Oct. 13 (Bloomberg) -- You’ve never considered owning a Land Rover? Clearly you don’t live in the Australian outback or have a Hollywood entourage to cart around between house parties in the Hills. Maybe you can’t rationalize the 12 miles per gallon in the city.
You might have a BMW or Lexus SUV, but until now you’ve been safe from the siren call of the Gaydon, U.K.-based brand.
Well, take a look at the new Range Rover Evoque.
It’s a dazzlingly designed Trojan horse, aimed squarely at owners of the X3, RX and Audi Q5, an anti-box that looks like a crossover, while retaining a dash of Land Rover’s legendary off-road capability. Old-school Land Rover drivers who actually do drive in the bush will hate it.
There’s a long-held perception that a Land Rover is an impractical purchase. I’m thinking of buying a vintage Range Rover and have been told I should get a second “parts car” too -- to save money as mechanical bits go, invariably, wrong.
That’s why the brand so desperately needs a car like the Evoque, which seats five and gets 28 miles per gallon highway, 18 city. Those aren’t hybrid-worthy numbers by any means, but they’re easily more sensical than that $95,000 Range Rover Supercharged with 510 horsepower.
The Evoque’s starting price of $44,000 is also more accessible for urbanites aspiring to get back to nature, or, at least, reaching suburbia’s big-box stores.
Still, one of the models I tested (and predictably liked best), was a fully loaded Dynamic Coupe in Firenze red, that came to $59,820. Even a German luxury carmaker might consider that a ballsy up-charge.
The Evoque is coming into dealerships now. Aggressively styled without seeming weird, the designers have found the just-right proportions of sports-car zippiness and SUV brashness. The Evoque’s rising belt-line and down-sloping roof scrunch the rear windows, creating a sense of tension and surprise. Whatever the body color, the optional blacked-out roof is the sharpest look.
Heritage hasn’t been completely ignored. The clamshell hood is old school, and the grill is a natural progression of the current lineup’s face.
The Evoque comes as either a five-door or three-door model, which the company calls a coupe. The latter is $1,000 pricier and way cooler. The five-door is more practical. Even so, they’re roughly the same size, 14.3 feet long and 5.3 feet high -- diminutive by Land Rover standards.
The inside is distinctly carlike. There’s plenty of room, but it’s more like the space of a midsize sedan than a fat SUV. The entire roof is glass, from door frame to door frame.
Because of the rake of the top, you actually get little sense of that panoramic glass from the front seats, but in the rear it’s simply spectacular. You can see the entire world back there. I’d like to spend a whole day being chauffeured around Manhattan, checking out the buildings. Passengers may actually start calling dibs for the back.
One of the most elemental shifts is the new engine, a four-cylinder with 240 horsepower, 251 pound-feet of torque. It is turbocharged and direct-injected.
I drove both Evoque body styles and several trim levels around Vancouver, Canada, and in the woods outside of Whistler. Rotating among several vehicles, my favorite, by far, was that coupe with the “dynamic” package. Aesthetically, it has a more aggressive front and rear than the other two trim levels, Pure and Prestige.
Mechanically, it included the optional, $1,250 adaptive dynamics feature, which alters the stiffness of the suspension using magnetic fields. This technology showed up on General Motors products years ago, and it’s definitely worth it, improving handling and ride quality.
The Evoque drives nearly as nicely on the road as any crossover or small SUV on the market, except for the latest-generation BMW X3. The X3 is faster, more fluid and outright more capable on-road; nearly as good as the 3 Series sedan.
The Evoque’s steering is crisp and has a nice weight. The all-wheel-drive keeps it from feeling skittish even on roads dotted with gravel. I leaned hard into a number of sharp corners and never had reason to regret it. It helps that the Evoque weighs just under 4,000 pounds.
For all that style and on-road comfort, you’ve got to give something, and in this case it’s a measure of off-road prowess. This truly won’t bother the average driver, as the Evoque runs along badly-rutted dirt roads nicely. It’ll even wade through a heap of muddy water.
But hard-core off roaders will find, to their horror, the Evoque has no low range, the type of low-end gearing needed for truly serious terrain. The underside clearance is more than eight inches, but I heard at least one nasty scrape while cresting over a wide rock. Take this to your local Jeep Jamboree and they’d giggle at you.
That’s okay. If you’re hitting the hills in the Evoque, it’ll more likely be the ones on Mulholland, on your way to a truly fabulous house party.
The 2012 Range Rover Evoque Coupe at a Glance
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 240 horsepower and 251
pound-feet of torque.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 28 highway, 18 city.
Price as tested: $59,820
Best feature: Stylish appearance and that massive panoramic
Worst feature: No low-range off-road.
Target buyer: The small-SUV shopper who wants cutting-edge
looks and acceptable mpg.
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this column: Jason H. Harper at 66 or follow on Twitter @JasonHarperSpin.
To contact the editor responsible for this column: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at email@example.com.