In The Spectator of 27 August I reviewed the new Range Rover Evoque despite not having driven it; a narcissistic exercise to see how accurately I could predict my own impressions. Having now spent a week with it, I can proudly proclaim that I passed my self-set, self-assessed test handsomely, albeit not quite with an A*.
I predicted that, although no bigger or more powerful than a Ford Focus, the Evoque would perform like a proper 4X4 SUV but with car-like handling and an interior that makes you feel better about life as soon as you get in it. It would be neater and nippier than the usual Land Rover product, an engaging, socially acceptable Chelsea tractor that could do for Jaguar Land Rover what the Mini did for BMW. I was almost entirely right on this — just not quite right enough. I also predicted that I would still dislike the squashed rear (acknowledging I’m in a minority) and the fact that it’s impossible to have a full-size spare wheel. Right again. However, I failed to predict that within two minutes of getting behind the wheel I would be asking the question, what’s this car for? Nor that within ten miles I would have answered it.
It comes with two body styles, coupé and five-door, and three engines — two 2.2-litre diesels and a new 2.0-litre petrol. The diesels will be the most popular but its peak market customer, I felt, won’t begrudge a few quid extra for the speed and quietness of petrol. She lives in Chelsea or Knightsbridge, prefers an automatic with all the bits, wants five doors for the school run and 4WD rather than two (the 2WD option is a first for Land Rover) in case snow dusts the Cotswolds at the weekend. So I chose an attractive, dark-red, five-door petrol auto, offering 0–60 in 7.1 seconds and, during several hundred miles ranging from cart-tracks to motorways, showing a computer reading of 27.4 mpg.
At first I thought, this is so like a car, why not have a car? Better still, an estate which fits in not only the children but also your luggage as well as theirs and the dog — the Evoque’s boot looks no bigger than a Golf’s. Or why not buy its Freelander sibling, which will do it all for less money while looking better (to my eye) and feeling just as good.
But such pragmatic and utilitarian assumptions show I still hadn’t got the point of this car. The Evoque is a fashion statement, with the right label, smart looks, an acceptable environmental footprint (one of the diesels is below 130g/km CO2, yielding 44.1 mpg EU combined average) and a distinctive but not too noticeable presence. And it still does most of what its big sister will do.
That’s not all. Cars are complex constructions, each one a tribute to engineering ingenuity, but deciding whether or not you like a car is usually simple and subjective. If you like the look of it, feel good when you sit in it, approve its status and enjoy driving it, then that’s it for most of us. Sometimes, though, it’s less straightforward. I didn’t like the look of the Evoque when I saw it, just as I didn’t the Rolls-Royce Phantom, but in each case the drive was so good that it changed my perception of the look and by the end I was reconciled.
I no longer mind the Evoque’s rear now that I associate it with an easy and stimulating driving experience. Just sitting in it is a pleasure and the handling, particularly with adaptive dynamics, makes you want to keep on driving. It went through a very sharp S-bend I regularly use about 10mph faster than most SUVs will comfortably cope with and the seats weren’t too flat for hard cornering; you just push yourself back into them.
Quibbles: the radio on/off switch could do with illumination of its own — you soon learn where to feel for it in the dark but you shouldn’t have to. Ditto the start/stop button, which is illuminated when the lights are on but disappears if, like me, you habitually turn off the lights before the engine (the result of a youth spent in cars with inadequate charging or permanently weak batteries). Finally, the quietness of the engine means that you notice the air-conditioning blower. That’s about it.
But if that 27.4 mpg — or any other figure — worries you in these relatively straitened times, remind yourself that fuel has increased by almost 40 per cent in four years and that the government takes 66p of every pound you spend on it. Further increases in fuel tax will mean less money elsewhere in the economy, less tax revenue as people buy less fuel and higher costs all round. If we are to regenerate through Keynes’s ‘animal spirits’, the government needs to stop clobbering the animal every time it moves. Do something about it by registering your support on fairfueluk.com
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated December 17, 2011