Ah, countrysides. Such wonderful places to be, made of divine design, the kinds of places that all of us want to live in. And if there ever was a set of wheels made for English countrysides, it’s got to be Range Rovers. But I certainly didn’t expect to be seeing heaven on the first day of our drive. Sitting at the new Evoque’s wheel right now, the whole windshield is filled with a Welsh sky and I find myself pinned to the comfortable seat. And we’re not moving. You see, we’ve been asked to come to a halt on this vertigo-inducing slope made up entirely of loose rocks and pebbles, and take off again, by instructors who look cheerfully unaffected by our pale faces and wide eyes.
As we’re suspended in that gravity-filled limbo, I quickly dispatch a prayer through that windshield, seeing that it’s pointed in the correct direction in which prayers ought to fly. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed. And the Evoque was exactly the opposite. A gentle prod on the throttle and we’re up and over the treacherous incline before my prayer had left the car - it seems that Evoque’s electronics system comes with Wish Grant Assist as well. And that set the tone for the next two days.
Under the watchful eyes of Land Rover Experience’s peoples’ eyes and vehicles’ headlights, our long convoy of Evoques clambered over and forged through some of the scariest off-road trails I’ve ever seen. I could’ve sworn that the support Defender’s fenders swollen with pride. Unless you think I’m exaggerating, here’s a list of the Evoque’s heroics - grunting up and down stomach-knotting slopes, slithering over impossibly slippery slushy and rocky terrain, fording through waist-deep water in a flooded tunnel (no, really) and then going through some more water at a ship dock in Liverpool. Capable? Oh, yes. I’m impressed.
And impressed I was too, when I first laid eyes on it. It’s certainly the most radical shape that’s rolled out of the JLR facility at Halewood, Liverpool, remaining almost totally faithful to the LRX concept that was revealed in 2008. Many expected that terrific shape to be watered down by the time it hit production lines, but happily, that’s not the case.
The Evoque’s lines make it look alive when it’s clambering up hills or emptying water bodies. On tarmac, coming around a corner, it looks like a startled sportscar that just got a bit of a shock and jumped at the apex. Speaking of sportscars, that’s what I feel compelled to compare the Evoque to - there’s nothing like it in its category... or any other category, for that matter. How many SUVs can you think of that can hold their own parked next to sportscars?
The Evoque’s got more than a hint of mischievous aggression and will grin its way into grabbing attention. And look at that line running along the front fenders - looks like a crocodile’s jaw, doesn’t it?! However, thanks to that sporty profile, the rear windshield makes mini-skirts look too big. Consequently, rearward vision is a bit on the skimpier side, though you don’t take long to agree to pay the price for fashion - it looks smashing, doesn’t it? And then, to sort of compensate for the lack of rear view, the Evoque’s got a super cool full-length panorama roof. This roof has the ability to open jaws wider and wider as it retracts right to the back of the car, giving occupants a real panoramic view.
The interior is a pleasant and comfortable place to be in, sporty and classy in equal parts. However, our vehicles being pre-production vehicles, there were a few rough edges, especially with the plastics. And of course, being a Range Rover, there’s no real end to what you can specify in your Evoque. Let’s see what the bling-bling horde does with this one. Oh, and just for the record, a red three-door Evoque Coupe looks the best, in my opinion, even though the five-door appears just as hot. The Coupe will probably make it to India and so will the 190 bhp turbodiesel that I piloted.
Frankly, given the way the Evoque looks, I’d buy it without checking whether there was an engine under the hood. However, even though the looks steal the show, there are engines to be mentioned, and so I shall. The Evoque’s powertrain options begin with a 2.2-litre manual 2WD version, the cheapest Evoque you can buy. Then comes the 150 bhp 4WD TD4 with the option of either a manual or auto ‘box, both six-speeders. The range-topping diesel is the 190 bhp 4WD SD4, also with the same transmission choices. However, if you need your octane fix, there’s the 2.0-litre 240 bhp 4WD Si4, and you can have it with any transmission as long as it’s the automatic.
I didn’t get to drive the petrol, but my sharply attuned intuitive powers tell me that 99.99 per cent of all Evoques sold in India will be diesel, and it was the more powerful oil-burner that I drove for two days. And as with everything else with the baby Rangie, it’s pretty impressive. Hitting 0-100 kph in a claimed 8.5 seconds and burbling away to a top speed of 195 kph, the Evoque is more than quick and fast enough for the speed limit-infested roads that we were driving on. But more than anything, it’s the consistent refinement and effortlessness that the Evoque maintains, whether you’re cruising on the motorway or clambering over as many piles of rocks as you can find. What’s more, the Evoque also displays a substantial appetite for B-road corners, staying planted with very little body roll even when you forget that it’s not a roadster you’re in. Long story short, it goes as good as it looks.
And a major contributor to the Evoque’s heroic abilities is the terrain response system. The system works in four modes, each for varying conditions, and adjusts engine, gearbox, suspension, differential and steering settings to trample whatever might happen to be under the Evoque’s wheels. Mind-blowing, is what it is. Like most manufacturers seem to be doing today, the Evoque comes with fully electric steering that aims to be light in tight spots and firm at speed, and does a good job of it too.
Abroad, prices for the Evoque start at the equivalent of Rs 20.34 lakh for the eD4, which probably won’t make it to India, and neither will the manual gearbox. What we will probably get come end-2011, is the Coupe and the five-door version, both with the top-shelf diesel and petrol options, ranging between Rs 47 - Rs 53 lakh, depending on the version and trim level you choose.
All in all, driving the Evoque through all that we did, left me with a good feeling. Its looks and phenomenal capabilities, all wrapped in what is a marvel of compact packaging, give it something really unique in this world of shared components and cannibalised platforms - character. Coming from Range Rover, the Evoque has a lot to live up to. And I think it’s not just going to live up to its heritage, but take it to new heights. It shows what a historic marque is capable of if it thinks fresh, and is a landmark in terms of showing the way forward for the company. I don’t mean to jump any guns here, but it seems the smallest Rangie ever made might just be the best one ever too. Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to the Evoque!