Range Rover Evoque review

Does Range Rover’s luxury softroader stay true to the marque’s off-road heritage?

Pure. Prestige Dynamic. Adjectives? And all terms that could be applied to a Range Rover and they are, in the Evoque’s various specification levels. But this is no regular Range Rover; everything has changed. Evoque… evoke a spirit… so where is the Range Rover spirit in this new incarnation?

Stepping inside the test vehicle, a base-spec Pure, you’re confronted with Range Rover DNA everywhere. The appointments, the technology, the quality. And then you push the start button. (I hate keyless/start/stop ignition, especially at a heady $1350.) The engine is rather noisy. It’s not refined. Well, maybe refined in performance but not in isolation.

This five-door Pure is powered by the four-cylinder TD4 engine. Its 2179cc mill makes a claimed 110kW at 4000rpm and 400Nm at 1750rpm and was, in our tester, mated to the optional six-speed automatic. The other engine options for buyers are the SD4, which is a tweaked version of the TD4 (140kW at 3500rpm and 420Nm at 1750rpm), or the Si4 1999cc petrol with 177kW (5500rpm) and 340Nm (1750rpm) on tap.

In our first drive (Jan 2012 issue) we’d had a major taste of the Evoque’s on-road performance, and a little of its off-road manners – this is the first Range Rover without low-range gearing, though it does have Terrain Response.

All models have been driven hard by journos all over the world. Evoque’s driving dynamics are not in question; they are precise no matter how hard the vehicle is pushed. The Evoque has no air suspension but all-independent, all-corner coils. The set-up is tuned for spirited handling and while it can feel firm on occasion it’s a tune that keeps the car planted on all surfaces and is a joy when pushed through the twisties; bodyroll is minimal and grip is sensational. The electric steering is progressive, with a heavy over-centre feel at slower speeds that’s unusual but at all other times is light, direct and communicative.

The suspension tune can be tweaked with the option of MagneRide as part of the Adaptive Dynamic option pack, but with Evoque there is an option for everything (see Options Weighed, p55). Our test Pure has sensible Pirelli Scorpion all-season Verde rubber in 235/60R18P designation, though the fashion conscious can head up to 19- or 20-inch rims. The spare was a 155/85R18 115M space-saver limited to 80km/h use. And while fashion will play a huge hand in Evoque sales, this vehicle should not be dismissed as a mere accessory. We wanted to find out about substance over style.

The summer has been atrocious, weather-wise, in NSW and so it came as no surprise to photographer Phil and me as we laboured over the Blue Mountains in drizzle and fog and then pouring rain. Looking great for pics. But it would give us a chance to test the Evoque’s mettle in the mud around Lithgow.

As stated, the TD4 donk isn’t the quietest and, even with all windows up, we noticed a cabin boom (not noted in other models driven) as we climbed the mountains at around 30-40km/h. I like to drive with the window down, something that in the Evoque is harsh on the ears. The wind buffets the B-pillar to such an extent that causes a similar harmonic disturbance to a rear-seat passenger winding down their window when all others are closed.

And the B-pillar is a serious blind-spot annoyance. Unsurprisingly there is an option for Blind Spot Assist ($690) with a cool, orange ‘presence warning’ displayed in the side mirrors, but it should be standard. Due to the vehicle’s sloping roofline style, rear window vision is tiny; you’re assisted by a rear-view camera (all-round vision cameras are an option, if a distraction in traffic) for reversing, but get the Evoque dirty and the miniscule wiper action and clogged camera lens limit your rear-guard action. Still, I counted an abundant 14 airbags.

In-cabin ambience is excellent, pure Range Rover. Leather where you’d expect it; adjustable steering wheel with all controls falling neatly to hand. All media is accounted for including wireless streaming for your iPod/phone.

The seats fit me perfectly. While access to the three-door coupe version will be a serious issue for some, the five-door presents no such drama and, once inside, leg and headroom are totally acceptable. Three adults would be a squeeze, although provision is made for three child-seat anchor points. Nice adjustable cargo-restraint system back there, too. Just need your own straps – options? And on that subject, one option – the full glass roof, especially for rear-seat occupants – is a must tick. Glorious.

So, back to Lithgow.

The forest tracks are potholed at the best of times. This day just wasn’t one of them. Numerous, water-filled and of varying depth, it was hard to pick a route – so we just drove. Photographers aren’t often known for their useful input, but Phil and I were in concurrence with the Evoque’s suspension qualities, steering reaction and stable ride. Apart from the occasional big hit, masked by water, we were unfussed in our progress.

With no low-range gearing, Terrain Response (and traction control) was our main arsenal with which to tackle the off-road opposition. The fact that we were a solo vehicle and, up until that point, hadn’t managed to locate the recovery points (journo fail) meant we were not going to go crazy, but found the powerlines track enough to do what most Evoques never will.

Clearance is your biggest worry. Take a peek under the Evoque and it’s flat and there are plates in the right places, but with no air-sprung adjustability you’ve 215 and 240mm front and rear respectively.

With Mud and Ruts dialled in via Terrain Response we had a crack at some mud and ruts. The rear right spun uselessly; going nowhere. It smelled, too. The front left, according to Phil, was marginally off the deck also, but still I should have been granted forward progress, surely? Not so. Reversed. Switched to Grass, Gravel, Snow. Hey ho – let’s go.

A few stabs at the ABS reaction proved fruitful on less-than-stable surfaces, however, getting stopped was bearing ever heavier on my mind as I was having trouble recalling the latter stages of the Blackfellows Hand Trail we were on. Mining subsidence plays havoc in the area.

With careful wheel placement and judicious checking of boghole depths, we eventually landed back on the bitumen with satisfactory ease.

So, convinced? Yes and no. With the gamut of low-range and air suspension combined with jaw-dropping style, it would be a no-brainer. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Evoque; having stepped out of two back-to-back tests and into a mid-size 4X4 wagon I was reminded of the steering precision it possessed as I attempted to wrestle the wagon away from a metal-to-concrete interface in the car park.

It drives well, if a little noisily in the TD4 Pure. In contrast, the SD4 Prestige is quieter with a deeper exhaust note and no cabin intrusion. It’s a question of your options. Rangies are expensive and this one is too. The cynic in me questions whether it would have been better to price the vehicle higher in the first place and include the necessaries, rather than start low but add a mammoth list of add-ons to make it the complete package.

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