This summer, we had the chance to drive the Range Rover Supercharged, the alpha dog of the Range Rover lineup. Charmed as we were by the incredible power and opulent luxury, we felt that the Range Rover was afflicted by a curse that affects many upper echelon vehicles – all the flash and features were spoilt by an underlying impracticality.
|1. The Evoque uses a 2.0L 240 horsepower 4-cylinder engine with a turbocharger, backed by a 6-speed automatic transmission.
2. A number of interior components, like the audio system and gear shifter, are taken from Jaguars that cost twice as much.
3. Fuel economy is rated by the EPA at 19 mpg city, 28 mpg highway.
4. Unlike other Range Rovers, the Evoque is a car-based crossover rather than a traditional SUV.
The Range Rover’s footprint was so large that it could have had its own branch of the Occupy movement, and its drinking problem was in league with Amy Winehouse. The Range Rover was conceived as a luxury vehicle to take you from your Scottish country estate to the theater and back again in total comfort, but lately, the Range Rover has been the mode of choice of wealthy urbanites. But the vehicle’s rugged, rural roots meant that parallel parking and urban maneuvering were less than optimal, and its in-town fuel economy was dismal, to say the least.
The 21st century luxury SUV consumer may wear Barbour jackets (as an ironic fashion statement), but is also far more likely to be an entrepreneur pitching their one-person marketing agency rather than living off an inheritance and attending fox hunts. Range Rover knows which way the wind is blowing, and with the Evoque, it has adapted its formula accordingly.
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Gone is the big, boxy profile and the massive 5.0L Supercharged V8. The opulent cabin full of leather and aluminum remains, but the Evoque is compact, taut and almost futuristic looking, with a silhouette more like a MINI Countryman than a Defender 110. Sharing a platform with the Land Rover LR2 (which in turn is based on the Ford Focus), allows for the Evoque to opt for a much smaller form factor, and makes it the kind of vehicle you want for darting in and out of traffic, or parking in tight downtown spaces.
A transverse-mounted 2.0L turbocharged 4 cylinder (again, based off of Ford’s lovely Ecoboost engine) makes 240 horsepower and 251 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic gearbox. Don’t let the low-cylinder count fool you, because this motor has an adequate amount of power to hustle the Evoque around in nearly any situation. Passing slow moving traffic is a breeze thanks to a broad torque band and minimal turbo lag, while still allowing the Evoque to cruise at a comfortably low rpm on the highway. We suspect that hardly any buyers will notice the difference from a traditional V6. Despite its front-driver underpinnings, the Evoque still has a rudimentary all-wheel drive system, with classic Land Rover technologies like Hill Descent Control, but we’d give up Starbucks for a year if anybody took an Evoque on rougher terrain than a gravel driveway.
Inside, it’s clear to seasoned veterans that Land Rover (which operates the Range Rover brand as its “premium” line) has been dipping into the parts bin in a big way. The switchgear is an 80/20 mix of Land Rover and Volvo bits – hardly a bad thing, but the common usages were immediately apparent. A few Jaguar parts are included for good measure, such as the rotary shift knob that rises from the center console, and the touch-screen HVAC and audio control system, which is one of the easiest and most intuitive systems out there. Our litmus test involves asking a passenger to operate the iPod interface without any direction, and most cars tend to frustrate our subjects. Not so with the Evoque, as multiple riders were able to easily and quickly navigate it without any annoyances.
The Evoque’s road manners were largely solid, but the combination of big wheels and low-profile tires, an unavoidable concession to the automotive aesthetics of our era, delivered the usual harshness over less-than-perfect pavement. Thankfully, road noise was kept in check much better than the ride quality, as engine sounds and wind noise were isolated from the cabin. The Evoque’s seats were especially comfortable on long jaunts, and we found the driving position excellent – just high enough to give drivers that SUV feel without compromising the interaction that we crave.
Of course, such a small footprint does lend itself to some compromises. Rear seat comfort for two is fine, but if the front seats are moved back to accommodate a driver or passenger over 6 feet, then it may get a little cramped. Ditto for 3 passengers in the back – we suspect that the typical Evoque buyer will be an empty-nest couple, or have children riding in car seats. A trip to dinner at a fancy restaurant will suffice, but going to visit the in-laws may be trying for all occupants.
Cargo room was also diminished by the Evoque’s “evocative” styling. A grocery shop for two (at the local farmer’s market, natch) was fine, but trying to stow a full set of 15” snow tires was a major challenge. We ended up stuffing three in the small cargo area (which took some careful arranging) and rested one on the rear seat before the automatic tailgate would shut itself. The sloping roofline and small side windows mean that form comes before function as far as visibility is concerned, and we were glad to have the standard back-up camera on hand.
A lack of function may be tough for some to swallow, but the Evoque drew more attention than a naked Kate Middleton. Our video review shoot was constantly interrupted as pedestrians inquired about the Evoque, and we even had a well-dressed driver of a Maserati Quattroporte subject the AutoGuide crew to intense questioning about the car, with the driver later stating his intent to purchase one as soon as his lease was up. While driving, we often saw bystanders gesturing and commenting about the car, and we have to say, it really does look great on the road, with the kind of concept-car looks that will stay fresh long past the Evoque’s introduction.
At a base price of $43,995 (up to $52,395) the Evoque isn’t cheap by any standards, especially in light of other compact luxury SUVs starting at thousands less. The Evoque does many things really well – the kind of things that most buyers of the full-size Range Rovers do already, but without the wretched excesses of massive fuel guzzling or conspicuous consumption. Range Rover will sell every Evoque it can produce, perhaps at the expense of the brand’s standing (in 5-10 years, every nightclub-attending wannabe will be driving a used, white Evoque, and you can quote us on that), but the vehicle’s platform and components have been paid for long ago, making it an absolute cash cow for Land Rover, and parent company Tata.
For those just outside the top 1 percent that want a stylish crossover, the Evoque is perfect. For the 99 percent that isn’t pulling in megabucks, it’s a strong aspirational vehicle that might be within reach at some point in their lives. This is the kind of luxury vehicle that we need more of the in the market place, and judging by current economic and social trends, it’s one we’ll likely see a lot more of this decade.