Range Rover Evoque Coupe

The stylish and refined class leader provides a stern test for MINI

Our 2011 Car of the Year is still the height of fashion, and the entry-level Evoque eD4 is just as attractive as more expensive models. You have to sacrifice four-wheel drive to get close to the MINI in terms of price, but aside from a lack of winter grip, the driving experience is spot-on. A bigger boot means the Range Rover’s more practical than the Paceman, too.

In 1959, when the original Mini revolutionised affordable motoring with its innovative front-wheel drive packaging, the Series II Land Rover was the standard bearer for 4x4 off-roaders. So it’s a mark of how much the motoring landscape has changed that, in 2013, a front-driven Land Rover faces up to a four-wheel-drive MINI.

While these 21st century offerings are a world away from their trend-setting predecessors, the image created by those illustrious ancestors helps explain why the Land Rover and MINI badges still carry so much kudos today.

Yet the Range Rover Evoque’s current sales success is as much down to its head-turning looks as its desirable heritage. Fortunately, the entry-level two-wheel-drive eD4 is every bit as stylish as more expensive models.

Even the basic Pure trim gets 18-inch alloys, LED running lights and a roof spoiler. You can also choose a contrasting roof colour for £500 or, for £790, go for a panoramic glass roof, so it’s possible to make the eD4 look identical to the more expensive Dynamic Lux model shown in our pictures.

Inside, partial leather trim and brushed aluminium finishing ensure an upmarket feel. The stacked dashboard design is simple and pleasingly laid-out, while the modern switchgear finishes off the plush ambience. And although the optional touchscreen navigation features dated mapping and is a bit fiddly to use, we don’t have much else to grumble about, as the seats are comfortable and the driving position is excellent.

Once on the move, with light steering and simple controls, the Range Rover is agile and easy to drive. The six-speed manual (not the auto pictured) has a pleasant shift, and the ride is more comfortable than the MINI’s.

With the front wheels doing all the turning and accelerating, there’s a sense of the weight being over the nose, and a front bias to the handling. Still, there’s lots of grip – so much so that the Evoque almost lifts an unloaded rear wheel in extreme cornering. As a result, the 4x4 system will hand the MINI an advantage only in wintry conditions.

And by steering clear of all-wheel-drive running gear, the eD4 emits a gram less CO2, at 129g/km, despite being bigger and heavier than its rival. More importantly, the refined 2.2-litre engine and hushed cabin give it the edge over the MINI for refinement.

Performance is closely matched as well – the Evoque was six-tenths slower from 0-60mph, posting a time of 9.8 seconds, but in-gear response is all but identical, which means there’s little to separate the two on the road.

With a bigger boot and three-seat rear bench, the Range Rover is more practical, too. Add this to its style and desirability, and it could give the car the edge over the cheaper MINI – especially as superb 59.1 per cent residuals help offset the more the car’s higher price and more expensive running costs.

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