including a white-painted roof.
Numerous such Design Themes are offered.
Some reviewers nit-pick the Evoque for its cargo-carrying capacity. But 51 cubes is only 8 cubes less than the LR2 and about the same as you’d get in the not-nearly-so-striking (or exciting to drive) Mercedes GLK.
The Evoque is also quicker than the GLK – and gets much better gas mileage – and has a far more sophisticated (and standard equipment) all-wheel-drive system. The only thing the Benz has over the Evoque, in terms of objective criteria, is price. You can buy a GLK (with the optional 4Matic AWD) for $37,500 – a gaping $6,500 less than the Evoque’s base price.
A more threatening competitor is the BMW X3. The price gap is not as wide – $42,700 for the XDrive35i – and the BMW is a hot rod (0-60 in 5.6 seconds). Its gas mileage (19 city, 26 highway) is also only a few clicks off the Evoque’s.
But it’s not the head-turner the Evoque is on road – and its xDrive AWD system is more one-sided (that is, street-minded) than the Evoque’s more versatile and off-road-capable system.
There’s a lot to like about both the BMW and the Benz – but the Evoque is something fundamentally different. It competes with these vehicles only peripherally. It comes across as a custom-built one-off, not a mass-produced machine. And to a great extent, this is literally true. In addition to the choice of bodies, you can further choose from numerous color/trim combinations to make your Evoque, if not one-of-a-kind, at least one of a very few. GLKs and X3s are all pretty much the same – and, they’re everywhere. But as an Evoque owner, you’re much less likely to find another Evoque that’s just like yours parked next to you at the supermarket.
And it’s hard to hang a price tag on that.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Bond may need to reconsider brands.