You don’t mess with success. But you shouldn’t be complacent. Where amid this balancing act is the new Range Rover Evoque?
First, the styling, because all along it’s been the chiselled outline that has snared Evoque buyers. So it’s no surprise that there are no surprises with the new one. Try to draw it in a very few lines, and you’d end up with something much like the Mk1.
But in an echo of the Velar, the surfaces are ultra-clean. The panels lie naked of unnecessary creases, the lines are tight. The lights and handles lie almost obsessively flush but there’s more depth and detail in those illuminations.
The other change is to the proportions, which now enclose a longer wheelbase, good for the people inside, and bigger wheels.
You end up with a car that has the distinctiveness of the old one but makes it completely contemporary. Job done.
Critically, though, the overall size has hardly changed. This is not what normally happens, where cars (even ‘evolutionary, iconic’ ones like the Golf or 911) habitually swell up with each generation. The Evoque is sold as a car for cities, where bloated width is a pain in narrow streets and every extra inch of length is an annoyance for parking.
Because the Evoque isn’t your normal mid-size crossover with a family-car mission, it needs a luxury cabin. That’s defined not just by the upholstery of the furniture and dash, but the technology. So most versions of the Evoque rock a three-screen infotainment system. Four if you get a head-up display.
The lengthened wheelbase is a clue that this isn’t just a re-skin of the old car, but an all-new platform. It’s all about the usual reasons: to make it ride and handle better, roll along more quietly, crash more safely, embrace more technology.
It’s made mostly of steel. Why not aluminium? Aluminium sections are bulkier than steel ones, and that wouldn’t have been good when space is so in-demand. Not just for the people, boot, fuel tank and wheels – all of which have grown – but also for new hybrid batteries. Almost all new Evoques (except the base diesel) get a 48-volt mild hybrid system. A year after launch a full plug-in hybrid, with a smaller three-cylinder engine, arrives.
It’s five doors only in this second generation. The LRX concept car might have been a three-door, and this layout made the early publicity for the Mk1 Evoque, but sales were too slow to justify a replacement. The convertible, too, is a goner. When did you ever see one? Finally, here’s proof that the number of crossover niches is actually finite.
It’s a Range Rover, and there’s no pretence of being sporty. But there’s satisfaction to be had from the way it responds to your demands with considered precision. Bad conditions or long trips won’t take it out of you.
Similar to BMW and Volvo, the whole engine range is 2.0-litre four-cylinder. Because it’s a Land Rover and cross-country ability matters – the Evoque can wade 60cm depth – almost every model is 4WD. Diesels are called D150, D180 and D240; petrols are P200, P250 and P300. You can guess their power.
The first one we’ve had a go in is a P300. Around town it’s pretty silent and willing. The mild hybrid system can shut the engine early as you move to a halt, and then re-start instantly. It’s not a system that gives any extra peak power or torque, but it does help fill in the brief troughs of turbo lag.
Out on the open road, performance is effective enough, if a bit buzzy in the mid-ranges. But it never quite feels its 300 horsepower. Mind you, with this car’s equipment you’re knocking on 1,900kg plus driver.
The nine-speed automatic gearbox is far better calibrated than when it first turned up in the last Evoque. Even so, it still acts like a little bunny – hesitant then startled. It’ll hold on to a gear too long when you gently open the throttle, then bang down through several ratios. At least it plays co-operatively when you use the paddleshifters.
In corners, you just steer, and the Evoque obligingly sorts things out. There’s some roll, but that helps you gauge what’s going on in the near-complete absence of steering feel. Mid-corner bumps don’t bother it, which is a big plus in most of Britain. The good view out and comparatively narrow body are both blessings on country B-roads, just as in cities.
Little commotion or shudder makes its way through the body or steering column – the extra strength and isolation here are a credit to the new suspension and platform.
The ride isn’t soft like a big Range Rover’s or Discovery’s, but it’s pliable and takes away most of the harshness. Switching between damper modes makes only a subtle difference, and in fact auto mode is the best calibrated. Comfort mode doesn’t help much because it loses wheel control so you feel extra juddering. The suspension is quiet so your ears aren’t alerting you to the bumps, only your body. Tyre noise is properly smothered away too.
Off-road, Land Rover always provides decent clearance and articulation versus rivals, and some handy off-road traction electronics to keep you trucking along.
On the inside
Range Rover does a fine modern-lux environment. It’s a theme of strong minimal rectilinear lines. Cladding the surfaces are smart plush leather options with good colour choices. If you don’t care to park your backside on that of a deceased bovine then go for one of the fabric options. Some of those involve wool, and some are characterised as vegan, which is a nice way of saying petroleum-based. Albeit partly recycled from drink bottles.
The infotainment pixels look good and mostly work well. From mid trim level upwards, it becomes JLR’s Touch Pro Duo system, with two central screens stacked one above the other. The lower one normally runs climate control. Swipe across and it covers car configurating – the comfort/eco/sport modes and terrain response.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are in the system now, which was a notable omission on JLR machinery up to now. It’s well integrated: you can swipe the phone’s music track display down onto the lower screen so you can still use the upper one for the built-in navigation.
Two rotate-and-push knobs set into the lower screen add a welcome tactile aspect. Their function is context-dependent, so the one that’s the heat dial in the climate screen becomes the mode-change dial in the car screen.
Down spec Evoques have a normal set of climate controls in the same position. The driver’s instruments are actual hardware items, where it’s TFT in the trim levels that come with the Touch Pro Duo bundle.
Another display-based bit of magic: the optional Ground View system. Cameras embedded around the front of the car feed the screen with an image of the area down between and forward of the front wheels. Imagine the bonnet and engine bay were glass. As usual Range Rover portrays it as an off-road aid, for avoiding boulders and crevasses. IRL you’ll use it to steer between city width restrictors without kerbing the wheels.
The rear-view mirror can also be camera-linked, showing an image fed from a cam behind the roof aerial. It shows a usefully wide angle (the Evoque’s rear glass is tiny) and lets you see past rear passengers or a boot packed to the roof. But think back to the optics lesson in school physics. This is a real image, meaning your eyes have to re-focus from the road to the rear-view picture close to your eyes. That can be tiring, especially at night. In a real mirror, the focal distance is the same as the road ahead. The new mirror is half-silvered so usefully you can still switch it to the time-honoured type.
A Range Rover’s driving position is meant to be commanding, and this one does feel high without being wobbly or vertiginous. The seats support you snugly. In the back, there’s all the room a grown-up needs but not a nanometre more, and the roof and pillars crowd in a bit.
Accommodation is generous for what cabin-crew insist on calling ‘personal effects’. Under the centre armrest lives a deep bin, and there’s also storage behind the duo screen, and big door bins.
After all these years, there’s still something that makes an Evoque special. The rest of the premium crossover crowd look and feel like taller versions of their makers’ regular hatchbacks.
By contrast this is a machine from a line-up that does nothing but luxury off-roaders and does them in its unique and successful way. Albeit the Evoque is the gatehouse not the actual stately home.
It’s not the roomiest thing. For sure it’s not the sportiest in the posh crossover class. But do you want that in this type of car? We habitually advise that you don’t. Rather, sink into the cabin, relax with the well-matured road manners and feel coddled in a sense of well-being.