Our time with the Range Rover Evoque on the UK launch in Scotland gave us the impression that it is quite a special car. But many cars that impress in isolation lose their shine when subjected to the mundane chores of everyday family life.
This is, without doubt, one of the most exciting cars on the market right now, so it seemed only fair for us to pinch one off Range Rover for a week to see how we got on with it.
Does this posh new SUV cut it in the real world? Is it worth the premium over the Freelander it’s based on, or competitors such as the Audi Q3 and BMW X3?
If only we could keep it
The delivery driver parks our coupe (read 3-door), Prestige trim, "Fuji White" Evoque head-to-head with my neighbour’s Range Rover Sport, which sets the curtains twitching. Parked together, the larger car dwarfs the Evoque, which is odd as there’s not a lot more room inside it.
For fun, we decide to conduct a highly unscientific experiment to see if the Evoque has got true Range Rover DNA. Some friends have a toddler who’s nearly two. Harry’s got quite advanced speech for his age, but has also developed an ability, alarmingly early in life, to recognise various types of car. His current favourite? Range Rovers. But he’s not seen an Evoque before.
Sure enough, the minute he opens the door and spies it, he points and shouts excitedly “Range Rover”, before jumping inside and doing the same again as the little white Evoque graphic appears on the centre display of the gauges. Brand DNA test, passed.
Keyless entry, and some lighting gimmicks
Working at home during the day means it’s night time only use for the Evoque so far – but this gives the car an opportunity to show off all its lighting party tricks.
It comes with keyless entry – you can just tug the door handles to get in so long as the key’s in your pocket. But it’s worth ‘plipping’ it with the key as you approach, to see the beautiful and distinctive LED bars in the headlamps illuminate.
Inside you can choose from 5 lighting colours, which bathe the headlining, doors and footwells in oranges, reds or blues. Those of you who think that sounds like a gimmick will be pleased to hear you can also just turn this function off. Nice in the front, poor view from the back
We take our dad to the Football and the motorway trip proceeds mostly with him laughing incredulously at the fact he can watch TV and play with the five on-board cameras while the driver follows the Navigation. This is thanks to the car’s clever 8-inch touchscreen which can show the passenger one thing and the driver another.
There are complaints from the back seat though, as my mum who’s come along for the ride finds it claustrophobic. She has enough space, but the narrow side window restricts the view out, and she says the chunky front seats block much of the view forward for adults too. Regularly carry people in the back? You’ll be needing the optional panoramic roof then.
Good in small spaces?
Surely the typical SUV’s toughest test is in the supermarket car park? In white and with that dashing window and roof line, the Evoque’s impossible to lose in a sea of me-too boxes, which for those of us who can never remember where we’ve parked, is handy. And thanks to special adaptive dampers, the ride over speedhumps on the way in and out means those carefully picked over eggs remain unbroken.
But despite being the smallest Range Rover ever, the Evoque still needs care in those seemingly shrinking supermarket parking spaces. Specifically, the chunky doors on our 3-door model make getting in and out when you’ve driven into the space a real challenge. Back out of the space, and that tiny rear window means you’re reliant on the rear camera for reversing. That's fine, until it gets dirty, which it does very easily.
At the petrol station a man in a BMW 3-Series wonders over to ask what the Evoque is like, then the man at the cash register gets highly excited at it being the first one he’s had in. This car catches people’s attention – but be warned, not all of it’s positive – overtaking a Vauxhall Vectra on the ring road we’re flipped the bird by the guy behind the wheel. Clearly, for some people, driving an SUV – and a Range Rover at that – will always raise heckles.
A car for all the family
Deadlines are imminent, so rather than leave the Range Rover outside the house for another day, we tell Mrs Pocket-lint to take the Evoque to work. She currently drives an Audi TT, a car Range Rover’s marketing people say they expect to attract people out of and in to an Evoque, so we're interested to hear what she thinks.
“I’d definitely have one, but it needs more power. The girls at work love it, but the men now view me as some power-crazed career-ladder-climber. And no one would let me out of side roads.”
It all rings true. This 190bhp diesel version seems just about fast enough, but fails to match the blend of speed and economy some of the BMW- and Audi-badged competition offers. That said, fuel consumption, which has averaged 31mpg so far, doesn’t seem too bad considering we’ve driven it quite hard.
We pop out for something to eat, and on the way home amuse ourselves watching TV from the passenger seat - even in a built up area, and at speed, the digital TV picture’s crystal clear, and the sound (courtesy of the included wireless headphones) is great - and allows the missus to continue listening to her dreadful pop trash on the stereo at the same time.
Given you can extend this system, as an option, for the rear seats too, it could be the answer to many parents’ long-journey-with-kids dreams. And if TVs and headphones aren’t enough, you’ve still got two 12v sockets free in the front, and two USB ports in the centre bin, plus Bluetooth for music and phone calls.
Regardless of the combo of iPhones, iPads, TomToms, BlackBerrys and PSPs you’re using and charging up, we reckon the Evoque will have you covered.
A 7 AM flight to Munich means a wake up call that starts at 4 AM. In such scenarios, you need a car that you can operate while you're virtually brain dead, which has a great heater and which is going to get you there quickly but in one piece.
The Evoque passes with flying colours. The heated seats warm up almost instantly and while the user interface is similar to the one we recently slated in the Jaguar XF, it’s tons easier to use because the heating and radio controls aren’t accessed through the touchscreen and there’s a wider range of buttons on the steering wheel - which, by the way, can have a heated option - through which to control things.
It’s also on this trip that we discover the Evoque is a surprisingly good drive. At 5am, with nothing on the road, it responds to being driven hard way better than you’d believe when you first see its jacked up ride height and Tonka-toy wheels.
It’s quiet on the motorway too and despite our previous assertion that it’s not outright fast, it’s easy to pile on speed and then maintain it. I get to the airport well before 6am.
A proper off-roader too
On the day that the Evoque goes home, it snows. Driving along a few cars behind the gritter, with snow being blown sideways by a gale so fierce it’s uprooting trees, the Evoque is rock solid and gives us a warm, comforting feeling that suddenly makes us realise why people buy SUVs.
When the weather calms down I head-out to take some pictures and decide to see if the Evoque will go up a steep muddy bank, in order to try and get some better shots. I half expect it to struggle with the mud/ice/steepness combo. Instead it sails straight up without the slightest hint of wheel spin or fuss.
It’s fair to say the Evoque impresses everyone who sees and rides in it. During our week with it, and the day it gets picked up, there’s suddenly a big hole in our lives.
Faults? There’s not a massive amount of room in the boot and if you want to carry people (particularly kids) in the back regularly, then buy the five door.
Also, if you’re the sensitive type, bear in mind not everyone else on the road is going to like you, and it’s not cheap to buy in the first place. But we reckon it is worth the extra over that Freelander it’s based on, and the German opposition.
Our advice? Spec a Prestige or Dynamic Evoque with the Lux pack and you get a gadget lover’s dream car with that panoramic roof, a 16 speaker stereo that sounds out of this world, a split view touchscreen with navigation and digital TV and a system of surround cameras. That lot will not only keep you entertained for hours, but enhance a car which does that rare - and quite brilliant thing - of making you feel like king of the road day in day out.
In a week and 800 miles of very varied driving, there was nothing we asked this car to do with which it struggled, and at no point did it do anything to annoy us. It sounds like feint praise, but in a way, that’s the greatest compliment you can pay a car.
In our view, assuming you have only the need, space, or cash, for one car in your life, there’s little else on the road that covers all bases so well. That it will make you feel so special in the process of getting to wherever you’re going, and works more seamlessly with more tech than just about any other car we’ve tried this year, is the icing on the cake. It comes highly recommended.