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Range Rover - Evoque - Style with substance intact

Traditionalists may balk at the Evoque’s provocative styling but make no mistake, this is a minisport utility vehicle that carries the Land Rover heritage with pride, as Anthony Ffrench-Constant reports after a unique road-test

Given that a unique combination of battle cruiser-imperious boulevard behaviour and leap-tallbuildings- at-a-single-bound off-road capability remains an absolutely mandatory requirement of anything sporting a Range Rover badge (even if most owners would never contemplate the latter for fear of scuffing the paintwork or giving the Shitzhu undue cause for queasiness), a certain frisson of excitement always attends the impending gleam of a new model launch.

So, which exotic proving ground awaits…? Iceland? Borneo? The Australian Outback? The banks of the Brahmaputra? Tierra del Fuego? Nope. None of the above. It’s Liverpool. More specifically, it’s a good hundred feet or so under Liverpool…

But where are the rats? Barging the new Range Rover Evoque tentatively through a flooded section of a disused Victorian railway tunnel that runs arrow-straight for two miles beneath the very heart of the city – water of a suspiciously revolting hue so deep that the resultant bow wave somewhat shackles the efficacy of the headlamps – I’m struck by the total absence of rats.

Surely the place should be heaving with evilsmelling, sewage-sleek, tombstone-toothed rodents the size of badgers, whiskers twitching in anticipation of the merest whiff of mechanical failure…?

Then again, I suppose I shouldn’t really be surprised, because there’s precious little sign of life above ground either. Dubbed European Capital of Culture in 2008, noble Liverpool has seen a small fortune spent on tourist-enticing urban regeneration along the east bank of the murky River Mersey. However, for the average Liverpudlian, the words ‘rat’ and ‘smell’ must spring to mind on a regular basis.

Because, speeches long consigned to the circular filing tray, ribbons snipped and mayoral robes re-draped in mothballs, the enduring evidence of endless suburban streets lined with row upon row of sternly shuttered, long-vacated shops suggests that the overwhelming majority of those whom actually live here have not benefited from said vast injections of cash in any way whatsoever.

Now, though Land Rover actually chose Liverpool as the Evoque launch venue because the car is built at the company’s nearby Halewood plant, it is, perhaps, an equally apposite venue at which to consider the car in the context of such reeking rodent musings.

Lest we forget, the company first set about re-evaluating the brand with the irritatingly successful Range Rover Sport; a cocksure mongrel disguising Discovery underpinnings beneath gently brash detailing and marketing-lie badging – Ranulph Fiennes disguised as Robbie Williams. And now we have Round 2; what started life as the next Freelander has now been upgraded to Range Rover status – if only (a cynic might mutter) to justify the price. So, is this a true Range Rover, or merely the boastful bearer of what some might consider an increasingly devalued brand badge?

430mm shorter than a proper Range Rover, with enormous door mirrors the size of kayaks that wouldn’t look out of place on a Scania truck, the Evoque certainly is, viewed from any angle, a fabulous looking machine. In the gently depressing context of Liverpudlian suburbia, it stands out like a butterfly in a bomb crater. Much has been made of how closely the new car resembles the stunning 2008 LRX concept from which it is spawned. And Land Rover has been furtively perpetuating this perception by refusing to allow concept and finished article anywhere near each other within range of the automotive paparazzi’s lenses.

Why worry? Even if differences did prove greater than feeble memory might allow, the Evoque is still so adroitly evocative of the concept that such a reality check would be most unlikely to diminish the din of applause that has accompanied the car to the launch pad. With a roofline 35mm lower than that of 5- door versions, the 3-door car is the ocular pick of the bunch. But don’t you dare ruin the classic, Range Rover floating roof presentation by opting for a two-tone colour scheme. This is not a Mini, and it just doesn’t work.

Happily, the ‘bling’ factor increasingly besetting Range Rovers of late has been kept to a minimum here, and is largely restricted to the now familiar grille modelled on the blades of a chop-anything shopping channel kitchen appliance and running lights that appear to have been penned by a Spyrograph learner driver.

With a roofline sloping rearwards this acutely, you’d expect to find back seat accommodation somewhat compromised, and it’s something of a packaging miracle that this is, in fact, not the case. Life is, however, pretty chthonic back there; the conjunction of rising belt line and sloping roof reducing rear glazing to mere shard status and guaranteeing claustrophobia for smaller children.

That aside, the interior is tidy, comfortable, nicely trimmed and a far more conservative effort that that hinted at by the Evoque’s exterior couture. The only gently jarring notes are provided by a multimedia touch screen that falls short of Range Rover quality in terms of operational speed and tactility, and the little chips of clear plastic that numerate the driver’s instrument dials, allowing the back-lighting to turn a vulgar red when ‘sport’ mode is engaged. A tad Swarovski crystal animal collection for my tastes…

Ah, yes… ‘sport’ mode… The true joy of Range Rover ownership has always been most acutely felt in flinging something the size of a well-appointed bungalow at the horizon with unseemly haste. That’s why Supercharged V8 versions of the Sport massively outsell all others (utterly refuting the company’s own, wildly wide of the mark, initial marketing predictions). And that’s why the Evoque can never be a proper Range Rover…

Powerplant options are all welterweight fourcylinder affairs, restricted to a choice of 148bhp and 187bhp, 2.2 litre diesel units and a 237bhp, 2.0 litre petrol engine. The lesser diesel proves so lethargic it has to find a park bench for a little sit down on the way from 0 to 62mph, and, though the more powerful unit’s 8.5 second 0- 62mph time suggests adequate enthusiasm, it’s mated to a gearbox as eager to respond as a teenager woken at 6.30 on a Saturday morning.

Land Rover says that swifter Evoque models will out-perform 6-cylinder versions of the Freelander. I say make your mind up; if this is a true Range Rover, I’m not interested in comparisons with a lesser species, merely the car’s performance against its own brand yardstick…

All of which is a pity, because the Evoque rides and handles with considerable aplomb. The steering is light by Range Rover standards, but nicely accurate. Thanks to trick, ‘MagnaRide’ adaptive suspension, body composure is little short of extraordinary for a car this tall, and the Evoque can be chucked about with surprising alacrity. Best of all, though, when cruising at motorway speeds, the car does give you just enough of that majestic, Range Rover feeling of being insulated from the other mere mortals on the road.

Being largely ABS system-based, off-roading abilities fall more into the Freelander than Range Rover category, but that’s not to be sniffed at. There are a couple of new tricks on offer, including a hill descent control which allows you to adjust the speed of descent within a limited range.

As ever with off-roading, it largely comes down to tyres and ground clearance, the latter at which, despite riding 25mm lower on its suspension than a Freelander, the Evoque excels, tackling really quite unpleasant surfaces with such aplomb you quickly forget you’re driving over terrain that would simply rip the guts out of any conventional car.

And so to that which really determines the badging of the Evoque as a Range Rover; the price. This car can be yours for as little as £27,955. But by the time you’ve added enough toys to make it feel like a true Range Rover on board and armed it with a powerplant that stands even a fighting chance of pulling a New Age traveller off your sister, you’ll get no change from £40,000.

With no V6 waiting in the wings, the question, then, is: would you fork out forty grand for a car with a four-cylinder engine? Personally, I would not. But I can absolutely guarantee that, given a machine that looks this irresistible, pretty much the whole of the rest of the world will.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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