Wednesday, August 10, 2011

First Drive: Land Rover Evoque

Fuel efficient, radical sleek design and highly anticipated, will the baby fit the family? Andrew Watts test drives the new Range Rover

There's a lot resting on the Range Rover Evoque, the new marque from Land Rover, from the 1,500 jobs at the Halewood plant in Liverpool that followed the awarding of the production contract, to the growth of the Jaguar Land Rover Group and its place in the market. The concept may have been conceived under the ownership of Ford, but it is being delivered under Tata and the group is keen to prove its commitment to the brand while seeing a return on its investment. 

The Evoque is Land Rover's foray into what is rapidly emerging as the next big sector of the car market: the mid-size sports utility vehicle (SUV), which sits neatly between the high-end market of Range Rover Sport and the more entry-level Nissan Qashqai. While it could be argued that Land Rover already offers a vehicle in this category in the Freelander, it's more of a car of function, rather than style. The Evoque addresses this.

First unveiled as a concept at the 2009 Detroit motor show, the Evoque has attracted immense interest since, principally in the UK, but also in other markets. The good news is that it largely meets the expectation. More than 20,000 have been sold ahead of the launch, creating a waiting list that exceeds four months and is expected to soon pass six. 

From the outside, its sleek lines and recognisable Range Rover styling make it an instant aesthetic hit while its spacious cabin, well-laid out controls and comfortable driving position give a reassuring aura of refinement on a (not insubstantial) budget. Available in two styles, coupe and five-door, and three spec levels, it offers something for everyone. The five-door is arguably the more family-friendly version, but the Coupe still offers good rear leg room though the time it takes for the electronic seats to slide forward mean it is unlikely to be the get-away car of choice for a group of bank robbers or those on the school run. 

The five-door's roof is 30mm higher and slightly flatter and the windscreen 60mm higher giving more headroom in the front and rear. The Evoque's pièce de résistance has to be the panoramic glass roof (£460, or £960 in contrasting colour).

The interior benefits from the technology that might be expected from a car starting at snip under £28,000 though three choices of trim and other options take the price of a top model to £44,320, and into Range Rover Sport territory. 

For example there are heated seats, dual control air-conditioning, a two-way monitor meaning the passenger can watch television (signal permitting) rather than the sat-nav and a 17-speaker Meriden system providing 825W of excellent quality surround sound meaning you can hear the thwack of leather on willow at Lord's as if you were at home surrounded by the latest Dolby 5.1. 

FW Verdict

The Evoque is a capable performer on and off road, though in reality few are likely to ever pull a trailer of sheep up a steep hillside. Although based on the Freelander's chassis, it's an altogether different proposition, from the 200mm lower ground clearance and 1.8t towing capacity (200kg less than the Freelander) to the refined interior which borrows features from the latest Jaguars. 

When faced with an off-road situation, it's all stunningly simple stuff. Simply press the button in the centre console to toggle between mud, gravel, snow and sand settings and there's a separate hill descent control button too. Despite its slightly diminutive stance, Welsh hillside ruts didn't make it stumble, and ride comfort was as we've come to expect from the premium 4x4 marque.

After gunning it up a crawler lane and over-taking five other road users (not all horse boxes or Volvos either), the acceleration was far from disappointing, either, with the Evoque proving to have good pick-up and a 0-60 of 9sec. The five-door Sd4 is likely to be the most popular in the UK due to its better fuel efficiency, lower exhaust emissions and less engine drone at motorway speed compared with the petrol. Oddly, the power steering is also better weighted in the diesel variant. The wheel-mounted gearshift paddles give the option of shifting up and down gears, should you want a more sporty feel, or if you want to hold it in first when moving off with a trailer (or, more likely, caravan). As for everyday driveability it's better than many premium-priced saloons and is sure to impress.

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