Few cars have been as eagerly anticipated as the Range Rover Evoque. Ever since it made its debut as the LRX concept at the 2008 Detroit Motor Show, the stylish SUV has been one of the world’s most talked about new models.
Three years on and it’s finally ready to hit dealers. Designed to broaden the appeal of the luxurious Range Rover brand, the newcomer is the smallest and sportiest model in the firm’s illustrious history.
However, the question on fans’ lips is whether the Evoque is a true Range Rover. By creating a compact SUV, have bosses diluted the upmarket image of this legendary marque?
The car certainly looks like no other Range Rover. In the metal it’s virtually identical to the LRX, which means you get the same aggressive nose, sweeping roofline, steeply raked tailgate and sleek, coupe-like profile. However, it retains enough of the firm’s trademark design cues to leave you in no doubt about its heritage.
The bold metal grille, clamshell bonnet, ‘floating’ roof panel and high-riding stance are pure Range Rover. The original model is obviously much larger, but it has no more on-road presence than the head-turning Evoque.
Climb aboard a Range Rover, and you expect luxury limousine levels of refinement – and our range-topping Autobiography test car doesn’t disappoint. Soft leather and real wood are used throughout, and the build quality is first rate. Simply put, there are few car interiors in the world that are as cosseting and comfortable.
So, it comes as a pleasant surprise to find that sliding behind the wheel of the Evoque doesn’t feel like a letdown. The driving position isn’t as commanding as its big brother’s, but the raised ride height means you’re still elevated above most traffic.
And while the Evoque can’t match the vast original for cabin space, there’s much more room for occupants and luggage than its low-slung shape and compact dimensions would suggest.
Better still, in range-topping Dynamic trim, you benefit from the same mix of upmarket materials – although the timber trim can be replaced with brushed aluminium for a more polished and modern look.
A high centre console and thick-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel give the car a more sporty and driver focused feel. But just behind the neat rotary gear selector are buttons for the Evoque’s Terrain Response system – further proof that the newcomer hasn’t lost sight of its rugged off-roading roots.
As with other models in the line-up, the Evoque’s electronically controlled four-wheel-drive system can be switched between Normal, Gravel, Mud and Sand settings. When combined with the impressive 500mm wading depth and short overhangs, it allows the newcomer to turn in an assured performance in the rough stuff.
There’s even the option to specify the same Surround View set-up that features on the full-size model. Costing £615, it uses the dashboard’s eight-inch colour screen to display images from front, side and rear-mounted cameras, allowing you to place the Evoque with pinpoint accuracy when avoiding off-road obstacles.
However, it has to give best to the original over really tough terrain. The bigger model’s height adjustable air-suspension, low-range gear ratios and superior axle articulation mean that it’s virtually unstoppable when you head off the beaten track.
What the Evoque loses in off-road ability, it more than makes up for with its tarmac agility. In a straight line, the 237bhp 2.0-litre turbo engine is no match for the Range Rover’s thumping 503bhp supercharged V8, but on a twisting back road the newcomer shows the old car a clean pair of heels. Quick and meaty steering combines with strong body control to allow the Evoque to slice through bends with saloon car-like composure.
By contrast, the heavy yet softly suspended original wallows around, with its stability control intervening at surprisingly low speeds. There’s very little feedback through the steering wheel, but the elevated driving position and excellent visibility make it easy to place the Range Rover on the road. Both cars are quiet and refined cruisers, although the larger machine just has the edge on quietness and comfort.
So, is the Evoque a true Range Rover? Based on its distinctive looks, upmarket image, cosseting cabin and off-road ability, the answer is a resounding yes. The fact it’s also great to drive on the road is the icing on the cake.
WHY: Legendary Range Rover has been around in various forms for more than 40 years. Is the Evoque fit to carry the same name as its illustrious big brother?