Charles Mitford Cust test drives the Range Rover Evoque
When I saw my first Range Rover Evoque coupé in the flesh I decided right then that it was time to emigrate. The actual remark I made is too rude to put in print, but the jist is that it’s ‘slammed’ rear styling reminded me of a baboon whose derriere had just suffered the unwanted amorous attentions of a short-sighted elephant.
It was my indignation that such a macho and traditional brand as Land Rover had built the thing at all, which led to me to cast unwarranted aspersions about the kind of car designers now working at the Land Rover HQ and the much-published fact that Victoria Beckham had designed the interior only added to my incandescent rage. As far I was concerned this was the ultimate example of design over function, and the last word in brand exploitation and betrayal, and to me this proved Land Rover as a British institution was dead.
You see, my family has owned every model of Land Rover since the Series One was launched in the 1948. My father even took delivery of the second privately owned Range Rover sold, just a few days after Her Majesty had taken delivery of hers. I have Land Rover in my DNA, so to me the fact that they had built something like the Evoque coupe was like Purdey deciding to give up building guns in order to make designer curtains.
Then one day, about a month ago, out shooting, I came across an example of the 2011 5-door version of the Evoque, the roofline of which has subtly been raised some 2-inches to accommodate the rear doors without compromising the original radical design. It was finished in dark Aintree green rather than the normal footballer pearlescent white, and standing there covered in mud on the top of a rain swept hill, it looked quite at home in it’s surroundings. I looked inside fully expecting to see the usual multi coloured blinged up interior, but instead I saw a muddy Labrador panting contentedly on plain black leather seats, which were strewn with cartridge boxes and general shooting detritus.
I stepped back a couple of paces and looked at the vehicle in a new light, not as in the context of a Rangy, Disco or any full size 4×4, but as a compact SUV, or shooting break in old parlance, which is what the Evoque actually is, and do you know what? I reluctantly began to appreciate that I was looking at a work of genius, in fact quite simply the best looking SUV vehicle ever designed… in the entire world.
It was with some considerable trepidation therefore that I decided to check out the performance reviews of the machine that was now causing me some consternation. I felt sure that my brief change of heart would be proved totally unjustified by reports of laughably pathetic off-road capability and a reinforcement of my original scepticism.
Well I was to be disappointed; every test I read praised the quite unexpected off-road capability. Oh, obviously, with it’s sexy aerodynamic curves it was never destined to be a Defender, but it was more than holding it’s own against the best Jerry could build, and for that reason alone, it is a bit of a hero. Especially as whilst the efforts of BMW, Mercedes and Porsche were all incredibly ugly, in comparison, our homegrown SUV was as handsome as James Bond standing in a room full of bald, fat Blofeld clones.
My research led me to a great YouTube clip of Top Gear’s James May driving an Evoque across the Mojave Desert. I noted that he was able to talk quite normally as he traversed the rock strewn desert floor at 70 mph, praising the amazing ride. Now I have considerable respect for deserts, I have nearly died in three: in the Nullabor from sun stroke, in the Nevada from hyperthermia and in the Sahara from riding a Paris Dakar bike at 60 mph into a dry river bed hidden from view by a the dust of riders ahead of me. So, I know only too well to my cost that deserts are places without mercy but May’s Evoque was making one of the toughest of the lot look like the M4 on a sunny midweek afternoon.
It was not the high-speed desert floor performance, impressive although it was, that convinced me to look more closely at the Evoque. No, rather it was watching May climb up a horrific 40-degree rock strewn dry watercourse like the one that nearly accounted for the last of the Mitford Custs that caught my attention. I have been up these nightmares many times and take it from me, although ultimately the Evoque’s low profile road orientated tyres finally failed it about 90% of the way up, the fact it even made it that far was enough to make me pick up the phone to my local Land Rover dealer and request an immediate test drive.
I really hadn’t bothered to bone up on the different specs in which the car is built before going there but it really came down to the fact I would be testing two versions: A 2-litre 240 bhp petrol Dynamic spec model with the optional Adaptive Dynamics suspension fitted, and a 2.2-litre 190 bhp diesel version in the Prestige configuration with standard suspension.
So let’s see, one will go well and will corner like a sports car and the other will cough along like a drunk camel on roller skates. Pretty obvious which the Ferrari and Ducati loving Charlie boy is going to like best eh?
Well that’s exactly what I thought, but once again, I could not have been more wrong.
Handling and ride
What I am about to say is so extraordinary that it is essential that I establish my credibility first. As a teenager, I cut my teeth thrashing the wheel nuts off hairy arsed rear wheel drive rally cars like the 1800 BDA Mexico and RS 2000’s that only knew one way to corner, and that was completely sideways leaving a streak of molten rubber. By dealing in cars like this as a student I earned enough money to buy my first Ferrari, a black 308 GTS just in time for my 25th birthday.
That is when my real driving career started. There have been many occasions during the next two decades and a quarter of a million Ferrari miles in which I have found it necessary to prove to some upstart in a Evo or Imprezza that contrary to what he obviously read in a car magazine, his slant eyed rice burner was not in fact able to overtake Italy’s finest on a tight twisting back-road. You get the picture.
So if I say a car’s handling is crap please trust me, it truly is. If on the other hand I say that it’s cornering capability is utterly, and quite unexpectedly astonishing, well, you can take my word for it. I really do know what I am talking about.
Such was the case when I picked up the “Prestige Pack” Evoque, the cooking pot version which drinks the fuel of the Devil, I fully expected it to roll about hopelessly on the tight switchback North Devon back-roads like most top heavy tractor-fuel guzzling four wheel drives do. I was so glad when they said that I could drive this model first, because this would make driving the petrol version so much more fun afterwards. Oh boy, was I was in for a shock.
Once I turned off the main North Devon Link Road in the SD4 and on to one of the finest drivers ‘B’ roads in Devon, I found myself at the wheel of a car with truly astonishing poise. I simply could not find fault with it. The electrically powered steering was perfectly balanced, weighted and geared. It ‘turned in’ with absolute precision, no oversteer, no understeer, just right. The body control was astonishing for a vehicle of this type with no almost no roll or weave in mid corner. There was no discernable lateral pitch either under hard breaking. Believe me, I tried very hard to upset it by deliberately chucking it into corners using the wrong line or by making clumsy mid corner steering inputs, but it always kept its cool, very impressive indeed.
In fact I can honestly say that much to my absolute amazement, the Evoque SD4 prestige proved to have one of the best combinations of ride and handling of any 5-door car I have ever driven, let alone an SUV with a relatively high centre of gravity.
That said, here comes the next surprise: The petrol version, even this one which was fitted with the Adaptive Dynamics option with MagneRide dampers (which supposedly react to the road inputs 1000 times per second by employing magnetically reactive damper fluid and clever electronics), was a total disappointment. In ‘normal’ or ‘comfort’ setting it rolled around in all directions horribly, pitching and weaving like a tramp steamer in a rough sea. Unlike the SD4, the turn-in was woolly and the wheel twitched nervously whilst under-steering horribly, totally lacking the precision of the diesel.
Bizarrely, engaging ’Adaptive Dynamics’ mode did very little to cure any of this, it just seemed to make the ride harder whilst still doing the same thing. It was horrible. I simply cannot understand how two versions of the same vehicle could be so different, one utterly brilliant, the other totally crap. Clearly as even the Adaptive Dynamics option did little to improve matters the problem has to be fundamental.
All I can assume is that Land Rover must have spent the whole suspension budget perfecting the spring and damper rates for the most common model, the turbo diesel, and then just didn’t have any time resources or cash left over for the lighter engined petrol version.
Performance and economy
Other differences in the driving experience between the two models would seem to support this hypothesis. Both cars have the excellent steering wheel mounted flapper changes allowing manual override of the 6-speed auto boxes. However, whilst on the diesel the operation was seamlessly faultless, the petrol’s was jerky and rough. Presumably they haven’t bothered to re-tune the torque convertor for the higher revving petrol engine.
I would say that the diesel lacked a bit of mid-range grunt, but at least its torque was usually in the right place. The same could not be said of the petrol’s, which was simply hard work to row along if you were trying to make ‘good progress’ as my ex-Police Class 1 driving instructors, whose services I have engaged over the years would say. Again, another first for me was that whilst the diesel was quiet and refined, the petrol engine was actually intrusively noisy. Not in a good or exciting way as it is in a Ferrari, just annoyingly so.
The only good thing I can think to say about the petrol was that in a straight line, you could certainly feel the benefit of the extra 50 bhp in terms of overtaking acceleration. However, in real terms all the other drawbacks would outweigh this. On the average B-road, the diesel would win hands down with a real driver at the wheel. Plus a diesel is easy to re-programme these days. With the right engine management remap, you can claw that 50 bhp back in a few minutes.
Economy was surprisingly similar between the two models. Zeroing the average mpg on the trip computer before the back road thrash, the diesel achieved 21 mpg and the petrol 19.6 mpg. Zeroing it again just as I rejoined the North Devon Link Road and then driving very sedately at a steady 60 mph average for 25 miles, achieved almost identical mpg of 30.5 for the diesel and 30.2 for the petrol. However, undoubtedly the diesel would prove more economical around town and also would creep up nearer to mid or late 30’s mpg over a longer distance on a motorway. Although I would bet my socks that cruising at motorway speeds it would not crack 40 mpg, no matter what Land Rover claims.
An interesting insight as to why the diesel returned such poor economy could be identified when I followed up the test of these two Evoques with a test of the Discovery 4 by way of comparison. Doing exactly the same back road thrash and sedate run on the main road returned an average of 3 mpg better despite the fact that the Disco weighs nearly a tonne more than a Evoque. This can only be down to a better engine/weight ratio. This is why the 2011 Range Rover is even more economical again than the Disco. The combination of its larger 4.4 V8 engine and lighter alloy body win the day. You cannot escape the fact that big heavy cars need an appropriate engine capacity.
It seems Land Rover has missed a trick here. Had they installed the Disco’s larger 3-litre diesel engine in the Evoque it would have had a world class winner. Not only would this drop the already respectable if not exactly tarmac melting 0-60 from 8 seconds to around 6.5 seconds by my guess, whilst adding mind blowing mid range grunt to boot, but it would also achieve at least 10 mpg better economy, probably 15 mpg.
This is all down to the crazy way the green brigade force car manufacturers to create vehicles which produce fewer emissions at the exhaust pipe, whilst ignoring the reality of the fact that putting too small an engine in a vehicle will actually cause it to use far more fuel and therefore produce far more emissions over its lifetime. Just like catalytic convertors, yes they cut emissions, but fitting them causes all vehicles to use 5-10% more fuel, so the net result is far more global emissions, duh.
The only advantage of the 2.2-litre diesel is the fact that it saves you £185 per year road tax, which is only a saving if you are not doing large mileages. If you were, then this would soon be negated by the extra economy from an Evoque fitted with the larger Disco engine.
I had only a limited opportunity to try the SD4 off-road, but the little I did looked promising. A muddy field can sometimes stop even the most seriously modified off-roader in it’s tracks but despite it’s low profile road tyres the SD4 had no trouble pulling itself up a 25 degree slope of muddy wet grass. When I tried to get it to break traction by flooring the accelerator it’s traction control cut in smoothly and it refused to even step out of line.
Next, I then tried it on a short stretch of green lane, which is used not only by serious offroading enthusiasts, but also several motor clubs for trials. Known locally as ‘Hell Hill’ its broken surface consists of mud covered slick rock. Very few contestants, either car drivers or dirt bikers clear the section in one attempt in a trial. The SD4 made light work of both going down and up the short section I attempted and surprisingly the road-orientated suspension did not cause it to bang or crash over the rough ground. It just absorbed it all smoothly and without drama. That’s all you could ask for on a compromise SUV like this, it does not pretend to be a Defender. I doubt any of the German competitors would have performed anywhere near as competently.
Build quality and interior
The Evoque has a high quality feel about it both inside and out. Fit and finish is excellent and both examples were rattle free. I have to confess I really struggle to believe Posh had much input in the interior’s design as it appears to me to be an identical clone of the Rangy and Disco’s but more compact. Even the instruments and switchgear are identical. Sounds like PR BS to me, and you know what that stands for.
Frankly the seats could have been more comfortable, a little more front thigh support would have done wonders for long journey comfort. The sports seats in the ‘Dynamic’ package are worse than the ‘Prestige’. Why can’t car manufacturers get this simple aspect of seat design right? They only have to consult the top motor sport seat manufacturers.
I loved the full-length transparent tinted roof, which gave the interior an airy feel it might have otherwise lacked, plus more headroom. The surround camera system was a nice gimmick, which could come in handy off-road sometimes although they would need to be frequently cleaned in muddy environments. The sat nav was clear and even works off-road. The upgrade 825w sound system with 16 speakers was first class and frankly I found it like sitting in my own Albert Hall.
The 5-door Evoque is actually a really brilliant SUV, which in its unique way is a credit to the Land Rover brand. I started off hating it but now I am a bit in love with it. If you are going to get one, take my advice and buy the diesel Prestige in a decent colour like dark green or the very nice dark blue like the SD4 tested. Avoid the petrol version like the plague. If you want to get the Adaptive Dynamics option make sure you test it back to back with the standard suspension first. There wasn’t a diesel available with this option for me to compare. Stick to black leather and everyone will applaud your good taste. The tinted transparent roof is a must and don’t, whatever you do, dare mess up the ride and handling by fitting the optional 20-inch wheels.
What else? Oh yes, but you did not hear this from me right? Get the diesel re-programmed on the quiet to give it about 240 bhp, tons more torque and better economy. Make sure it is done by a reputable firm whose work cannot be detected so it doesn’t invalidate the warranty. Believe me, the chassis will easily handle the extra performance and it will be a lot cheaper to run. Then, I can assure you, the Evoque SD4 will become the best all round 5-door country car you ever owned.
The Range Rover Evoque is priced from £28,695. For more details, go to: http://www.landrover.com/gb/en/lr/range-rover-evoque/
Watch the Range Rover Evqoue in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6miuU8G7ufw