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Car reviews - Land Rover - Range Rover Evoque - Si4 Prestige

Launch Story

Land Rover logo23 Mar 2012

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

LAND ROVER says most sales of its new Range Rover Evoque will come from people who have never before owned one of its products and sees them switching from all sorts of other vehicle types, including sports cars – in addition to competing with traditional luxury SUV rivals like BMW’s X1 and X3 or the Audi Q5.

Given the number of buyers worldwide who laid down money before they could even drive the Evoque, it is clearly a car that sells on its looks, and not since the original Audi TT was launched in the late 1990s has such a mould-breaking car so closely resembled the concept when it has gone into production.

Driving among a fleet of Evoques through Sydney during the media launch, is was clear that in terms of styling the most petite Range Rover has moved the game on so far that all the other cars looked dated and somehow out of place in this futuristic, Evoque-inhabited world.

That made it even harder to believe that this car, which would not look out of place in a science-fiction movie, is available to buy in Australian dealerships right now – but get in quick as global demand for the Evoque means supplies are limited.

We sampled all three engine options available from launch, but only paired with the $2480 optional six-speed automatic transmission featuring paddle-shifters.

The three – each of which is quiet and refined – include 110kW/400Nm TD4 and 140kW/420Nm SD4 versions of the Freelander’s frugal 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine and the punchy 177kW/340Nm Si4 2.0-litre turbo-petrol that will soon power the Ford Falcon Ecoboost.

Also experienced were each of the three trim levels – which all get their own unique external and internal styling themes – entry-level Pure, sporty Dynamic and luxurious Prestige.

Land Rover officials expect the more powerful diesel to account for the majority of sales and we are inclined to agree as it provides the best balance of thrust and thrift.

The lower-powered diesel is adequate around town and hilly open roads, but lacks the grunt necessary for confident overtaking or darting into gaps in traffic, a problem never experienced by the smooth, impressively powerful and sporty-sounding Si4 petrol.

A further bonus is the diesel’s average fuel economy figure of 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres for the automatic (5.7L/100km for the manual), which tucks it nicely below the Luxury Car Tax efficiency threshold and therefore provides more opportunity to splurge on the many available options before the tax man starts to take a slice.

Like the bodywork, the Evoque’s cabin looks great, even in the Pure and Dynamic specifications, where in place of the Prestige’s full leather trim on the dashboard and other interior surfaces is a classy textured and double-stitched material.

Almost every surface that can be seen or touched has a satisfying air of quality and the designers have achieved their aim of making the Evoque feel every bit a real Range Rover, while technology from the brand’s upper echelons also make it onboard – or at least onto the options list.

But – and it is a big but – dodgy fit and finish unfortunately spoils the party. Every car we drove had some kind of trim rattle and at least one had poorly fitting windscreen pillar trim.

The rattles could be attributed to accelerated aging caused by the test cars being repeatedly subjected to off-roading during the launch cycle (the cars had been through a dealer launch before the media event) but in this price bracket we expected better, and so should customers.

On most models the stylish seats adjust electrically, making it easy to find the correct driving position – helped by a large range of movement by the steering wheel. And they are comfortable enough for long journeys.

A downside of the standard seats is that, although well-bolstered, they appear to be designed for a large frame, so when tackling a twisty section of road, slimmer drivers will find themselves sliding around on the leather and frequently having to shuffle themselves back into position.

Before seeing the Evoque on the road, we thought it looked better in coupe format, which most closely replicates the LRX concept, but on the road the more resolved design of the five-door won us over – and the more practical body style is expected to account for three-quarters of Evoque sales.

The coupe’s bias for style over ease of use and the fact that opting for this body style costs $1500 extra sealed the deal for us.

Getting into the coupe’s rear seats requires time, patience and agility due to a front seat design that involves a frustratingly slow two-stage operation to move it into a position whereby the rear quarters can be accessed. Even then the gap through which entry or exit is achieved remains small, with a high sill to be negotiated, so prepare for a drenching if loading rear passengers in the rain.

By contrast, entering the five-door’s rear quarters is a cinch, but legroom is still limited. There is less space than in a Volkswagen Golf.

Brownie points are regained by a boot that provides a medium sedan-sized 575 litres of capacity in the five-door and 550L in the coupe, with both variants providing 60:40 split-folding rear seats to provide further cargo space.

Although the dramatic rising belt-line and narrow glasshouse looks fantastic from the outside, small children are likely to have scant view of the outside world.

All the test vehicles were optioned up to the nines, so the $53,395 TD4 Pure we drove – representing the cheapest way into an Evoque until the front-drive variants arrive next July – ended up being valued at $70,155, even without on-road costs.

The TD4 Dynamic we tried was lavished with enough options to lift the cost from $68,895 to a lofty $94,284, while the $75,895 Si4 Prestige coupe driven weighed in at an eye-watering $98,759 – and that’s almost Range Rover Sport money.

This did, however, mean we were able to evaluate the usefulness of these options. For example, spending $190 on the oddly omitted air vents for rear passengers is highly recommended and sun seekers will find the panoramic roof another worthwhile addition at $1035, which seems better value than the $1300 asked for metallic paint.

And we came to the conclusion that the Adaptive Dynamics pack, which uses computer-controlled suspension dampers that react instantly to terrain and driving conditions, improves the driving experience so much that it is well worth the $1950 and should be compulsory.

Without the Adaptive Dynamics pack, the Evoque’s ride is, to put it kindly, sporty.

It corners well for such a tall car, placing it among few SUVs that can truly be driven like a car on fun roads, but it tends to fidget over the numerous lumpy road surfaces too often encountered in Australia – and if you live in an area plagued with speed bumps, have the chiropractor on speed-dial.

Those optional computer-controlled dampers take the edge off the harsh ride, making for more comfortable progress.

Sharper handling is available by selecting the Dynamic drive program mode that comes with the pack. This mode turns the bejewelled instruments, with their glass shard-style increments, an angry shade of red while firming up the steering, making the accelerator pedal more responsive and placing those clever dampers on high alert.

Hit a set of fast bends with Dynamic mode selected and the Evoque finds a new level of confidence, with reduced body-roll and a resistance to being thrown off course by mid-corner surface changes. It is a marvel that brings a smile to the face and shows the German luxury SUV alternatives a thing or two.

The Evoque moves SUV – and particularly Land Rover – styling and interior design forward further than it does the driving experience and, for all the futuristic interior and plush cabin, the driving experience is either comfortingly, or disappointingly, familiar.

Despite those high-up window sills, the driver’s vision is surprisingly good, making round-town driving and freeway lane changes a breeze. It is only when reversing that the tiny rear window causes problems, so the standard fitment of a reversing camera is a great help.

Electric steering, a modern necessity that we have to get used to, rarely provides the feel of the best old-school hydraulic systems, but the Evoque has one of the better versions, being direct, precise and well-weighted, as well as enabling the various off-road driving modes to alter the steering action to best suit the conditions.

The six-speed automatic transmission is controlled by a rotary control that rises from the centre console on start-up – Jaguar XF style – and in use has a sporty nature, zipping through changes like a dual-clutch system and with a responsive paddle-shift action for manual cog swaps.

We found the transmission to be a little ponderous when left to its own devices on twisty roads, even in sport mode, getting the best out of the system by using the steering wheel-mounted paddles when making swift progress.

Compared against the Land Rover Freelander, with which it shares some of its underpinnings, the Evoque has better ground clearance but less wheel travel and inferior approach and departure angles.

But the Evoque still impressed with its surprisingly effortless progress and levels of traction on the short off-road circuit provided as part of the launch program, which included muddy ruts, shallow river crossings, gravel tracks and slippery, steep climbs, with some plunging sections thrown in to demonstrate the standard automatic hill descent control function.

Of course, the majority of customers are unlikely to explore the Evoque’s mud-plugging abilities, content to look swish while driving round town in their planet-friendly Range Rover.

Land Rover has created a product that stands on its own in the marketplace, with few competitors in terms of size, price or level of luxury. Behind that bold styling lies a competent vehicle with forgivable practicality compromises.

As a package, the Evoque is only spoiled by the quality issues we encountered, which we hope will get ironed out in time as the factory – accustomed to producing utilitarian Freelanders – gets used to building such a unique, luxurious vehicle.

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