Road Test The SUV may have some off-roader cred but Neil Vorano finds it to be more of a cool urban dweller.
Range Rover's new Evoque is a real city slicker
It's sunny and hot in this rocky, barren land, but a cool breeze blowing makes things bearable as our group stands and watches a small car go up and down a sandy hill.
Did I say "car"? I meant "game changer". Or at least that's what Range Rover is calling its new Evoque, and I might just agree with them.
We're in Jordan for the Middle East launch of the new three and five-door small car from the British manufacturer. And the Evoque could be the most significant new car from Range Rover in decades - there is a lot riding on this little chassis.
Range Rover, being the company that it is, wanted us to feel how well the new Evoque lives up to its off-road roots. And so it had us driving the car up and down a hill to show off its Hill Descent feature and driving over light ruts that couldn't intimidate a Yaris; hardly a real test of ruggedness.
But this really isn't an off-road car, no matter how much Range Rover would like you to believe it. Oh, yes, it can do some light rough stuff (leave the rocks and dune bashing to the Evoque's bigger brothers) but what sets this car apart from anything else is its style. And it has that in bags.
When it debuted as the LRX concept in 2008 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, it won resounding praise for its design, like nothing Land Rover has done to date. It was a fresh, new direction for the storied brand, and much more urban-looking than its other, more robust vehicles.
And then Land Rover built the Evoque, amazingly with very few changes to the Detroit concept. It keeps certain Range Rover design points, such as the clamshell bonnet and the floating roof, but it's far removed from its bigger stablemates when you sit them side by side.
Robin Colgan is the managing director for Jaguar/Land Rover in the Middle East, but a few years ago he was the global director for Land Rover and wrote the original design brief for the Evoque. Joining us in Jordan, he says the company had always intended the Evoque to turn heads.
"We wanted to build a small car, but it had to be highly desirable, otherwise it wouldn't work. We wanted the same level of luxury that our customers have come to expect in a Range Rover, but in a smaller package. We felt we were doing something unique with a small car."
And unique it certainly is. For Range Rover, this is a radically new direction; the Evoque is designed for the street first, an urban dazzler that begs to be shined rather than sprayed with mud. It's a stunning design, with its flared wheel arches, jewelled neon headlight and tail lights and a low stance. Its looks will be the car's biggest selling feature by far.
Even inside, the interior swathes passengers in typical Range Rover luxury, with leather and quality materials throughout. It's a bit subdued compared with the radical exterior, but no less satisfying.
And it's a good car even without the bodywork. It's a small vehicle - smaller than a BMW X3 - and, at 726kg, easily its lightest vehicle. Weight was saved by using aluminium extensively in the chassis, and it not only helps the fuel economy (the diesel version gets up to 50mpg, claims Colgan) but makes the Evoque feel like a sports car in the curves. Yes, there is quite a lot of understeer in tighter corners - it's not quite up to par with the hot hatches like a Golf or Clio - but on twisty roads it is superb. That's also thanks to Land Rover's Magneride suspension, which instantly changes the firmness based on the terrain and the drive. You could select the sport mode for solid handling, but even in normal mode it works well under spirited driving on these curvy Jordanian roads.
The 2.0L petrol engine is certainly sufficient, too. Its 240hp might not sound like a lot these days, but with such a light car it gets the Evoque up to speed quickly. While it's no supercar, you won't want for more power in the passing lane on the motorway.
The gear selector for the six-speed automatic is taken from the new Jaguars, with the rotating knob popping out of the console when the car is started. Thankfully, there are also paddle shifters in case you did want to give it a go off-road. And if you do, it comes standard with Range Rover's Terrain Response system that allows you to tailor the car's suspension, engine mapping and traction control to various off-road surfaces and situations.
It's by no means a perfect car, though. While the three-door is easily the better looking of the two styles, getting into the back seat is akin to performing a circus act. And the rear quarters of both the three-door and the five-door are by no means spacious, even if you did get back there. Plan on getting very acquainted with your knees.
Also, the entertainment system is overly complicated and, surprisingly, not as stylish as some systems in other cars, an oversight that gets more obvious the more it's used. The technology and safety features are good but not exactly groundbreaking, as you'd expect in a Mercedes or BMW.
Oh, yes, there is a nifty auto-park feature that backs the car into a tight spot on its own (with driver input for throttle and brake only), and an ear-splitting and clear 11-speaker stereo system (optional), but I was expecting a little bit more, especially in a car that hovers at about Dh230,000.
But all that hardly matters when you pull up to a hotel valet and sense the admiring looks from the people waiting there as you step out. This is a car that will attract attention wherever it goes, no matter what it's parked beside.
It's not at all a matter of style over substance; the Evoque's style is its substance.