Land Rover is taking full advantage of the public's seemingly insatiable demand for SUVs and crossovers by chopping the roof off its fastest selling model ever. The resulting Range Rover Evoque Convertible is a step-change for Land Rover but it might also be the shape of things to come.
Land Rover is calling its Evoque cabrio the “world’s first luxury convertible SUV”, and it will arrive in the UK as the sun re-emerges this spring. From launch, diesel versions will range from £47,500 – that’s £5,200 more than for the equivalent hard-top – to £51,700 for the flagship HSE Dynamic Lux models. A 237bhp four-cylinder petrol will be an option in the Convertible, but the new 178bhp 2.0-litre diesel Ingenium engine will account for the bulk of sales; it sends power to all four wheels through a nine-speed auto box.
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The only way the Evoque Convertible was able to retain a sense of practicality was for Land Rover to fit a folding fabric roof, rather than a retractable hard-top. Not only does that reduce the amount of space taken up when it’s stowed, but the lightweight rag-top also lowers the car’s centre of gravity and can be raised or folded on the move at speeds of up to 30mph. It takes only 18 seconds to drop the roof and 21 seconds to raise via a button on the centre console.
Having said that, it’s not without its disadvantages. Because of the space required to stow the roof, boot capacity shrinks from 420 litres in the hard-top to just 251 litres in the Convertible – and the load area is only accessible through a small letterbox-style opening. The middle seat has been removed to make way for the folding mechanism, and if you put the wind deflector in place behind the two front seats, your practical family SUV turns into a temporary two-seater. Image comes at a cost.
On the move and with the roof in place, you’d have trouble telling the Convertible apart from the hard-top in terms of refinement. The five-layer hood is made from polyacrylic fabric, which keeps heat in and noise out.
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It does an excellent job of ensuring things remain hushed even on the motorway. There’s a faint whistle
around the mirrors at higher speeds, but overall it’s a very effective design – although with the roof in place, visibility out the back and over the shoulder is restricted. As for the rest of the driving experience? Well, there are a few issues. Strengthening around the A-pillars and to the underbody bracing has been added to ensure the Convertible doesn’t fall apart. It adds up to 277kg – the equivalent of carrying around four additional adult passengers everywhere you go.
As a result, performance has been blunted. Squeeze the throttle and the Convertible feels more reluctant to build up speed than the hard-top, with the extra weight really showing its presence when tackling inclines. The 0-62mph time increases from nine seconds to 10.3 seconds, and it feels like it. Economy is also hit – dropping from 57.6mpg to 49.6mpg – while CO2 emissions increase from 129g/km to 149g/km.
We already know JLR’s 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel engine is a gem, with smooth and linear power delivery. But when the roof is down, no matter how good a diesel engine may be, it’s still a diesel engine – so it isn’t the sweetest to listen to. Nevertheless, once the roof is up, you are just as well isolated from it as you would be in the hard-top, with only a faint hum from the engine at speed.
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The car we tested was an early pre-production model, which probably goes some way to explain the hesitant nine-speed automatic gearbox. The Convertible hung on to gears, proving reluctant to change up through the ratios. Taking control with the paddles did smooth things out, although we’re assured it’s an issue that will be ironed out when we get behind the wheel in the UK later in the year. We already know how impressive this engine and 'box can be, having sampled it in the hard-top Evoque and Land Rover Discovery Sport.
The Evoque was never a sports car to begin with, but being one of the more compact SUVs on the market meant it was quite agile. In the Convertible there is still plenty of grip thanks to the four-wheel-drive system, although if you push on a bit you can feel the strain in the chassis. There’s more body roll when you take a corner at speed, but thankfully the precise and weighty steering gives plenty of feedback.
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Beneath the skin, Land Rover has tuned the suspension and anti-roll bars to help offset the extra weight. The ride does have a slightly firmer edge, but overall comfort is still pretty decent. Only when you find yourself on badly rutted surfaces does the Evoque feel a little wobbly and off balance.
Even so, this car is all about image, and these problems are unlikely to put off potential buyers. As it’s a Land Rover, one thing you can be sure of is rugged prowess – and as you can see from the pictures, even away from its urban comfort zone, deep in the heart of the snow-sodden Alps, the Evoque Convertible is more than capable off-road.
Slippery side roads and icy tracks are dispatched with minimal fuss thanks to standard four-wheel drive and Land Rover’s Terrain Response system, which tunes the car’s characteristics to suit whatever terrain you find yourself on. If you want to venture further afield, the Convertible also has a wading depth of 500mm, while impressive approach and departure angles – and the ability to scale 45-degree gradients – ensure it’ll go where no other convertible can.
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There’s new tech inside, too. The normal car’s infotainment system has long been a bugbear for Evoque owners, but in the Convertible you’ll see JLR’s updated InControl Touch Pro 10.2-inch set-up. It’s a new colour display that comes as standard on all versions of the soft-top, and seems far more intuitive and responsive to use than the system you’ll find in the existing hard-top. The graphics are slicker and the 3G Wi-Fi hotspot is a real bonus, too.
The rest of the cabin will be more familiar, with lashings of soft-touch materials and brushed aluminium detailing. If you do find yourself in the back, there’s more room than you’d imagine; obviously, headroom isn’t an issue with the roof down, but taller adults might find longer journeys a bit of a chore as knee room is a little on the short side.
It’s one of many sacrifices you’ll have to make, but that hasn’t put off the 2,000 buyers globally who have their name down for one.