Don’t you love it when they doubt you?
Land Rover clearly does.
You see, when the company announced plans to build a compact SUV, car enthusiasts let out a collective groan you could hear even in the sound-deadened luxury of a Range Rover Sport’s cabin.
Great. Another overpriced, overstuffed, underperforming mom-mobile.
It seemed like a huge mistake. Right now, you can garage a Rand Rover at your place and be respected. A Land Rover Cute Ute threatened to kill that forever.
And then…this thing showed up at our offices.
The exterior — a sleek, sharp, athletic look that makes a bloated Honda CR-V look like the minivan it is. Park it in a lot full of Honda CR-Vs and Lexus RXs, and the Evoque looks like a linebacker in a tailored suit at a party full of fat salesmen in cheap polyester.
The interior — a high-class cabin full of butter-soft leathers and polished metals, all of it designed with an eye for style. Let’s face it – the designers who build even the most high-end car interiors usually act as if they have no balls. They all do the same thing, over and over. This one, though, is full of unusual colors and high-tech tricks that make it more…worthy. The guys who built this one were willing to take a chance.
And then there is the drive. It’s actually athletic. A turbocharged, direct-injection engine, tight steering…hell, the little dial in the center console that alters the suspension for different terrains actually works. Those things usually aren’t even connected to anything.
Yeah, everyone doubted Land Rover. And Land Rover relished those doubts. Land Rover fed off of them. Land Rover ripped them to pieces.
The2012 Evoque five-door took home Motor Trend SUV of the Year, North American Car of the Year, AutoWeek’s Best of the Best, Automobile Magazine’s All-Star Award, Top Gear’s….
Ah, hell, it took home your wallet, your woman and the fresh carcass of BMW X3 it passed on Highway One.
They drop ours off in something they call Baltic Blue.
It’s gorgeous. Dark, deep…somewhere between the blued steel of a heavy handgun and the blue minutes after sunset.
Deep character lines in the doors and slight fender flares look like toned muscle.
The roofline slopes down. The beltline slopes up. The end result is somehow aggressive. Seen from the side, the thing is poised to strike. Sitting still, it looks like it’s about to start moving.
The “Prestige Premium Package” adds a set of 19-inch alloys. We’ve seen the car without them, and you don’t want it that way. These look right.
Compact sport ‘utes move closer and closer to minivan status every year. We’re not really sure there’s much difference, anymore. Put a sliding door on the SUVs some automakers put out, and you’d have yourself a classic Dodge Grand Caravan.
The Evoke, though? This design proves there’s still a reason to build sport ‘utes.
The interior, though, makes the exterior look almost low-rent. In the cabin, this thing is extraordinary.
Ours comes in a combination Land Rover calls Tan/Ivory/Esspresso, which tells you one thing before you even see the photos – there’s a whole palette of colors in there.
The look just works.
The seats and door inserts are almost baseball-glove brown, with just a hint of orange. Almost everything else is buttery-soft leather, but it’s nearly white. The top of the dash, though, is the dark brown of strong coffee. The instruments are polished nickel. The combination gives the car a sophisticated look, but that’s not code for old-man boring. This is a young man’s tasteful way to stand out.
Then, there is the spaceship technology. There’s no shifter. Push the start button, and a polished nickel shift dial rises into your hand. You spin it into drive. To turn on the reading lights, you simply brush your finger against them.
Sure, these are all tricks we’ve seen before in the recent Jaguars (Land Rover and Jag share the same ownership these days). They feel awesome there, too.
The rear seats are actually large enough for two adults, and when you drop them, you get a flat load floor with 51 cubic feet of space – theoretically, the whole reason you would be looking at an SUV, right?
The 17-speaker Meridian sound system is almost too much for the space. Sounds are deep, rich and loud…this thing would work well in a much larger car.
Complaints? Just one, inside. The touchscreen could be a little easier to navigate. It can do fantastic tricks, like showing you exactly what song is playing on every station at the moment, but it takes a few too many clicks to do anything. That’s about it, and that’s the sort of problem that only exists the first few days you own the car. Soon enough, it all becomes intuitive.
Speaking of which…
If you need to describe the experience of driving the Evoque, “Intuitive” is a pretty good place to start.
This is the first SUV we’ve driven in a very long time that feels like an extension of your body when you push it.
It’s the handling. Most SUVs take your steering inputs as suggestions. You swing the wheel sharp left, and they turn left…when they get around to it. There seems to be a few seconds of delay between input and response
Pushing the Evoque a bit, though, we began to suspect that it was anticipating our turns and responding a split second before we actually tweaked the wheel.
And the pedal? Let’s be clear – this is no 500 horsepower Porsche SUV. But it is extraordinary all the same.
They didn’t have to overpower this one to make it feel quick. Instead, they built an exceptional all-aluminum four-cylinder engine, with direct-injection and a responsive turbocharger. The specs say it’s good for 240 horsepower.
The result is a surprisingly quick little ‘ute. It’s not the zero-to-sixty measurement we’re talking about (about a respectable 7 seconds, in our testing), but the surge of power in the 40 to 85 range (that well of speed you need to reach into to pass on the highway) that impresses.
And, by deciding to stick with a turbo’d four, Land Rover saved you some cash, too. We come close to the advertised 18/28 mpg in our week in the thing.
By the way, the brakes are better than the engine.
Then there is that dial.
The Evoque, let’s face it, is the Land Rover product you’re least likely to find chasing cheetahs on an African Safari. But it has the same terrain selections you’d find on a Range Rover. And they work.
Where many of today’s SUVs have suspension and grip settings for multiple terrains, most of them don’t do much. In the Evoque, though, each of the settings in the Terrain Response System (Road/Snow/Mud/Sand) makes a noticeable change in the stiffness of the springs and the performance of the All-Wheel-Drive.
We doubted ‘em.
And it’s a damn good thing we did.
Maybe, if everyone had assumed it would be special, they’d have phoned it in like everyone else does. Maybe they’d have built another glorified minivan like everyone else does. Maybe they’d have lined the interior in a choice of bland grey or bland tan like everyone else does.
But maybe the doubts pissed ‘em off.
Because, with the Evoque, Land Rover has built something unique – a quick, responsive small sport utility vehicle with razor looks and a cabin you’d look forward to spending time in…and they’ve taken home so many awards with it, they’d need to fold the rear seats to fit them all under the power liftgate.
Let’s all tell them they can’t build a 400-horsepower Sport version next…