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Car reviews - Land Rover - Range Rover Evoque - Convertible

Our Opinion

We like
Dashboard has aged gracefully, one of the roomiest cabins around, impressive ride and steering, can venture off-road
Room for improvement
Expensive and under-equipped, slow and dynamically average for the price, buyers unlikely to use off-road ability

4 Nov 2016

THAT Land Rover took four years to release the Evoque Convertible might indicate the ‘will we’ or ‘will we not’ indecision that afflicts a product without rivals and might seem controversial.

The brand has admitted there is no real market for off-road drop-tops and by this, we mean that those traditional Range Rover buyers who venture off the beaten track have never asked for a reduced roofline. But there is potentially a market for off-road drop-tops in the context of an urban world turning increasingly towards SUVs that make unique style statements.

Our first taste of the new body style comes not in town, though, but in the wilderness surrounds of Fraser Island, Queensland, over sand-covered bush tracks that lead from bay to beach.

Following the fabric roof’s 18-second electric-fold process – although disappointingly not by remote activation – harsh sunlight was expected to expose wrinkles in the five-year-old interior design. But the opposite occurred, with the Evoque’s blend of soft-touch plastics, leather-look dash inserts and subtle aluminium and woodgrain or piano black trim having aged beautifully.

Although now a four-seater, the Evoque Convertible boasts one of the roomiest rear seats among rivals as vast as a BMW 2 Series Convertible and Mercedes-Benz C-Class Cabriolet.

The seat base is plush and nicely tilted upwards to aid under-thigh support and the backrest is not too vertical – although sadly it does not fold, which would help increase the 250-litre boot that merely matches the cargo carrying capacity of a Mazda2 hatchback.

Headroom with the fabric wrapped back up is among the most impressive around, too. Suddenly the idea of a raised drop-top, which leaves extra space for legs to drop to the floor and sits taller to deliver extra headroom, makes sense beyond being just a slave-to-fashion concept.

The surprising pragmatism of this Evoque Convertible continues to shine through over rocky and sandy pathways.

Allowing perfect visibility and the smell of nature into the cabin makes complete sense winding through tall-canopy bushland. This Range Rover’s multi-mode all-wheel-drive system and sensible, chubby 55-aspect tyres make light work of the worst nature can throw at it, leaving driver and passengers to experience the best of nature.

Climbing rocks and oddly angled slopes places an enormous amount of twist on a vehicle’s body, which should expose any body rigidity issues with any roof-axed vehicle. The Evoque that launched in 2011 was never designed for a convertible bodystyle, yet after a re-engineering process that added a substantial 280kg to the kerb weight, the results are pleasing.

There is some shimmer in the A-pillars over ridgelines on road and sand, but there is never shake or twist, let alone body creak.

While arguably it is better to add 280kg of under-body strengthening for a rigid drop-top result rather than 140kg for a vehicle that wobbles like Aeroplane Jelly, the sizeable mass increase places great pressure on the existing drivetrains.

Particularly on the road – where most Evoque Convertibles will spend the majority of time – the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel in particular is underwhelming. It matches 420Nm of torque with smooth and relatively silenced acoustics, but 132kW of power to push a 1900kg vehicle makes for tough going, even with nine intelligently selected gears inside the automatic transmission.

The turbo-petrol of the same capacity and cylinder count is a better bet, with a keen and responsive disposition overlaid with subtle crackles and pops from the exhaust that is especially tasty when driving top down. With only 340Nm the auto does work hard to grab lower ratios to the detriment of economy, but the spirited 177kW helps make it a sweeter steer.

In either case the steering continues to be sweetly judged, with medium weighting and decent sharpness, and ride quality on standard fixed suspension is balanced between comfort and control whether on dirt or tarmac. It is even reasonably quiet, with an impressive lack of wind buffeting roof down and equally good road noise insulation roof up.

The handling now feels weighty, however, like juggling a fishtank full of water, and the standard tyres squeal at relatively low limits. Up to 20-inch tyres are optionally available, however, which would trade bush suitability for extra tarmac grip, but with a likely plushness deficit.

Adaptive suspension, which greatly enhances the Evoque hard-top’s ride when teamed with large wheels, is curiously unavailable in the soft-top.

Then there is the overall outlay, however.

The petrol is marginally cheaper than the diesel, but the pricetags between $85,343 (SE petrol) and $92,800 (HSE diesel) are only the start. The SE asks extra for basics such as heated seats, a digital audio and blind-spot monitor, while the HSE further requests more coin for automatic park assistance and surround-view camera, for example.

A highlight is the new 10.25-inch colour touchscreen that becomes standard equipment with the release of the Evoque Convertible. It is easy to use and lifts the cabin beyond its already timeless standard.

As surprisingly impressive as the Evoque Convertible is, if buyers do not intend to head off tarmac – and Land Rover admits this is the case – then an $83,900 BMW M235i Convertible humbles the British offering for performance, dynamics, luxury equipment and value, even if it is a whisker smaller in the rear seat.

Far from provoking an argument about the concept of an off-road soft-top, though, the execution of this surprisingly roomy, refined and high-quality Range Rover Evoque Convertible is mostly impressive. That it can go off-road also gives it an extra sprinkling of ability that deserves to be taken advantage of frequently, particularly given that buyers most certainly are paying for it.

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