Test Drive: 2012 Range Rover Evoque

Range Rover's lightest, most fuel-efficient model ever just might be its best

by James M. Flammang

2012 Range Rover Evoque five-door

Range Rover utility vehicles have come a long way since the first Land Rovers began to appear, not long after the end of World War II. Long before the term sport-utility vehicle was coined, those stark, upright Land Rovers were turning up on magazine covers and in newspaper stories, due to their capabilities when far off the beaten track. Land Rover, in fact, became almost synonymous with such adventurous deeds as African safaris and treks through harsh mountain terrain around the globe.

Vehicles from this British specialty-vehicle maker changed considerably over the years, eventually becoming just about as posh as they were competent. The vehicle lineup also expanded, adding some smaller models that weren't quite as pricey as their full-size counterparts.

Latest of the lot is the Range Rover Evoque, which went on sale in North America in October 2011, as a 2012 model. Such words as sleek and streamlined barely begin to describe the luscious curves of this utility people-carrier from Britain. In addition to being smaller overall than the typical Range Rover/Land Rover models, the five-passenger Evoque is the lightest-weight model ever to emerge from the Range Rover factory.

It's also the most fuel-efficient, which definitely could not be said about most of its predecessors. Beneath the Evoque's bonnet sits a new turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with direct injection, delivering 240 horsepower and mating with a six-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is 18 mpg in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway, according to estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Full-time "intelligent" all-wheel drive is standard.

Styling derived from the company's LRX concept vehicle, and the body structure is said to be "all-new." Range Rover promotes the Evoque's "classic" design cues, led by its "clamshell" hood and floating roof. All Evoques are equipped with Range Rover's driver-selectable Terrain Response system. Also available is Adaptive Dynamics, featuring MagneRide magneto-rheological damper technology.

Two body styles are offered: a five-door wagon, and an even more luscious "coupe." Evoques come in a choice of three design themes as well.

Not only does the Evoque look almost dreamlike - far removed from its ancestors - it also drives like a veritable dream. We don’t ordinarily pay much attention to other reviewers’ opinions, but in the case of the Evoque, they’re hard to miss - and accurate. This is one lovely road machine, combining the merits of the bigger Range Rovers with a sleek, dramatic, compact body. As such, its earned those plaudits from previous test-drivers.

Acceleration is defiantly energetic, lunging ahead whenever called up, marred only by a slightly touchy gas pedal. Sometimes, you get more action than you want; sometimes, less.

The Evoque’s suspension is emphatically firm, which translates to an enjoyable ride on smooth pavement, but some bounciness as the surface gets less perfect. Still, corrections to those reactions are virtually instantaneous and certain.

Steering is on the light side, but feels just right. Little correction is needed in straightahead driving, because the Evoque tracks quite precisely. An Evoque also corners quickly and easily, without any concern.

How that sloping rear roof can allow plenty of rear headroom is a mystery. Unfortunately, though rear legroom is good, you drop down a bit and wind up in a knees-up position - on a somewhat uncomfortable seat with a rather hard back. The center rear position would be tolerable, but for the floor hump that must be straddled.

Not so the front seats. The driver’s position is among the most supportive and comfortable around, clearly intended for long-trek ease. Front headroom is ample, and a big pull-down glovebox is available. Highly attractive white leather in our test Evoque decorated the seats and lower dashboard.

Gauges aren’t too big and, unlit, hard for older eyes to see. Numerals look bright white in the shade, but start to disappear when the sun is out. The information screen at the center looks bewildering at first. Even simple tuning of the radio demands some scrutiny and thought. Once you’re acclimated, it’s easy enough - but you must look away from the road to do nearly anything.

All-around views are excellent, and the Evoque is particularly quiet-running, with no road noise to speak of. Cargo capacity is somewhat limited below the cover (if used).

Truly an appealing vehicle, sized just right, the Evoque looks really sharp, inside and out. Even folks who don’t ordinarily care much about design are likely to be attracted to its profile.

Pricing for the five-door Pure Plus Evoque starts at $43,995. The coupe version commands $1,000 more.

At the Geneva (Switzerland) Motor Show in March 2012, Range Rover exhibited an Evoque concept convertible, but no word yet on possibilities for production.

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