Range Rover baby takes after its parents

The Evoque is a long-awaited three-door ‘baby’ Range Rover derived from the striking LRX concept first shown at the 2008 Detroit Show and the big shock is, it looks almost exactly the same. It will be available in two- and four-wheel drive and joined, later, by five-door versions. Conceived as a ‘global’ car, the plan is to sell it in 160 countries.

The Evoque is a long-awaited three-door ‘baby’ Range Rover derived from the striking LRX concept first shown at the 2008 Detroit Show and the big shock is, it looks almost exactly the same. It will be available in two- and four-wheel drive and joined, later, by five-door versions. Conceived as a ‘global’ car, the plan is to sell it in 160 countries.

Unveiled at a party thrown to celebrate the Range Rover’s 40th birthday (but first shown in production form at the 2010 Paris Show), the Evoque is key to the Range Rover’s evolution as a brand rather than just a model. Although it will have the smallest footprint of any Range Rover ever (both physical and carbon) and compete in a much lower price sector, it won’t scrimp on traditional Range Rover luxuries. The aim is to hook up people who may never have considered a Range Rover before and there seems little doubt the funky design will hold more appeal for a younger clientele than even the Sport versions of the regular vehicle.

The 1970 Range Rover was, to put it mildly, a sensation. It made a connection between go-anywhere off-road ability (hitherto the preserve of utilitarian Land Rovers, Jeeps and the like) and the necessities of a smart urban lifestyle that, over time, has seeded the remarkable profusion of SUVs, SAVs, ‘soft roaders’, crossovers et al available today. It was a great drive on-road, more comfortable than many saloons and looked sharp and contemporary. ‘Iconic’ is almost too small a word.

It’s probably true that there’s still nothing quite like a full size Range Rover when it comes to marrying awesome mud-plugging ability with limo-like comfort and luxury, but the market trend has veered strongly towards servicing on-road duties, with muddy field jaunts relegated to the periphery. So it’s perhaps understandable that, despite sharing underpinning with the Land Rover Freelander, the Evoque is basically a tarmac deal with the lifestyle image wound round to 11. Breathing commercial life into the LRX concept and making it the smallest, lightest and most fuel-efficient, low emissions Range Rover ever should ensure a long queue forms when it goes on sale next summer. Although based on the Freelander (and to be built in the same plant at Halewood on Merseyside), the Evoque should provide a much more dynamic driving experience. Its track is 20mm wider and numerous components, including suspension knuckles and control arms, are made of aluminium, lowering unsprung weight to the benefit of agility. The car, which will be offered with front-wheel drive, is chasing sporty hatch standards of handling and ride and the BMW 1-series was among the cars used as a benchmark when developing the chassis.

Front-drive will also help the Evoque’s eco credentials, giving a headline consumption figure of 58mpg and CO2 emissions of below 130 g/km from a modified version of the Freelander’s 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine, though the 4x4 models should be good for around 50mpg, too. And no, these aren’t misprints. Stop/start is standard and extensive use of aluminium and plastic in the body make the Evoque up to 150 kg lighter than the Freelander.

There are two versions of the 2.2-litre diesel engine, in 148 and 187bhp tune. They are available with manual or automatic transmissions, both six-speeders. The only petrol engine is sourced from Ford - a direct injection four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbo with twin variable vale timing from the new ‘Ecoboost’ family - and it will come mated to a paddle shift auto with no manual option. It should be brisk with a claimed 0-62mph time of 7.1s. The Evoque will also be the first Land Rover to use electric power steering and the first with magnetorheological dampers.

There’s little to no chance that the Evoque’s SUV-cum-coupe styling won’t go down well with its intended customers. Reaction to the LRX concept shown at the Detroit Show in 2008 was extremely positive and remarkably little has changed for production. In making the journey from show stand to showroom, the bonnet line has been raised by 20mm to improve pedestrian safety. The roofline is taller by the same amount, the body marginally narrower and conventional door handles have been added. Otherwise the LRX’s strikingly crisp lines and athletic stance are perfectly preserved.

The exterior and interior decor can be personalised, in the first instance, with three distinct ‘Design Themes’ though, as with the Mini, there’s plenty of scope for mixing and matching trim and colour options. ‘Pure’ offers a neutral palette with brushed metal trim, soft-touch plastics and 19-inch alloys. ‘Prestige’ has a different style of 19-inch wheel, plenty of leather and what Land Rover rather worryingly calls ‘sparkling metallic details’. Finally, ‘Dynamic’ is the most bespoke treatment of all with reworked bumpers, a bodykit and vividly coloured sports seats. A precise pricing structure has yet to be announced by Land Rover but the company has said that the Evoque range will start at around £30,000 for the 148bhp front-wheel drive model with the Pure trim pack. Further up the range hierarchy are the Prestige and Dynamic, the latter toting 20-inch wheels and a full body colour exterior rather than the dark trim lower section of the other models. In keeping with the prestige image of the Range Rover brand, standard equipment levels won’t leave much to the imagination and there’ll be plenty on the options list for those who really want to go for broke, including a full-length glass roof and a premium 17-speaker sound system.

Cost of ownership is where the Evoque will turn the idea of Range Rover ownership on its head. There’s only so far you can trim the bulk, weight and feeding habits of a full-fat Range Rover. Incremental efficiency gains are all very well but it is what it is: big, thirsty and expensive to run.

The Evoque, on the other hand, should be kinder on the wallet than the Land Rover Freelander on which it’s based. And if the idea of a front-wheel drive Range Rover raises the hackles of Land Rover purists, there’s no doubting its contribution towards re-writing the SUV rule book: It wasn’t so long ago that 50mpg and 130 g/km of CO2 was the preserve of eco-tuned city cars. Commensurately low taxes, sub-prestige servicing costs and the promise of robust Range Rover residuals will help make the Evoque a compelling ownership proposition.

Finding the right mix of ingredients in the right proportions to make a convincing baby Range Rover was never going to be an easy task, but the LRX concept seems to have been an excellent starting point and shrewdly adapting Freelander running gear to hit price, economy and emissions targets a clever, if obvious, ploy. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Evoque is the unique blend of qualities it brings to the small SUV sector: high style, low fuel consumption, emissions and running costs and the kudos of the Range Rover brand. It will be a surprise if the company doesn’t have a major hit on its hands.