Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Test Drive: 2012 Range Rover Evoque Dynamic Review



It was 1970 when Land Rover released a new model that was unique in almost every way. Off-road, it was as capable as the heavy-duty, leaf-sprung Series vehicles from the years before, yet it had the driving manners and comfort of a normal car. It wasn't a bouncy, noisy oxcart with an engine; it actually had some comfort that the English farmer's wife could stand to ride to town in. Yes, Land Rover had essentially invented what we now know today as the SUV.                                                     

Back then, the Range Rover didn't really have any competition. It was, quite literally, in a class of its own.

This time, the story is quite different. The new “baby Range Rover” is born into a class which has quite a bit of competition: namely, the Acura RDX, ZDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Lexus RX, and Mercedes GLK. Arguably, the Evoque might even compete with Land Rover's own LR2. And if you want to get really broad in your thinking, you could consider it a competitor to the Ford Explorer- which, interestingly enough, the Evoque shares a few small parts and pieces with. You know, minor stuff like the engine block.

In the press kit, Land Rover touts that that the brand-new Range Rover Evoque “remains true to the values of premium luxury and performance which have made Range Rover such an enduring success story over the past 40 years.” Hold on just a sec. Are we talking about the off-road machinery and overbuilt mechanicals that die-hard fans love, or the soft leather seats and electronic gadgets aimed toward bon-bon eating women who own miniature dogs that fit into their purses?

Can a four-cylinder crossover vehicle really feel at home as a Range Rover? I first encountered this dilemma in 2005, when I saw the LRX concept at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. I thought that it was an appealing concept car, but assumed that it was solely used as an avenue for Land Rover to introduce new design cues, as concept cars often are. But I was wrong: Land Rover put it into production. Six years after I first saw the LRX concept, I received an invitation to test drive the new Evoque several weeks before retail shipments of the cars began. Naturally, I had to go take a look. You know, strictly for “scientific purposes.”


Click after the jump to continue reading this article



[Ad opens in new window]






2012 Range Rover Evoque Dynamic coupe - Photo copyright UpShift.


THE TEST VEHICLE


I tested a Firenze Red Metallic “Dynamic” coupe model. In an innovative twist, Land Rover has done away with the traditional base, midrange, and top-of-the-line hierarchy... well, sort of. There are three different trims available in the States: “Pure,” (base), “Prestige” (luxury- not available in Coupe form), and “Dynamic” (sport), which I drove.  Prices start at roughly $44,000 for the Pure, up to $54,000 for the Dynamic. Further add-ons can bring the price to just shy of $60,000.

Notable features in the Dynamic include an 825-watt Meridian surround sound system with 17 speakers, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, and some exterior design features like spoilers and whatnot. 


The test car was equipped with the $1,000 “Climate Comfort Package” which added a lovely heated steering wheel, heated seats, and a heated windscreen, a feature I've come to love in my own vehicle. 

It also had the $1,250 “Adaptive Dynamics” system, which features different modes for on and off-road driving situations. When set to “Dynamic” mode, the “MagneRide” magnetic suspension stiffens and tightens, delivering a sports-coupe inspired experience. 

Air suspension, a Range Rover hallmark that seems really nifty until it starts leaking a couple months after delivery, is not present on any Evoque model- a good move for Land Rover's reliability reputation.

The particular Evoque I tested was reportedly a pre-production car, so it had no window sticker. When I priced out the options on Land Rover's website, an identical vehicle would be priced at $59,345.00- about the most expensive Evoque that can be ordered, thanks to the rear-seat entertainment package option.


That's not an Evoque- that's the LRX concept car. Photo courtesy LRNA.

EXTERIOR

Anyone who saw Land Rover's LRX concept at an auto show five years back would have no trouble identifying an Evoque: the resemblance between the production vehicles and the concept car is remarkable, perhaps even unprecedented. The vehicle design is so unchanged that I nearly selected a press photo of the concept LRX to use in this post by mistake. Only the name change alerted me to the slip-up: the LRX said “Land Rover” on the grille, while the production Evoque reads, “Range Rover.”

The designers made a clear effort to make the Evoque a member of the Range Rover family with the body lines and characteristics, yet it doesn't look forced or artificial. Features like the clamshell hood, floating roof, and what Rover calls the 'wheel-at-each-corner' stance are solidly unmistakable Range Rover trademarks, integrated beautifully with a more 'urban' look, perhaps most evident in the aggressively angled beltline and “wedge” windows. The end result is quite stunning, nearly impossible to dislike. It's the sort of car that is hard to look away from once you start looking at it.


2012 Range Rover Evoque Dynamic coupe - Photo copyright UpShift.



A key part of Land Rover's big pitch selling this car as a Range Rover are its upscale features, designed specifically for those women with the bon-bons and miniature dogs I mentioned earlier. This means it has lots and lots of gadgets, some of which are cool, others frivolous and rather silly. The puddle lights fall into the latter category: they cast a silhouette of the Evoque onto the pavement at night when you approach the vehicle. Yeah, great.... How do I turn that off?

Notably absent is the split tailgate, a Range Rover trademark from the beginning. I was, however, intrigued by the electronic tailgate's adjustable height feature. Unlike most tailgates, the Evoque's rear door is equipped with corkscrew type cylinders to support its weight when raised. This has several benefits: they won't wear out like the gas-charged shocks everybody loves to hate, and you can adjust the height at which the door stops when raised by simply holding the button on the door for 10 seconds. Short-statured people will love this: no more jumping to grab the door, slamming it on your head and dropping your port and cheese (and maybe even your miniature poodle) before you finally get it closed. Really, though, I thought it was cool.

The Evoque also has typical luxury-car features like automatic folding mirrors and LED tail lamps. My favorite feature of all, however, isn't normally standard on any car: the tinted panoramic sunroof. It is massive, spanning nearly the entire roof. Thankfully, there is an automatic shade, but on nice days you certainly won't want to use it. I was surprised to learn that this is standard on all Evoque models.


Photo courtesy Land Rover.

INTERIOR

Sitting in the Evoque, it's quite clear that Land Rover realized this was no place to pinch pennies. The seats feel just like the genuine articles from the full-size Range Rover, supportive yet soft, infinitely comfortable. Needless to say, the Evoque is equipped with features for the mini-dog lady, like power memory seats, navigation, and a premium sound system. 

There are, however, some signature innovations: the Evoque has a dial shifter that pops out of the center console when the Start button is pressed. I had seen this feature in photos and at auto shows, and had mixed feelings about how I would adapt to it. Thankfully, it's quite easy to get used to. I was surprised how much I liked it. The parking brake engagement is also completely electronic- very cool, but something that concerns me as an enthusiast of older cars. What happens if the vehicle needs to be towed when the electronic system goes down or the battery dies? I assume there are backup controls for these inevitable situations.

Passenger space is excellent and feels equivalent to any class competitor, the only exception being the rear seat of the Coupe model, which is rather difficult to enter or exit and has limited headroom. But it's hard to criticize it too much: the Evoque is the first "coupe SUV." Both coupe and four-door  models have an average amount of cargo room in the back; in this area, they trail all competitors by a few cubic feet. Still, there's more room than a car trunk.

Perhaps the most "whoa, cool- nifty!" product within the Evoque's cabin is the LCD screen for the navigation system, which is a dual screen display. That means that the driver can see navigation maps and directions, while the passenger looks on from the opposite angle and sees a DVD. This is the first implementation of actual witchcraft in a production vehicle, from what I have been able to find.

I've always loved Land Rover's thick, leather-wrapped steering wheels, and the Evoque's is no exception. The entire interior feels very well put-together, even on the car I tested, which had more than 3,000 test-driver aggressive miles on it. It's undeniably worthy of the Range Rover marque in every way.


Photo courtesy Land Rover.


DRIVING

Mechanically, the Evoque is nothing like any of the Range Rovers we're used to. Land Rover knows that most owners won't ever even think of taking these cars off-road. Still, all Evoques are all-wheel-drive, with power distributed roughly 70% front, 30% rear by default. But unlike its competition, the Rover is able to split power 50/50 to the front and rear wheels, allowing for a driving experience that feels more similar to the traditional Range Rover.

Awaiting my first drive in the Evoque, my primary concern was the powerplant. Four-cylinder engines aren't particularly known for smoothness or making “good noise.” Until just a few years ago, they were relegated to econoboxes and base model family cars. In the Evoque literature, Land Rover touts the engine's low CO2 output and good fuel economy (19 city/28 highway). But this is a Range Rover. Who cares about fuel economy or pollution?

As it turns out, Land Rover chose the engine for more than just that. The two liter turbocharged, direct-injected four-cylinder engine, a variant of Ford's EcoBoost platform seen in the Ford Explorer, produces 251 lb-ft of torque at an incredibly low 1,750rpm and 240 horsepower at a smooth yet exhilarating 5,500rpm. While the cylinder count may induce doubt in the minds of automotive enthusiasts, the engine weighs nearly 90 pounds less than the six-cylinder in the current LR2, while producing more power. In fact, the 'horsepower per litre' count is actually more than the engine in the Range Rover Supercharged. And the Evoque itself weighs only about 3,500 pounds, lighter than most competitors.


Nearly all of my apprehensions and doubts were whisked away just as swiftly as I left the parking lot.

Turbo lag is non-existent; the engine pulls all the way to its redline with wonderfully linear power delivery, probably thanks in part to the six-speed automatic transmission that delivered silky-smooth shifts at just the right time and was more than willing to downshift when necessary. The engine is nearly silent at all but the highest RPMs, where its sound reminds me of a Saab turbo- not a bad thing.

Unfortunately, we Americans can't get the Evoque with a manual transmission: hopefully something Land Rover will reconsider soon. But in the meantime, true drivers can appease themselves with the paddle shifters, which I am pleased to report are the real deal. The system allows you to start off in second gear if you so please, and won't hesitate to let you rev it up to redline or lug it in a gear that's too high if you see some compelling need to do so.

My one gripe with the system is that I wasn't able to find a way to turn off the paddle shifters: one of the first things I did while driving was accidentally tap one of the paddles, which kicked it into Manual mode and stuck it there for a couple blocks of driving, until it figured out that I wanted it to shift for me.

In the press kit, Land Rover declares that the Evoque “will attract a new generation of Range Rover customers who have never considered an SUV before, such as premium coupe buyers who would like to make a bold new statement.” [translate: “bon-bon eating, mini-puppy carrying women”]

Jokes aside, they carried this idea through not only the design of the vehicle, but also in its handling characteristics. With the Terrain Response System switched into optional Dynamic mode, the Evoque is transformed into a crossover that rides like a genuine sports car, albeit a large one. 

In any setting, body roll is kept to a minimum. The Evoque handles like a sport sedan, yet it doesn't punish its passengers with a harsh ride. The MagneRide suspension soaked up bumps with ease; the ride was incredibly quiet and smooth without being isolated from the road.

Land Rover calls the steering system EPAS (Electronic Power Assisted Steering). The fluidless system is advantageous because it lightens up for city driving and makes the car easy to keep in a lane on the highway by tightening up and increasing on-center feel, but it sacrifices a bit by removing some road feedback; not enough to make it Toyota-boring, though. The Evoque is remarkably fun to drive, but also sumptuously comfortable to ride in. That's a difficult balance to strike. 




The Evoque isn't an alternative to a full-size Range Rover, although it might (deservedly) steal away a few Range Rover Sport buyers. I'm the proud owner of an original Range Rover- yeah, I'm a purist- and I view the Evoque as the ultimate on-street Range Rover. With this model, Land Rover has created something that has the potential to steal buyers of not only compact luxury SUV's, but also luxury coupes.

Admittedly, as an off-roader, this Range Rover might be a disgrace to the family name. But why can't it be that odd sibling that betrayed the family occupation and hit it big doing something else? The Evoque isn't as much of an earth-shattering innovation as its great-great-grandfather, but it has quite clearly inherited the family spirit of trying something new and doing it well. After all, it is the first two-door coupe sports utility vehicle.
I have no delusions of fording rivers or crossing deserts in the Evoque, but I sure would love to drive cross-country behind the wheel of one. And I'd be sure to find some twisty roads on the way.








6 comments:

  1. want one soooooo bad

    ReplyDelete
  2. How was the rear seat room/entry, being a coupe?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Pretty much typical of a coupe. Difficult to enter/exit. Once you're back there it's not so bad as long as you're not exceptionally tall.

    Land Rover doesn't seem to even pretend that the rear seat will be used often; the coupe is marketed to those who already own a coupe or are shopping for one.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Very detailed review, thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  5. The visibility looks terrible, from the outside. Can you actually see anything from inside?

    ReplyDelete
  6. The visibility isn't as bad as it looks. The side mirrors are huge. I didn't notice any blind spots in the 2-door model.

    Obviously, *rear* visibility is pretty bad. However, this is partially aided by the backup camera and sensors. If you haven't driven a car with these before, it can take some getting used to, but it's really nice once you learn to trust it. Putting the vehicle in Reverse prompts the nav screen to switch to the rear camera view.

    ReplyDelete

Your comments are welcomed and encouraged! Unless they're spam, of course.