It’s pretty, it’s rugged, it’s capable and it makes you look skinny. Okay, maybe not. But if the 2012 Range Rover Evoque could, it would.
By Tara Weingarten
THE BIG PICTURE
Here’s something very few of us will ever do in a car – drive up a steep muddy, rock-strewn dirt road, through large troughs filled with two-feet of standing water, and then power through gravel-laced snow on a narrow mountain fire road. And still look great doing it.
That’s what I did on a recent launch of the new Range Rover Evoque. To dispel mumblings among jaded automotive journalists that the Evoque is a candy-hearted car, meant for suburban moms who would rather look the part of rugged individualist than be one, the brave folks at Range Rover took me and a gathering of cranky reviewers up to the very top of a ski slope in Whistler, Canada.
We drove this crazy course. Not contrived, not a Hollywood set made to look like wilderness, but a real driving experience in the mountains, straight up 6,200 feet, punctuated with everything Mother Nature could throw at us.
The performance is real. If you buy the Range Rover Evoque because you live in an area with extreme weather, or you travel on weekends to a remote ski area, it is very unlikely you will get stuck, no matter what the driving conditions.
But it’s not just muscle – the Evoque is stylish, so if your vehicle’s shiny wheels never leave pavement to touch sand, snow or dirt, you’ll be just as thrilled with its fashion sense. The Evoque comes in an attractive two-door coupe design or a more practical five-door (sedan with Land Rover’s signature clam shell tailgate) model.
The Range Rover Evoque comes in three trim levels (Pure, Dynamic and Prestige), from basic to swank, with increasing amounts of leather, choices of mood lighting (yes, mood lighting, like in a fancy restaurant) and a choice of stereo, one of which is powerful enough to restyle your hair.
It’s all gorgeous, no matter the trim level, but there are flaws. A bowed dashboard juts out into the cabin to bring all the buttons and dials closer to driver and passenger so reaching isn’t necessary. But this convenience comes at the price of space. This jutting cuts down the Evoque’s roominess up front. It’s not a problem if only two people are in the vehicle. I just moved my seat back and I was fine. But when passengers are in the rear, there’s only enough comfy space for front OR backseat riders. Someone’s going to feel a little cramped.
My Dynamic tester has pretty contrast stitching on all seating surfaces that looks rich and contemporary. The front seats are heated, as is the steering wheel (a $1,000 option). The dashboard and door trim has a unique rubberized pebble-textured feel, almost like stingray leather. Very en vogue, I say. And I like the central dial, which acts as a gear-shift knob. You just spin the dial to select your gear and then push down to tuck it out of the way, so it’s flush with the center console.
And the Range Rover Evoque is smart. The steering wheel has hands-free talk for your mobile phone, cruise control and audio buttons, so there is no need to take your eyes off the road fumbling for buttons. And a cool graphic on the center gauge cluster of the dashboard reveals how many passengers are in your car and whether their seatbelts are buckled. No cheating from the peanut gallery.
Overhead, a panoramic moonroof (it’s a fixed piece of tinted glass that doesn’t open) spans the entire cabin, bathing it in light, from the very front to the very back of the rear-seat passengers’ headrests.
And in a nod to eco-friendliness, each Evoque has 35 lbs of recycled plastic in its body. Nearly 1,000 16-ounce plastic water bottles have been reborn as a sub-woofer for the sound system, a cooling fan, air cleaner and air ducting for the climate system, and parts of the dashboard and door panels.
HOW DOES IT DRIVE?
Very well. The all-wheel-drive Range Rover Evoque is stable at high speeds on the highway and feels nimble enough to make quick, sharp lane changes with unnoticeable body sway. My “Dynamic” trim level test car had “Dynamic” mode, which flattened out the ride on twisty mountain parts, making body sway impossible to detect. All three trim levels ride more like a car than the truck feel of the Range Rover Sport. Though you still sit up high in a command-the-road kind of way, like the Sport.
It wears a turbo-charged, direct-injection 2.0-liter, inline 4-cylinder engine that is the most fuel efficient motor Range Rover has ever built, getting 18 mpg city and 28 mpg on the highway. It scoots from a standstill to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds, which isn’t the quickest in its class but is fast enough for highway merging.
Four drive settings allow you to choose traction control for mud, snow, sand and regular road conditions. It is these remarkable settings that use Range Rover’s Adaptive Dynamics featuring Magnaride. The engineers say the car measures traction 1,000 times per second and makes automatic adjustments to optimize controls for dirt, gravel and snow to give you the best ride. All the while, it can wade through about 20 inches of water without any of it being ingested by the air intakes. I say it works.
On steep downhills, the Hill Decent Control takes over the brakes and acceleration to get you safely down the mountain, even in seriously muddy, slippery and rocky conditions. I can attest to this. Whistler was under a snowstorm when we plied up and down the mountainside. The feature takes some getting used to, as I was told to push the Hill Decent Control button, put the car in first gear, and then take my feet off the pedals and let the car take over. My instinct to push the brake as we were rolling over a particularly slippery surface that leaned heavily to the left, was met with insistence from my instructor to lay off the pedal. Sure enough, I’m here to tell you that my fellow cranky journalist passengers and I are alive. They even cheered up.
GIZMOS AND GADGETS
Each of the three trim level Evoques comes with a Meridian audio system, a high-end British brand, which sounds great. The base model has 380 watts with 11 speakers and a sub-woofer. It sounds better than most other brands’ premium systems. But the upgraded Meridian system, with 825 watts and 17 speakers, is spectacular. It can record on a hard-drive up to 10 CDs. Unfortunately, this premium system is part of a very expensive $7,900 upgrade package that also includes the “Dynamic” setting. The package has wonderful components, it’s just pricy. Heated seats and steering wheel are an extra $1,000.
There are two Bluetooth connections, so you don’t have to choose between hooking up your iPad or your iPhone. And the Surround Camera is comprises of five cameras (two front, two side, one rear) so you get a complete 360 scan of your surroundings. All the better not to nick those expensive rims or back into a low-lying parking garage pole.
Ambient lighting comes in five selectable colors, and interior mood lighting was inspired by first-class airline cabins and posh restaurants. Puddle lamps on the outside door handles light the ground around the doors at night, so you won’t step in puddles. And as an added surprise, the lights project a sketch of the car onto the ground. A bit of whimsy.
This baby Range may lack a little when it comes to cabin space, but it's a true Rover when the roads get rough or when you want that extra luxury as you head into the city.
Off-Road Capabilities - the best of both worlds for those who live in the city but play in the country
Panoramic Moonroof brings the great outdoors in.
Less roomy than it should be. A restyled dashboard could allow for more driver and front passenger space