The commotion in the shopping centre parking lot was causing the traffic to snarl up. A small crowd was milling around near the exit and you could hear the hubbub of excited voices and the click-click-click of cameras from miles away.
Must be some soapie celeb, I thought, hoping that I’d be able to get to my car without having to plough through the adulating crowd – until I saw what the fuss was all about. The centre of attraction wasn’t some blonde bimbo. It was my car.
I use the term “my car” loosely here, because it actually wasn’t a car, and it wasn’t mine. It was the latest Ranger Rover SUV, and I had the keys in my pocket because I was test-driving the vehicle.
So, it seemed inappropriate for me to wade my way through the sea of cellphone camera-brandishing fans, smiling and waving, before getting in and driving off. Instead, I turned around, found a coffee shop, ordered a strong one (coffee, that is) and waited.
But the Evoque remained the centre of attraction, and one man can only drink so much coffee. So eventually, I had to wander over ever so casually, unlock the door, and get in, accompanied by a cacophony of questions.
“How much is it?” “Well, about R600,000”. “Is it four-wheel drive?” “Yes.” “How fast is it?” “More than fast enough – especially for an SUV”. “What engine does it have?” “This one has a 2,2-litre turbodiesel, but there’s also a 2,0-litre turbo petrol engine.” “Can you please get out, I want to take a picture?” “No! I’m leaving now …”
And so I left, grateful to be in the cosseting comfort of the Evoque’s cabin, and not daring to look right or left, in case somebody a the next traffic light wanted to ask a question. Life as a celebrity is hell.
The real celebrity, of course, is the Evoque. It’s certainly a head-turner, with a shape that mixes the cocky stance and visual muscle of a compact sports car to the height and presence of a SUV. Think Mini on a dose of extreme steroids, and you get the general idea.
The chunky shape, the sloping roofline, the huge wheels and the short overhangs all endow the Evoque with an almost cartoonish demeanour that attracts attention like a magnet. There’s nothing else remotely like it.
The Evoque is certainly a huge departure from the Range Rover norm. The brand has been the epitome of regal British motoring for decades, with a solid dose of gung-ho bravado mixed in for good measure, all underscored by terrific off-road capability.
The Evoque doffs a hat to those brand values, but translates them into a more compact, more agile and more contemporary idiom. It looks young and irreverent, with an unruly streak that will appeal to a younger audience. And that’s obviously the whole idea.
There’s a choice of two shapes – a three-door and a five-door. The three-door is the sexier of the two, but also less practical.
Despite two large doors, entry to and exit from the rear bench seat is awkward. And although roomy enough, rear accommodation feels claustrophobic because of the sloping roofline and the narrow side glass.
However, overall execution is admirable and unmistakably upmarket in the best Range Rover tradition. Leather abounds, together with high-tech trim finishes, and there’s an aura of sophistication, emphasised by a comprehensive spec list.
The five-door adds the convenience of rear doors to the Evoque equation, and is the better for it, even if it looks more conventional as a result. Both models have ample boot space with cargo rails and adjustable tie-down lugs, while the split rear seat can be folded down to create an even larger luggage area.
The choice of three-door or five-door aside, buyers can also opt for two different executions: Premium and Dynamic. The former is the more conservative of the two, with a more subdued treatment for the cabin, linked to muted hues and brighter exterior detailing.
The Dynamic mixes a black grille and exterior finishes to bolder interior colours and finishes, and even offers two-tone colour schemes inside and out, much like the Mini does. It’s an approach that suits the core character of the Evoque better – it is an outrageous vehicle, and it almost demands the finishes and colours to match.
There are more choices as far as the drivetrain is concerned. The Evoque comes in petrol and diesel flavours, with turbocharging common to both. Tick the petrol box, and you get a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-potter with a sprightly 177kW and 340Nm on tap.
The four-cylinder turbodiesel has a 2.2-litre capacity, and while neither as free-revving nor as refined as the petrol, still offers 140kW of muscle, together with an impressive 410Nm of torque. Six-speed auto gearboxes are common across the range.
While I’m a fan of diesels in the SUV context – the 3.0-litre TDV6 in Land Rover’s Discovery 4 is a perfect example – my sentiments favour the petrol when it comes to the Evoque. The two-litre turbo feels enthusiastic from the word go, and delivers its urge with linear precision. It’s a sporty motor that suits the Evoque’s sporty persona.
The diesel, however, suffers significantly from low-down lag. You have to pre-empt throttle input, because it takes what feels like an eternity before the Evoque responds to the loud pedal, so that getting off the mark in traffic is often frustratingly sedate.
Once on the boil, the engine offers plenty of brio and it shines when cruising at highway speeds. But it lacks vital sparkle in a package that promises just that in every other respect. Add the tall gearing of the auto box, and lethargic is the best way to describe the diesel Evoque in urban use.
Oh yes, and to make matters even worse, the gearbox defaults to second gear when coming to a halt. You have to manually select first gear to prevent this, or suffer the embarrassing consequences of pottering off the line at a snail’s pace.
At least, the auto gearbox comes with shift paddles, and there’s a selectable Sport mode that sharpens throttle response and increases the rev range between shifts.
On the move, the Evoque feels more sports car than sports utility, especially if you have the petrol engine’s 177kW to play with. The chassis feels admirably composed, despite the vehicle’s SUV-style height, and it corners with controlled intent.
The steering could be a little more responsive, but does provide decent feedback, and it loads up sufficiently when driving briskly, while still offering ample assistance in parking lots. The brakes are well up to the task too, even when tackling a mountain pass, and the suspension manages to keep matters taut and tidy without turning the ride into a jaw-jarring ordeal.
Indeed, the chassis is one of the Evoque’s highlights, with an inherent agility that makes for entertaining and involving driving. All the more reason to opt for the petrol version, then! As for off-roading, the Evoque will do gravel with ease, thanks to all-wheel drive and a lighter version of the marque’s Terrain Response system culled from the Freelander. But it lacks low-range gearing, and frankly, those 20-inch wheels and 45-profile rubber will flinch when hitting a kerb, let alone negotiating a rocky incline. No sir, the Evoque is definitely an urban warrior.
As always, nothing bearing the Range Rover badge comes cheaply, though. Evoque pricing starts at R589,000, and by the time you’ve customised it to your liking, that price tag is more likely to hit the R650,000 mark.
But for that kind of money, you get something that, at least for now, is truly distinctive – a vehicle that creates a stir wherever you go and turns the driver into an instant celebrity. For some, that alone will be worth the investment.
Certainly, the Evoque heralds a new era for the Range Rover brand. It’s smaller, lighter and more agile than the in-your-face Range Rover Sport. It’s also trendier, and vastly more attractive.
Most of all, it moves the brand into a more contemporary, more lifestyle-orientated space where off-roading prowess isn’t the core value. As a way to extend the appeal of the brand, it succeeds beyond expectations and should attract a completely new customer profile to Range Rover dealerships.
Call me old-fashioned, but give me a Discovery TDV6 any day, though … DM
Calling all qualified technicians to forget what they know about German efficency and English reserve, and bring their expertise to the rich heritage of Jaguar Land Rover.
Jaguar Land Rover South Africa is champing at the bit in anticipation of the Land Rover Africa Cup polo tournament, which takes place on the weekend of July 19 and 20.
At a launch function held in Cape Town this morning, it was announced that Land Rover will be the official associate and exclusive vehicle partner of the union for the next three years.
Jaguar Land Rover Limited: Registered Office: Abbey Road, Whitley, Coventry CV3 4LF Registered in England No: 1672070