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km : First Drive

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22 November 2011

Disc brakes, coil springs, automatic transmission, air conditioning, full-time four-wheel drive and a V8 engine don’t sound so radical for a modern off-road vehicle; in fact, it’s been the essential luxury SUV recipe for the last couple decades. But when they all showed up together in the form of the first Range Rover in 1970, they not only rewrote the Land Rover playbook, but also created the luxury 4×4 class. Now an entirely new type of vehicle is redefining what it means to be a Range Rover. Its name is Evoque, and it’s just as revolutionary today as the truck that first launched the brand more than four decades ago.



A Different Kind of Rover



Just as that original Range Rover ditched familiar but antique hardware (leaf springs, manual hub locks) to appeal to leisure-class buyers instead of farmers and soldiers, the Evoque abandons the ubiquitous thirsty V8 and trucky architecture in the hopes of attracting buyers with 21st-century sensibilities. In other words, young (and significantly more female) “affluents” who connect with Range Rover’s go-anywhere reputation and attitude but require a more efficient, more compact vehicle to get them through everyday conditions far less demanding than, say, the Darien Gap. Without a doubt, most new owners will be lured into the Evoque on its looks alone, which is understandable if your eyes work at all.



Really, it’s hard not to look at the Evoque, in either its three-door coupe or five-door form. Its striking posture commands attention, resembling an Olympic sprinter in the set position. Its details — slim lights and grille, greenhouse compressed to a proportion roughly half the height of the body’s thick slab, exaggerated wheelhouses — are clean and modern and full of charisma. It somehow manages to look like virtually nothing else on the road, and yet its basic form is immediately familiar as a Range Rover, with its floating greenhouse, descending roofline, well-defined shoulders, short overhangs and lots of clearance under the body.



The exterior’s clean minimalism carries over inside. Many of the important functions are handled through the 8-inch color touchscreen in the center of the dash. A secondary unit below controls the ventilation system. There’s no shift lever to speak of, as the Evoque takes advantage of the self-rising transmission dial that first appeared in the Jaguar XF. Switching programs on the standard Terrain Response system involves scrolling through modes using two buttons situated just below the trans dial on the center console. The whole arrangement is amazingly compact and uncluttered, a far cry from the scattered knobs and buttons of Range Rovers past. Despite the sexy roofline (which is actually a full inch lower with coupe bodywork), there’s generous space available inside, including 1.4 inches more rear headroom than in the boxier Range Rover Sport.



The cabin oozes cool modernity as well. Rather than fall back on the traditional Range Rover clubroom aesthetic, the Evoque’s interior mixes up contemporary materials to create a more dynamic ambience. Leather seating and aluminum dash trim are standard issue on the Pure model, while the Dynamic version adds perforated upholstery with contrasting piping and stitching for a decidedly sportier look. Only the Prestige model comes remotely close to being traditional, with its full leather dash and door trim and its polished wood accents, but even these are presented in a more modern interpretation. Dead trees and French stitching certainly don’t look out of place in here, but neither are they necessary to sell the Evoque as a modern luxury conveyance, especially with the standard full-length glass roof that makes the whole experience feel like a rolling homage to Mies van der Rohe.



Complementing the Evoque’s hipster attitude is a pair of premium sound systems from England’s Meridian Audio. If $6000 for a pair of the company’s bookshelf speakers sounds a bit steep, the $4000 jump from the standard 380-watt, 11-speaker system to the 825-watt, 17-speaker setup in the Evoque will seem like an absolute bargain, especially considering that also includes an audio hard drive big enough to store ten CDs, satellite navigation, adaptive xenon headlights and a host of other niceties. The Meridian partnership is a refreshing change from the plethora of co-branded high-end audio systems. Rather than simply apply its labels to the grilles, the firm developed speakers specifically tuned for the listening environment of the Evoque; the quality of the output is impressive, especially in the upgraded system, which offers incredible clarity for the price.



British Racing (to be) Green



Land Rover vehicles have long been employed to save the world — largely by hauling material support and human aid to places where few other vehicles dare roam — the Range Rover Evoque aims to make the planet better by first looking in the mirror. From its use of recycled materials to its eco-wise production processes, it’s easily the most environmentally conscious vehicle to wear a Rover badge since the parent company stopped making bicycles in 1924. An example of this new eco-chic approach: the Evoque uses more than 35 pounds of recycled plastic, essentially a thousand crumpled up water bottles worth of the stuff. It’s largely invisible, making up components like the airbox and fender liners, but it does make a surprisingly refined appearance in the form of headliner cloth as well.



Minimizing weight was a major goal for the Evoque, which crosses the scales at just 3902 pounds. That makes it the lightest Land Rover in the current lineup (the LR2, from which it’s heavily evolved, weighs 11 pounds more) thanks to its use of aluminum in the hood, roof and front control arms, magnesium in the front cross beam, and plastic composites in the front fenders and the tailgate. The new all-aluminum four-cylinder engine alone saves 88 pounds compared to the small V6 that powers the LR2. We’re guessing all that glass in the standard panoramic roof more than makes up for it though.



Weight savings aside, the Evoque’s engine deserves a lot of credit for taking Range Rover to new places on the EPA’s map. Land Rover’s crew started with Ford’s new direct-injected turbo four-cylinder, and then tuned it for Evoque duty. That means 240 horsepower at 550 rpm and 250 lb-ft across the whole midrange (1750 to 4000 rpm) from its 2.0 liters of displacement, plus a lubrication system that’s been revised to cope with sustained climbs and descents of 25 degrees, extreme weatherproofing of electrical components, and a breathing system that allows for just shy of twenty inches of fording depth.



Mated exclusively to an eight-speed automatic transmission, it takes advantage of turbocharging, direct injection, variable intake and exhaust valve timing, low-friction pistons, electric power steering, a clutchless air conditioning compressor and an alternator designed to charge only on deceleration to achieve its official 18 mpg city and 28 mpg highway ratings. We saw near 20 mpg in our uncommonly adventurous drive from North Vancouver to Whistler in British Columbia, which included a fair amount of mountain climbing on ski slope access roads; that kind of economy is practically stratospheric for a Range Rover.



Half the Engine, All the Performance



Any concerns about a four-cylinder Range Rover not being able to pull its own weight will quickly be tamped by a stint behind the wheel. The engine and trans work exceptionally well together, getting the Evoque to 60 mph from a dead stop in just 7.1 seconds, almost exactly the same as the original Range Rover Sport with a supercharged V8. In less enthusiastic driving, the gearbox does its best to get into top gear quickly and smoothly. Downshifts are quick and decisive with the terrain response set for asphalt, while off-road programs prioritize holding lower gears and taking the edginess off of throttle inputs.



The Evoque is fairly stiffly sprung, and because it’s so light and compact it drives more like an oversized hot hatch than a crossover/utility vehicle. Electric steering assistance is ideally suited to the mission; only a light effort is required for parking, while the weightier programming at higher speeds feels quite natural and responsive for a vehicle like this. The full-time all-wheel-drive setup is calibrated for a front-drive bias, though it can deliver 100% of the power to any one of the four wheels should conditions demand it.



Off-roadies will lament the absence of a proper low range, not to mention proper suspension articulation, but this Rover wasn’t really built for them anyway. Nevertheless, the Evoque is far more capable of surviving tough terrain than it may ever need to be, and to underscore this we started our drive event by launching it off a barge in Vancouver Harbor for a beach landing, then proceeded immediately to a muddy obstacle course. It puts on a great show when called upon, but, to use a Whistler metaphor, it’s really more après ski than black diamond.



Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.Warren Buffet



We have no doubt that Land Rover could have just as easily pulled the slow-selling LR2 out of the roster and slotted the Evoque in its place as an entry-level vehicle for considerably less cash than its Range Rover badging commands. Value, however, is an abstract concept, and where there’s desire, there’s money to be made.



Even before we got behind the wheel, Land Rover’s order books were filling fast with new Range Rover customers; as many as 80 percent of Evoque buyers so far are completely new to the brand. With a base price of $43,995, it’s certainly the most accessible Range Rover ever, but desire — the unbridled yearning to possess something this cool, this fresh and this revolutionary — is what’s closing the deals.









Driving Partner — Hlaska Caliper Watch



The Range Rover Evoque’s clean, modern design and understated approach to luxury inspired us to look for other such work. We’ve been following the San Francisco outfitter Hlaska, which designs and manufactures its own men’s and women’s clothing and accessories in California. The company just released its first line of watches, and we were drawn to the minimalist black-on-black Caliper Watch with white hands and numerals.



Not unlike the Evoque, it’s compact and lightweight, a refreshing change from most 43-mm watches and a delight to wear while driving. Using a self-winding Swiss ETA movement and an Italian leather strap, the watch is hand-assembled in San Francisco by Hlaska craftsmen. An exhibition case reveals the inner workings of the movement, and a sapphire crystal protects the face.



$595 from Hlaska.com




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