The new 2012 Range Rover Evoque compact sport-utility from England's Land Rover is a good combination of styling, comfort, practicality and off-road prowess. It represents a radical change from other Land Rover vehicles.
Among primary selling features of this smaller, more fuel-efficient, all-wheel-drive Range Rover are racy styling, prestige and off-road prowess-although few owners likely will drive off-road.
Main rivals include the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLK. Ah, but they lack the prestigious Range Rover name
The full-time all-wheel-drive Evoque likely will attract more younger customers to the Land Rover brand. It comes as a $43,145 four-door hatchback or as a $44,145 hatchback coupe, not including an $850 freight charge. It comes in "Pure," "Prestige' and "Dynamic" trim levels.
Fully equipped, an Evoque can cost up to $60,000, but Range Rover says typical prices are expected to be $45,000 to $55,000. My test Evoque four-door had a bottom line price of $56,920.
The Evoque is inspired by the rakish Land Rover's LRX concept car of a few years ago. Both four-door and sedan have the same width, 104-inch wheelbase and virtually the same length. But the four-door's rear roofline is 1.2 inches higher than the coupe's. Not that you'd really notice.
Land Rover expects to sell more four-door versions because they are more practical, but doesn't discount the allure of the slightly more rakish look of the two-door model.
The Evoque is by far the best-looking vehicle ever sold by Land Rover. The rest look mostly like boxes. But the Evoque resembles a sleek California custom chopped-top job, with its raked windshield, high beltline, rear sloping roofline, aggressive stance and little body overhangs.
A full-glass fixed "panoramic" roof allows more interior light. That's good because a low roof, high and rising beltline and narrow side windows don't allow a generous window area. The small rear window is a bit difficult to see through, but a surround camera system is optional.
There's a Ford-supplied 2-liter turbocharged, intercooled, direct-injection four-cylinder engine with hardly any turbo lag. It generates 240 horsepower and and 250 pound-feet of torque that comes in at a low rpm for good response. The engine also has dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder, with twin-variable valve timing.
Range Rover modifies the Ford engine for improved oil delivery for driving at extreme angles, besides better waterproofing for off-road treks through streams. Still, many Evoque rivals have at least six cylinders, which makes them smoother under hard acceleration.
The engine works with a six-speed automatic transmission, with easily used manual-shift capability-although rivals have automatics with more speeds. Left in "drive" mode, it shifts smoothly during normal driving but should upshift more crisply under fast acceleration.
While heavy for its size at 3,902 pounds, the Evoque has lively acceleration in town and on highways. Range Rover says the 0-60 mph time is a brisk 7.1 seconds, but the Evoque's 67-75 mph time would be quicker if it weighed less.
However, with just four efficiently working cylinders, it gets estimated fuel economy of 28 miles per gallon on highways and 18 in the city. Most models from Land Rover are fuel hogs, so that's a feather in the Evoque's cap. Premium fuel is recommended.
Off-road assist technologies allow tough jaunts away from paved roads. The ride is firm, but supple. Steering, braking and handling are quite good, both on- and off-road. Handling is helped by the Evoque's all-wheel-drive systems, which has helped Land Rover models become famous go-anywhere vehicles.
A Terrain Response System is designed to handle everything from "general driving" to driving in "grass, gravel, snow, mud, ruts and sand."
After all, Land Rovers started out long ago as post-World War II agricultural-type vehicles for hard work on farms-being sort of a British Jeep. When a civilized Range Rover version was introduced by Land Rover in 1970, the Range Rover became the world's most prestigious sport-utility. Even members of England's Royal Family drove them. That put them right up there on the prestige level with England's Aston Martin.
Large door handles make it easy to enter the quiet, posh interior, although you must step up a bit to get in. The cabin is loaded with comfort, convenience and safety equipment. Controls are easy to use, although the adjustable steering wheel should have a power control.
You can order expensive options. For instance, there's a $10,400 Prestige Premium Package that contains everything from unique 19-inch alloy wheels, leather-covered front seats and a killer sound system. Those living in northern states should order the $1,000 Climate Comfort option with its heated front seats and steering wheel.
There's good room up front, but a tall passenger will want more legroom when behind a tall driver. Also, the center of the rear seat is hard, making this only a comfortable four-passenger vehicle. A substantial armrest containing two cupholders folds down in the center of that seat.
The cargo area is fairly large, but you'll want to fllp the 60/40 split rear seatbacks forward to significantly increase cargo capacity.
Have we got a winner here? It seems so, but reliability of models from Land Rover has been spotty. It remains to be seen if the fetching new Evoque is reasonably trouble-free.