Although nobody is saying it in quite such direct terms, the British car industry needs this new Range Rover Evoque. Its predecessor was a car on which jobs were built and livelihoods provided, but in these post-dieselgate, pre-Brexit times momentum has been in danger of slipping.
Not that you’d necessarily know it when walking around the Halewood plant where production of the new Evoque (alongside that of the Land Rover Discovery Sport) is now very much in full swing. The lines here run for 22 hours per day, five days per week – a task that supports some 4,000 jobs at Halewood alone, never mind in the supply chain.
The plant is, as you’d expect, state-of-the-art; a perfect choreography of robots and humans pressing, welding, clipping, bolting, painting and adjusting what comes into the factory as sheet metal and boxes of components and emerges 24 hours later as completed cars. Around 750,000 of the previous generation Evoque were built here in this way, so expectations for this all-new model are very high indeed.
Clearly the Evoque is good business for Jaguar Land Rover – but is it a good car? To answer that we need to establish how it builds upon the strengths of its predecessor, as well as if it’s corrected any of that car’s shortcomings.
Let’s begin where the Evoque appears to have changed least: its styling. This is Land Rover working from the ‘if-it-ain’t-broke’ rulebook, and for entirely understandable reasons. What’s interesting, however, is that although in pictures you might wonder what’s changed, once you see the Evoque in the metal the evolution is completely obvious. This is particularly so at the rear of the car, which has a much sleeker, flatter and more integrated profile that is entirely in keeping with current trends. Indeed, the whole car has a smoother, more modern aesthetic, all the while retaining the short overhangs and decent ride height that you’d expect of a Land Rover product.
In appearance and size this is still very much a compact SUV (at least by Land Rover standards), having grown by only 1mm in length compared with the previous Evoque. What is impressive is how, by slightly stretching the wheelbase and fitting a new, more compact design of rear suspension, Land Rover has carved out as much interior space as possible in order to yield more room for passengers and their luggage. Admittedly, while larger than before, the boot is still on the small side for this class of car, but legroom for rear passengers is improved by 20mm, and headroom is good. This is a generously sized car for four people, and not uncomfortable for five.
A TRUE LUXURY CAR
To go with the fresher exterior, Land Rover has carried out an extensive redesign of the Evoque’s interior. This includes the fitment of a 10-inch widescreen central infotainment unit (now with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay), another touchscreen mounted lower down for the driving modes and heating controls, and a further screen for the digital dials. Combined with some very tasteful leather and fabric trim options, it makes for an interior that fully stands up to – and in some ways even surpasses – the Volvo XC40 and Audi Q3 for luxury, quality and sheer feel-good factor.
This is all part of JLR’s ambition to put clear ground between its Land Rover products and the more decadent line of Range Rovers. Indeed, making the Evoque feel like more of junior Range Rover was one of its stated ambitions for this car, particularly when it comes to refinement (everything from the stiffness of the body to the location of the engine mounts has been considered). It has paid off too, because on the move the Evoque is a seriously quiet car, isolating you from wind, engine and tyre noise superbly well.
DRIVING THE D180 FIRST EDITION
A full plug-in hybrid Evoque will follow in 2020. For now, the range starts with a D150 diesel, which is the only Evoque available with a manual gearbox and front-wheel drive. Everything else gets a nine-speed torque converter automatic, four-wheel drive and a mild hybrid system to boost fuel economy (by 6%, says Land Rover), primarily by increasing the car’s ability to make use of its stop-start system. As a result, the 2.0-litre D180 diesel that is the subject of this review achieved 41.3mpg on the new NEDC fuel economy cycle, and a steady 35mpg on our test drive.
That test included a stint of off-roading, where the Evoque is every bit as accomplished as you’d expect of a Land Rover product – and arguably far more capable than most owners would ever discover. What’s more, the company’s Terrain Response 2 driving modes are now so smooth and so clever that all you really need to do is select the relevant setting, be it tarmac, mud and snow, rocks, or sand, and let the car do its thing. The wading depth, for what it’s worth, has been increased by 100mm to 600mm.
Back on the beaten track, where most Evoques will spend most of their time, performance is almost every bit as impressive. With 178bhp and 317lb ft of torque, the 2.0-litre diesel in D180 guise is sufficiently quick, and very well mannered. Where it doesn’t quite possess the same polish as the best in this class is the slightly-too-relaxed response of the automatic gearbox, particularly when pulling away, when you occasionally find yourself waiting for the car to deliver what your right foot has asked of it.
Ride and handling meanwhile fall very much into the junior Range Rover category in that the Evoque – on our test car’s Adaptive Dynamics variable dampers at least – glides along serenely at normal road speeds. Putting the car into its firmer ‘Dynamic’ handling mode strikes a sensible balance between tightening up the body control without destroying ride comfort. Add in well-weighted steering and enormous levels of grip and you have an SUV that, while not sporty, is still an extremely enjoyable and capable vehicle to drive.
One area of the Evoque not liked by many previous customers was the poor rear visibility. Land Rover hasn’t been able to fix that per se, but has introduced a piece of technology designed to help. It’s called the Clearsight Rear View Mirror, and replaces the traditional interior mirror with one that can, at the flick of a switch, turn from a conventional mirrored finish into a monitor that displays a live feed from a rearward-facing camera mounted on the roof of the car.
The idea is to give you a significantly wider field of vision, and thus much smaller blind spots, which it does indeed accomplish. However, we found it requires a surprising amount of mental recalibration to adjust to the unexpected depth of field. Engineers who have driven the car over many months swear that you soon get used to it, but after a day of using the system we were still finding it disorientating.
The Evoque’s other party trick is called Ground View. This stitches together images from three cameras (one each on either wing mirror and another in the windscreen) and projects a rolling image of the ground underneath the front of the car on to the infotainment screen. The idea is to help you negotiate tricky terrain when driving off-road, but it’s also great in narrow car parks or for avoiding scratching those big alloy wheels on kerbs.
Replacing one of the British car industry’s true modern-day success stories was not a task to be undertaken lightly. It is testament to the team behind this new Evoque then that it is not only superior when compared with its predecessor, but a clear contender for being the best compact luxury SUV on sale today.
It seems like that production line is going to be awfully busy in the months and years to come.
Price: Range Rover Evoque from £31,600. As tested in D180 First Edition Specification £49,550
0-62mph: 8.8 seconds
Top speed: 127mph
Fuel economy: 41.3mpg (WLTP Combined). 35mpg (On test)
History Guide: Range Rover Evoque
Range Rover Evoque Mk1
The term game-changer has been somewhat overused in the automotive industry, but in the Evoque’s case it really is justified. Launched in 2011, the first generation of Evoque was a compact luxury SUV that put a designer spin on a traditionally rugged type of vehicle. – Initially available with only three doors for an even more coupe-like silhouette, the line-up was soon joined by a more practical five-door version, and later even an Evoque Convertible. All are luxurious, fashionable and good to drive, making the Evoque’s success not only easy to understand, but also entirely justified.
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