The sloping rear roof-line, especially in white, prompted comparisons with a squashed fag packet. It’s a profile that’s supposed to appeal to younger owners. When I first saw it, lowered from the heavens by a crane during a preview party at the Orangery in Kensington Gardens, I wasn’t convinced. But I’ve a poor record at predicting future taste — I thought the Mercedes 190/C Class would never catch on, that the Jaguar S-Type would — and early indications are that I’ve got it wrong again. The car has garnered more than 20,000 advance orders and when Autocar did a photo shoot in New York a passer-by crossed the street to say, ‘I don’t know what it is but I need to know where I can get one.’
It is, of course, the new baby Range Rover, the Evoque. Shorter than a Golf, it comes with three or five doors, costs £28,950–£39,995 and in 187bhp 2.2 diesel form drinks fuel at an EU combined average of 44.1mpg (as with all these artificial EU test figures, assume 5–10mpg less for real-world driving). It’s made at Halewood on the same production line as the successful new Freelander, with which it shares about 30 per cent of its design architecture. It does what any comparable 4X4 SUV will do and looks about the same size, despite being no bigger or more powerful than a Ford Focus.
If you don’t want the diesel there’s a 237bhp 2.0-litre petrol mated with a six-speed automatic gearbox and shift-paddles. Both engines have more than enough torque to make the Evoque as lively as you need an SUV to feel. Thanks to Land Rover’s well-proven electronic Terrain Response system, and to excellent approach and departure angles, it will do better than most — perhaps all — of its rivals off-road. Not quite as well as its siblings, Land Rover concedes, but then few drivers ever use them to their limits and this is, after all, primarily a road vehicle.
Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) now makes the best interiors below Rolls-Royce and Bentley, and the Evoque’s does not disappoint. Most people will probably feel better about life the moment they get in. The steeply raked console is clear and convenient and the automatic has the satisfying rotary dial first deployed by JLR in Jaguars. Materials are of a 1quality to match — or exceed — the price and you don’t need any extras to feel cosseted (unless you simply must have the £960 panoramic glass roof).
Some have reported the seats as a little too flat for hard cornering but most of us are never going to drive that hard in cars we pay for ourselves. The roof-line does compromise rear headroom but, again, not so much that most people will notice. It won’t matter at all on the school run. A bag of golf clubs fits comfortably in the boot but don’t expect to see very much out of that narrow rear window.
As for the competition, Autocar put it head-to-head with the BMW X1. They found the latter quicker, more economical, more spacious, more car-like to drive and cheaper (depending on how you juggle the extras — the Evoque has many as standard). So the Evoque loses, then? Not at all: they preferred it because of its looks, its style and its overall feel-good factor. As with the original Range Rover, this could be a model that will define and create its own class.
And they may well be right. I can’t say because I haven’t driven it (which just goes to show how you can write about a car without having opened the door). I was to go on the launch but had to cancel and am promised a loan car, so personal impressions will come later. Those, I predict, will be along the lines of: don’t like the rear (but acknowledge I’m in the minority); don’t like the impossibility of a full-size spare wheel (a smaller and diminishing minority); transforming drive, grade one interior, an engaging, socially acceptable Chelsea tractor that may do for JLR what the Mini did for BMW. Not cheap (neither is the Mini) but you get what you pay for.
Meanwhile, if you’re lucky enough to own one and someone else parks it illegally without your knowledge, under section 2, clause 56 of the sinister-sounding Protection of Freedoms bill, you could be liable. If you don’t like this further extension of putting legal responsibility on the innocent, lobby your MP. That’s what the (self) interest group the British Parking Association has been doing.