Range Rover Evoque (photo: Nigel Moll)
Range Rover Evoque photo credit: Nigel Moll

Range Rover Evoque

On the inside, Range Rover’s new, brand-bolstering Evoque is surprisingly spacious in the seating department and capable in performance, despite its four-cylinder engine and modest footprint (16 inches shorter and more than 1,600 pounds lighter than a Range Rover Sport). The interior trim is worthy of the marque, too, but the vehicle’s hatchback area offers limited baggage space. The verdict on its styling and name probably depends on the age of the juror, and the traditional Range Rover buyer might regard this new interpretation as more suitable for a daughter. The Evoque has neither the avoirdupois pounds nor the old-money gravitas of its forebears, and that is all part of the plan for broadening the appeal and affordability of the brand and therefore fattening its production numbers.

The North American press launch of the vehicle was evidence that the faraway Indian owners of Jaguar Land Rover are no party poopers. The venue was Vancouver, B.C., and the clear themes were “surprising” and “go anywhere.” For example, after hoodwinking the assembled scribes in the lobby of the harborside hotel that, to avoid traffic congestion, we would travel on water taxis north across the harbor to the vehicles, our hosts had the aquacabs rendezvous with a barge mid-harbor carrying 11 Evoques, to which we were transferred and, amphibious-assault style, deposited ashore to clamber up a ramp of damp logs leading to a specially built obstacle course beside the water.

From there we drove north on the Sea-to-Sky Highway to Whistler-Blackcomb Mountain and, up suitably challenging trails, to the snow-covered top of its ski resort. As the day concluded and we headed back down the mountain, our hosts redeployed the hoodwink, directing us to turn right out of Whistler away from Vancouver and proceed a short distance north to the golf resort, allegedly for a driver swap. Instead we were led onto the lakeside resort’s dock to board a Whistler Air DHC-3T Otter floatplane for the flight back to the hotel.

The degree of thought put into the press launch mirrored the amount of consideration that has gone into the Evoque, a vehicle tasked with preserving the appeal of a traditional Range Rover while expanding the marque and also hoisting the company’s corporate average fuel economy (Cafe) ratings. When I first took the driver’s seat, I was skeptical about whether Land Rover had pulled it off, but the doubts dispelled through the day as this capable vehicle proved worthy of its stable with each vanquished obstacle.

Compared with its heftier siblings (which have a unitized body bolted to a ladder frame), the Evoque is all unitized (monocoque body, no ladder frame) and has four of their five off-road dynamic modes; the Evoque lacks only rock crawl. Its 240-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine is well up to the job of ­propelling the vehicle on or off road, and the terrain on the press-launch route was demanding.

The harborside course included steep mud slopes up and down, and the Evoque’s hill descent control kept the tires gripping when every instinct told the driver to expect a slide to the bottom at whatever angle the physics and sure-to-vanish grip would soon dish up. On the Whistler segment there were more impressive ascent and descent angles on muddy gravel, again handled with aplomb. Transverse channels of water erosion across the mountain trails, tackled obliquely so as not to dig the Evoque’s prow into the upslope beyond the valley, tested the rigidity of the body and its 8.5 inches of ground clearance (just 0.4 inches less than that of a Range Rover Sport elevated for off-road duty) as the vehicle straddled the gulley, teetering on diagonally opposite tires.

Again, the Evoque tackled these tasks with no creaks, groans or fuss, its off-road abilities somehow at odds with its chic sheet metal. The Evoque might not be quite the mountain goat its older brethren are, but it has serious clambering and slogging skills. In reality, of course, most Evoques will never venture off the blacktop, and getting to the grocery store and back in the snow will be their most hazardous duty.

Range Rover’s reputation for vehicle reliability has been less than stellar in years past, and the company has been flogging the Evoque hard to see how it squeals. Among the punishment, according to the manufacturer: 5,000 miles at full speed and nonstop on Germany’s Nurburgring with a racecar driver at the wheel; a month on the sands, dirt roads and intense heat of the Middle East; and “our infamous off-road test cycle in the UK, encompassing thousands of miles through the deep mud and clay of the Land Rover test center at Eastnor Castle proving grounds, the MIRA and Gaydon durability circuits, and the deep water and ruts of a military proving ground designed to challenge tanks and personnel carriers.”

The Evoque comes in an array of choices, with sticker prices from the mid-$40,000s to the mid-$50,000s. You can order a two-door hatchback “coupe” or a four-door hatchback (both with enormous glass roof area, which pulls in the full splendor of trailside trees and skyscapes). The basic equipment provides plenty of creature comforts and gadgets, but add-ons for each body style include 20-inch wheels; 360-degree cameras for wheel placement; adaptive (curve-illuminating)/auto-dimming xenon headlamps; heated windshield, seats and steering wheel; 17-speaker (versus 11 standard) 825-watt surround-sound system; magneto-rheological suspension dampers; and varying degrees of wood, metal and leather trim.

Jaguar, Land Rover and the New World Order

Car enthusiasts are no different from anyone else when the object of their brand loyalty changes hands. They’re apt to raise a red flag when the acquiring party is a conglomerate with a dubious track record or a once-obscure nation seeking its slice of global economic action. Aston Martin (Kuwait), Lotus (Malaysia), Saab (pre-bailout GM) and Volvo Cars (China) come to mind.

In 2008 Ford sold Jaguar and Land Rover to India’s Tata–more confirmation, for Brits at least, that what Mahatma Gandhi started more than 70 years ago knows no bounds and that the sun has truly set on the empire. Jaguar and Land Rover the pride of India? Whatever next? Some British pundits in ’08 were predicting pillage, plunder, layoffs and the same demise that had claimed other venerable British Leyland names such as Rover, MG, Austin, Morris and Triumph.

In fact, progress has dominated the outlook so far. Jaguar has some great cars in showrooms and more in the pipeline. Three years on, in March last year, Jaguar Land Rover announced it would be hiring 1,500 more staff at its (former Ford UK) Halewood plant and signed $3 billion in supplier contracts with UK-based companies to produce the vehicle seen on these pages, the Range Rover Evoque. Last September Jaguar Land Rover said it would be investing $500 million in a new plant in the British Midlands to build four-cylinder gas and diesel engines.

However, this past March, as a five-year agreement with Tata to leave the British workforce in place met the four-year mark, Jaguar Land Rover and China-based carmaker Chery agreed to invest nearly $3 billion in a joint venture to build Jaguar and Land Rover engines and vehicles in China for the Chinese market–a common strategy these days for car manufacturers and now for airplane builders, as Cessna demonstrated earlier this year with agreements for Chinese manufacture of the Sovereign and Latitude business jets and the Caravan utility turboprop single for sale in that country. Jaguar Land Rover and Cessna both say domestic production of vehicles/engines and airplanes will continue. Such is the new world order for the manufacturing industry.

All this boils down to the fact that the quintessentially British Jag and Range Rover, like so many other vehicles and aircraft today, are the creation of the same global industry and finance that is driving sustained demand for large-cabin, long-range business jets.

Range Rover Evoque Specs

Engine: I4, 2.0 liters, turbocharged and intercooled, 16 valves
Engine output: 240 hp @ 5500 rpm; 250 lb-ft @ 1750 rpm; redline 6800 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Curb weight: 3,902 lb
Power loading: 16.3 lb/hp
Top speed: 135 mph
Zero to 60 mph: 7.1 sec
Fuel capacity: 18.5 U.S. gal
City/combined/highway (EPA): 18/23/28 mpg
Test average: Not measured
Test tires: Continental Cross Contact UHP front and rear 235/55R19
Standard retail price: $43,995-$52,395

Source: Jaguar Land Rover