By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
It took guts for Land Rover to actually build a vehicle like the Evoque. Not as a concept car — but as an actual production car.
A production car that still looks like a concept car.
This is a rare thing — for obvious reasons. Extremes of style can be polarizing — and are all-too-often functionally compromising.
One does not see many Isuzu VehiCrosses (or Pontiac Azteks) running around today.
But the Evoque is no Vehicross — and most definitely no Aztek (no one will laugh at you and call you Heisenberg).
It’s also no Land Rover — in the traditional LR sense.
WHAT IT IS
The Evoque is a new addition to the LR lineup — and very different from other LR models in form as well as function.
It is shorter and wider — and smaller — and much lighter — than other LR models. It is also much more on-road than off-road minded — and comes in both two and four door versions — something absent from the SUV market since the 1990s-era two-door Ford Explorer.
Power comes from a turbo four — not a six (much less an eight.)
Prices start at $41,145 for the base four-door Pure trim. The coupe starts one notch higher in Pure Plus trim (optional with the four-door model) and carries a base price of $44,145. There are Premium and Dynamic upgrade trims available for either version and so equipped, an Evoque’s out-the-door price can crest $50,000.
Because of its unique looks and layout, the Evoque hasn’t got any direct competitors — yet. The closest cross-shop contenders available at the moment are sporty crossover SUVs along the lines of the BMW X1 and X3 and Audi Q5. However, a more direct threat is on deck for 2014, when Audi will launch the Evoque-sized (and more Evoque-themed) Q3.
Even then, none of these are (or will be) offered in two-door form.
Which means the Evoque’s in a class by itself.
For its second year on the market, the Evoque receives a few minor style tweaks and an upgraded version of its off-road guidance system (which is integrated with the GPS).
An automatic parking assist feature has been added to the options roster.
It’s gorgeous as industrial design — and surprisingly everyday practical — despite that wicked roofline.
It’s light — and thus, agile.
A peppy performer — notwithstanding four-cylinder power.
Doesn’t cost as much as you’d expect it to cost. Only about $4k more than the wallflower-looking LR2.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Despite its small engine, the Evoque has a fairly big appetite for gas — if driven as it ought to be driven.
Despite being light, it’s not any quicker than a 400-plus pounds heavier X3 (and it’s about 1.5 seconds slower than the closer-to-its-size/weight X1).
No upgrade engine available.
If it’s a sales flop, expect it to depreciate in an Aztekian downward curve.
UNDER THE HOOD
Like a growing number of automakers — including high-end automakers — Land Rover is moving toward smaller engines (with big-boost turbos for on-demand power) as a way to make its vehicles more everyday fuel-efficient. Thus, the Evoque comes standard with the same 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine that’s also become standard equipment in the 2013 LR2 — which formerly came with a larger — and much thirstier — 3.2 liter in-line six.
The turbo four gits ‘er done on all counts. It makes more power than the old six (240 hp vs. 230) as well as more torque (251 lbs.-ft at 1,750 RPM vs. 234 lbs.-ft at 3,500 RPM). It also rates better EPA numbers: 18 city, 28 highway vs. 15 city, 22 highway for the old LR straight six — if you can keep your foot out of it. If not — if the boost’s on a lot — your real-world mileage will vary. I averaged about 20 MPG during my week-long test drive.
Then again, your mileage may vary.
Zero to 60 happens in about 7.4 seconds.
These numbers put the Evoque right there with other four-cylinder-turbo’d, compact/mid-size SUVs like the 2013 BMW X3 28i and Audi Q5 2.0 T — but a step or two behind the very quick BMW X1, the base version of which gets to 60 in 6.2 seconds. The X1 with its optionally available 300 hp turbo six is even quicker still: 0-60 in just over 5 seconds — which makes it one of the speediest vehicles of this general type you can buy right now. (The 2014 Q3 — which is scheduled for a summer 2013 introduction — will be powered by the same 2.0 turbo engine used as the Q5’s base engine; being smaller and lighter than the Q5, it will probably be quicker than the Evoque, too.)
Also: Both the X3 and Q5 (like the X1) offer upgrade engines — while the Evoque does not.
When equipped with their optional sixxes, the X3 and Q5 get to 60 almost two full seconds sooner. They also come equipped with more efficient (and better performing) eight-speed automatics while the Evoque comes standard with a six-speed. It is an excellent six-speed that shifts smartly and smoothly — but in this price range, eight-speeds are fast becoming de rigueur — the expected thing.
In the US, all Evoques come standard with a Haldex Gen IV AWD system (with driver-selectable Terrain sensing settings) similar in layout and function to the system found in the LR2. In normal driving, most of the engine’s power is routed to the front wheels, but if they begin to lose traction, power is kicked to the rear wheels in ever increasing percentages to maintain forward progress. It’s not as off-road-capable as the RWD-based 4WD system (which has a two-speed transfer case and 4WD Low range gearing) used in the LR4 and other Land Rover models, but it is nonetheless very capable when it comes to handling snow-covered pavement, sandy beaches and grassy fields.
Helping the Evoque’s off-pavement bona fides is a very generous 8.4 inches of ground clearance — which is more ground clearance than the Audi Q5 (7.9 inches) and the BMW X3 (8.3 inches). Skid plates are available, too — part of the Dynamic package, which also includes special 19 inch wheels and perforated leather seat covers.
Also top-drawer is the Evoque’s tow rating of 3,500 lbs. — 500 pounds better than the BMW X3 28i — though not quite as strong as the current class-leading Audi Q5’s 4,400 lb. rating (with its optional supercharged V-6 engine).
No word yet on the ’14 Q3’s max tow rating.
ON THE ROAD
Other Land Rover models are — principally — built to perform near-miracles off road. And, they do. The price you pay for this is mass. Unsprung mass. Lots of it. An LR4 weighs a pavement crushing 5,623 lbs — and even the lighter-duty LR2 comes in at nearly two tons — 3,913 lbs. This naturally limits the moves these off-road machines can make on-road. Cornering at high speed, for instance. It’s just not their bag, baby. And to be fair, one shouldn’t expect it to be.
Ferraris aren’t much good for rock crawling, either.
The Evoque is something new — and the differences are more than skin deep. Its curb weight is a mere 3,680 lbs. This is not only light relative to other LR models, it is light relative to other manufacture’s models. The BMW X3 doesn’t look it but at 4,112 lbs. it is a staggering 432 lbs. heavier than the Evoque. Even the X1 — which is smaller than the X3 — pushes 3,800 lbs.
The Audi Q5 is also a beefster at 4,079 lbs.
The 2014 Q3 is the only thing in the Evoque’s ballpark, weight-wise, but it’s not actually out yet. Stats weren’t official at the time this review was written in early April 2013, but the word is the Q will have a curb weight of about 3,700 lbs. — which would make it just slightly heavier.
Bottom line, the Evoque is super svelte — and thus, exceptionally agile. Though not a Ferrari — it’s not an LR4 (or even an LR2) and can be driven with gusto in other than a straight line. And stability at high speed in a straight line is also vastly better than other LR models. Jerk the wheel at 80 in an LR4 or Range Rover and you will get my drift. They’re not dangerous. But they are SUVs — and if you drive one like it’s a car, you may learn a lesson the hard way.
The little turbo four has lots of guts — especially down low. The torque curve is almost diesel-like, but high RPM pull is not lacking. At the aforesaid 80-plus, the Evoque is both composed — and eager for more. It is an Autobahn worthy SUV — which is a shame given US highway speed limits.
The only critique I can gin up is that relative to the X1/X3 and Q5 (and probably the new Q3) the Evoque could be — and probably ought to be — a little quicker. Same power — less weight — should have done the trick. But, doesn’t. Maybe the Evoque’s profile isn’t as aerodynamically efficient as the lower slung Audi and BMW? Perhaps the main reason has to do with the six-speed automatic — vs. the eight speed boxes in the X3 and Q5 (the Q3 will have a six-speed automated manual).
It could also be final drive gearing. Who knows?
It’s not that the Evoque is slow — none of the vehicles in this class are slow. It’s just that the LR should be a bit quicker, given its not-small power-to-weight advantage and given what less pricey vehicles like the X1 ($30,800 to start), the X3 ($38,850 to start) and Q5 ($35,900 to start) and, shortly, the Q3 (expected MSRP $32k-ish ) deliver in terms of forward thrust.
A more potent optional engine could also help — but that might be a problem for Land Rover, in terms of CAFE. Then again, Kia has managed to get 270 hp out of its 2.0 four; surely Land Rover could do it, too.
AT THE CURB
“Dramatic” hardly covers it. But it’s the practicality of this stylistic wild child that’s the real story. Despite that show-car roofline, the Evoque has virtually the same front and rear head room (40.3 inches and 39.7 inches, respectively) as the bigger and longer and taller BMW X3 (40.7 inches and 39.1 inches) as well as — wait for it — slightly more front and rear headroom than the boxy LR2 (40.2 inches and 39.4 inches). And because the Evoque is very wide in proportion to its length (77.4 inches/171.9 inches as compared with 74.1 inches/183 inches for the X3) it feels even more spacious inside. For four people, it is extremely comfortable — even if those four are big n’ tall adults and even given the Evoque’s full-roof panorama glass. My 6 ft 3 self fits easily in the second row — with air to spare between the top of my head and the headliner. No forward crouching necessary. There is no compromise in terms of passenger-carrying capacity relative to vehicles of comparable size — and even relative to vehicles that are larger in size like the X3 and Q5.
We’ll have to wait and see as far as the 2014 Q3, but I doubt it’ll be a major difference, either way.
And how about cargo space? You might think, given the Evoque is 5.1 inches stubbier than its LR2 cousin, it would have a severely abbreviated cargo area. In fact, the cube count is very close: 51 cubes total for the Evoque vs. 58.9 for the LR2. The BMW X3 has more cubes — 63.3 — but ought to, given it is almost a foot longer overall (183 inches vs. 171.9 for the Evoque). And the X1 has fewer cubes — just 47.7 all told.
Inside, the layout is familiar — but more fluid. For example, the center console flows up to meet the dash, which is canted forward rather than bolt upright, as in the LR2. It has metal-trim buttresses on either side — and a handy hidden cubby has been thoughtfully added behind it.
There is also a Jaguar-style rotary knob gear selector (with secondary manual controls on the steering wheel). I’m not a huge fan of this — even though it is admittedly elegant as far as its aesthetics. My issue is with function. You can’t just jump in, push the ignition start button — and go. You have to wait a moment for the rotary knob to rise all the way up from the dash before you can rotate it to select Drive. It’s a very small — and very subjective — complaint. Probably most people are not in as much of a hurry as I usually am.
Any way you view it, the Evoque is as interesting as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater — sharing the cantilevered themes, even. The roof seems to float — and project upward — while the beltline trends downward, with the windshield base extending well forward of the front door cut-line and the windshield itself arching backward and up to meet the roof. The “sedan” is no less dramatic-looking than the coupe, by the way.
Gorgeous — and practical. This is the girl you take home to to meet the folks.
Speaking of practical, a word or two must be devoted to the Evoque’s windshield — which like all Land Rover windshields can be ordered with an electric defroster grid (part of the Climate Comfort package, which also includes toasty seat heaters and heated windshield washer jets).
All new cars have rear electric defrosters. Only Land Rovers have both front and rear electric defrosters. It’s a small thing — but something you’ll come to appreciate the first time there’s an ice storm and instead of having to chip away at the front glass with a chisel, all you’ll need to do is push a button and wait a a few minutes for the Great Melting to take place. Magnificent. Why others haven’t followed Land Rover’s example is a mystery right up there with the JFK assassination.
The new park assist thing is fascinating from a technology point of view. The Evoque can size up the potential parking spot for you — and if it’s a fit, the driver can then turn over the actual maneuvering to the cameras and computers. It works as advertised — but I look with a gimlet eye upon such “assistance.” Parallel parking is a pretty basic skill. Should a person who can’t park be driving?
THE BOTTOM LINE
It’s nice that such an exotic-looking thing is not exotically priced — if you’re careful with the options — and also not functionally compromised — as most exotic-looking vehicles are. If anything, the Evoque is the most practical of all current Land Rover models. It’s better balanced — literally as well as figuratively. The off-road-minded LRs are superb when the pavement ends, but arguably too superb in terms of their off-road capabilities for the mostly on-street driving most people do. Their RWD-based layouts (LR2 excepted) eat up interior room, add bulk — and compromise their on-road handling and highway/high-speed stability. The Evoque has just enough off-road capability to be credible as a Land Rover — while still behaving more like a sporty car on the pavement.
It is everything a concept car ought to be — and everything a production car needs to be.