My patience was wearing thin. After spending 12 consecutive hours flying from Cape Town to London I’m told that there’s still a long way to go before I can drive the Range Rover Evoque. The bus ride from Heathrow to Farnborough airport felt like a lifetime and the 45-minute charter flight to Anglesey in North Wales, an eternity. Thankfully, Anglesey is sunny in August and the lush, green landscape is strewn with historic architecture, unpronounceable village names and narrow winding roads that stretch as far as the eye can see. I could also see the Range Rover Evoque test-drive fleet from the aeroplane window. Apart from being the spiritual home of Land Rover, it’s easy to see why the Isle of Anglesey was chosen for the starting point of the global media drive – it’s one of the most picturesque places in the United Kingdom.
For those who don’t know, the Range Rover Evoque is the manifestation of the LRX concept car that was unveiled at the North American Auto Show in Detroit in 2008.The first thing you’ll notice is just how small the Evoque is when compared to its stable mates. That’s because it’s based on the Freelander platform but is far more luxurious and flaunts an elegant physique and well-appointed interior – an interior that has been co-designed and approved by none other than Land Rover design consultant/Evoque brand ambassador Victoria Beckham – eish!
Although available in a practical five-door arrangement the three-door coupé model looks best, especially when garbed in the Dynamic package. A 300-kilometre on-and-off-road drive through North Wales and Liverpool was the ideal environment to gauge just how good the Evoque is at handling everyday driving conditions. Thankfully, the Evoque is very competent on the rough and demonstrates high levels of grip on almost every surface.
The first real test took the Evoque convoy through the Snowdonia National Park where a series of rocky climbs, steep descents, sharp bends, deep furrows and sticky mud trails gave me an opportunity to properly test its mettle. Despite the lowered stance, the Evoque surprised me, particularly the manner in which it handled the descents. The speed-adjustable hill-descent function is a really handy tool. It takes some getting used to,but it essentially harnesses the ABS system to mechanically crawl down a slope with the driver needing only to steer. The four-wheel drive terrain response system – as with other Land Rovers – works well on trickier surfaces but seems to strain somewhat due to a shortage of mechanical traction and suspension travel – it’s a brilliant system nonetheless. The cabin can become bumpy and uncomfortable while negotiating uneven surfaces, but the optional MagneRide damper set-up nullifies this by delivering high levels of traction to enhance comfort.
It’s out on the road, however, where the Evoque is most at home. Its sportscar-like handling means it sticks to the road like a leech and leaves you, on most occasions, forgetting that it’s an SUV. Although there weren’t many opportunities to test the Evoque’s acceleration and top speed, at least I was able to test its manoeuvrability around the narrow village roads of Wales and busy streets of Liverpool. In the corners, the steering feels nicely weighted and responds crisply and quickly, but the brakes need to do a fair amount of scrubbing to bring it to a stop. The road system in the UK is very odd; I don’t think I’ve ever driven through as many roundabouts as I did during my two-day test drive. However, to avoid the monotony of these roundabouts I treated several of them as mini slaloms before hearing the Spice Girls song ‘2 become 1’ playing on the radio – a bad omen, perhaps? Just as I backed off, a red double-decker bus straddled the lines forcing me to take evasive action – could it be that I was saved by the Spice Girls?The Evoque is the most efficient vehicle ever made by Range Rover, discharging only 199g/km (2.0-litre turbo) and 174g/km (2.2-litre turbodiesel). The fuel economy figures are equally as good, returning a mere 8.4l/100km and 6.6l/100km respectively. I drove both engine derivatives but preferred the petrol version for obvious reasons. The 2.0-litre turbo engine is powerful (177kW and 340Nm) and pulls well enough to sprint from nought to 100km/h in 7.6 seconds and can reach a top speed of 217km/h if needed. The exhaust note is throaty, too.
As the banality of downtown Liverpool tested my patience, a detour on the route map took my driving partner and me through yet another challenge: a subway tunnel. The now derelict 19th Century Williamson Tunnels in Edge Hill run under the city and were specially cleared of dangerous debris for the Evoque test drive. It was, however, littered with obstacles such as rubble, ruts and water hazards that were yet again no match for Evoque’s traction abilities.
The Evoque’s interior is unquestionably Range Rover. The pop-up gear selector dial is borrowed from Jaguar and the dashboard, door cards and seats feature high-grade twin-needle-stitched leather. The Meridian 825W audio system is brilliant and belts out sound through a 19-speaker arrangement. The panoramic glass roof is also really cool, especially when you’re driving through a tunnel and even the lighting display on the cluster changes from white to red when you enable dynamic driving mode. Even though the Evoque proved its worth on some of the United Kingdom’s toughest terrain, one test still remains – South Africa, where minibus taxis, stray cattle and potholes the size of craters are everyday fare.
The Range Rover Evoque will do battle against the BMW X1 and Audi Q3, which are both very good vehicles but nowhere near as pretty as the Evoque and, let’s be honest, pretty cars sell. Despite it being able to traverse a feral landscape, the Evoque is ultimately going to be used by soccer moms to take the kids to school and the Afghan hound to the park with the only bit of off-roading coming in the form of mounting pavements and hopping kerbs – quite annoying considering its pedigree. I wonder how different things would be if Sylvester Stallone was the brand ambassador?
Price: From R582 995
Engine: 2.0-litre Turbo
Power: 177kW and 340Nm
0-100km/h: 7.6 seconds
Top Speed: 217km/h
Range Rover Evoque Part 1
Range Rover Evoque Part 2