Land Rover Range Rover Evoque — SUV fun in high style

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

We concede that the sexy new Range Rover Evoque possesses a moderate level of off-road capability and does not significantly diminish the brand's off-road image. But we are hard pressed to believe that anyone anywhere has purchased an Evoque — regardless of the Range Rover name attached — for serious off-road adventures.

The Evoque's considerable presence in the marketplace where it has won more than 90 awards worldwide including North American Truck of the Year stems first and foremost from its provocative styling and the considerable hype from London to New York that has made it trendy and chic.

We have maintained for years that styling sells cars and the 2012 Evoque may be the all-time prime example.

It features supermodel good looks in either two-door or four-door format competing against such popular makes as the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Mercedes GLK.

It's not a particular standout in any one area against these and other compact luxury SUV nameplates. It has rewarding, but not cutting-edge performance from a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, it can haul an average amount of cargo for its size, and at least in the four-door version can accommodate four adults in relative comfort.

What it does best is turn heads. And, egad, has it turned the heads of automotive journalists around the world.

We discovered that once behind the wheel there is actually more to the Evoque than its styling, the beauty is more than skin deep. The small SUV is agile and fun to drive, ready to leap from a stoplight or provide exciting turbo-boosted performance in the mid ranges. The ride quality is good and Land Rover has done an excellent job creating a luxury cockpit — with the help of Victoria Beckham — with impeccable styling and quiet living quarters.

Put the glamor aside. The heart and soul of this new creation is the engine, a version of Ford's EcoBoost direct-injection turbocharging, that gives the Evoque a lively, let's-go-out-and-play nature.

The 2.0-liter engine produces 240 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting mode.

In addition to giving the small SUV a decent 0-to-60 time of around 7 seconds and a quarter-mile time of about 15.5 seconds, the rather remarkable drivetrain has earned a solid 18 mpg city and 28 mpg highway rating. Premium fuel is required.

The turbocharged 4 is the only engine currently available in North America. In Europe, the Evoque is also sold with a turbo diesel and a front-wheel drive option.

The Evoque's off-road chops are aided by a standard Haldex all-wheel drive system, a ground clearance of 8.4 inches, and Land Rover's Terrain Response System that offers settings such as snow, mud-and-ruts, and sand. The system tweaks throttle response, gearbox, center coupling and the braking/stability systems to adapt to conditions.

There is no low-speed gears for true off-road creeping.

The Evoque's mission in life is to live on road and we found, for the most part, a sport utility that handles better than the typical Land Rover with well-weighed electromechanical steering and an improved center of gravity for semi-aggressive cornering. It compares well to its more athletic counterparts such as the BMW X3 and Audi Q5.

For even a greater measure of on-road prowess, Adaptive Dynamics can be added, which can firm up the ride and reduce steering assistance. This setup is rather pricey, available only with the Dynamic model adding $1,250.

The Evoque is the only small luxury SUV to come in two body styles, two-door and four-door. While the two-door makes a more stunning visual appearance, we consider it impractical, basically a two-person vehicle. It's not easy accessing the rear-seating area and the sloping roof makes headroom tight for taller passengers.

Plus, Land Rover has priced the "coupe" $1,000 more than the four-door version. With four doors the Evoque starts at $43,995 including destination charge. The two-door begins at $44,995. Our two-door test vehicle carried a bottom line of $53,420 with options.

Land Rover says about 80 percent of sales in the U.S. will be four-door models.

Practicality is probably the main reason that most buyers will choose the extra doors. It will transport four adults comfortably — rear legroom might need to be negotiated — and rear headroom is improved because the roof does not slope as severely as the coupe.

In base form, the Evoque carries a premium price compared to the competition, and packages bundled with good stuff will likely push the transaction price above 50 grand for most buyers. The two most popular packages are Dynamic at $7,900 and Premium at $4,400.

While the exterior design is provocative, the interior layout is exquisite, classy and comfortable. There are several multi-tone color combinations available. Material quality is as good as it gets and fit and finish is impeccable. The gauges are clear and the touchscreen is large. One of the neat features is a round gear shifter that rises out of the center console borrowed from Jaguar.

The Evoque's safety features include antilock brakes, stability and traction control, trailer sway control, front and side airbags and side-curtain airbags, a rearview camera and parking sensors. The brakes pull the vehicle down from 60 miles per hour in a commendable 118 feet.

Not so safe, however, are impeded sight lines to the side and rear because of the form-over-function nature of the design.

If you need cargo space in your compact luxury purchase, the Evoque may not be the vehicle for you. But for most people, its 20.3 cubic feet behind the seats and maximum 51 cubic feet should handle everyday chores quite well.

Perhaps the large number of awards garnered by the Evoque is excessive, but we found a lot of things to like about the newest Range Rover including its fun-to-drive nature, its head-turning styling and its gorgeous cockpit. Just be prepared to shell out the big bucks.

Base price: $43,995; as driven, $53,420
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 240 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 251 pound-feet @ 1,750 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Turning circle: 37.1 feet
Length: 171.9 inches
Wheelbase: 104.8 inches
Curb weight: 3,680 pounds
Luggage capacity: 20.3 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 51 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons (premium)
EPA mileage: 28 highway, 18 city
0-60: 7.0 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes GLK

The Good
• Head turning styling
• Performance-endowed, fuel-efficient engine
• Stylish interior
• Refined ride quality

The Bad
• Cargo space limited

The Ugly
• Hefty base price, expensive options