Evoque the most road-friendly model so far, reports Alastair Sloane
The new Range Rover Evoque is more than a stylish urban-crossover - its design cues point to what its next-generation "parent" will look like.
Spy photos of the upcoming Range Rover show a more sloping roofline combined with a shaper rake to the rear window, obvious in spite of the heavy camouflage on the prototype.
The fourth-generation SUV will also borrow from the Evoque's interior, especially the design of a centre console which slopes rearwards, and the use of smaller switchgear.
It will lose weight, too, thanks in part to what Land Rover has done with the Evoque: used more aluminium in body panels and suspension, and plastics in the body. At 1815kg, the Evoque is 100kg lighter - and shorter - than the Freelander.
The Evoque will join the rest of the range in New Zealand in November. It will be available in three- and five-door guise, three design themes - Pure, Dynamic, Prestige - and priced between $79,990 and $106,490.
Land Rover expects the five-door to account for 80 per cent of Evoque sales worldwide. "That it's a three-door means it will have limited appeal," said Jaguar Land Rover NZ manager James Yates.
"I expect the coupe to sell well early in New Zealand but after that most sales will be of the five-door."
The five-door is 30mm taller than the coupe and offers more shoulder and headroom in the rear. Land Rover design director Gerry McGovern says he sought to retain in the five-door the coupe's "emotional appeal".
"The key lines remain intact - the dramatic rising beltline, muscular shoulder running the length of the car, and the distinctive taper to the floating roofline - but with a slightly higher rear roof," he said.
But the coupe polarised opinion at the Evoque's launch in Britain. It, more than the five-door, is a production version of the LRX design study unveiled a few years ago.
Its roofline looks too steeply raked rearwards, giving the coupe a forced look, like the rear end was pinched between thumb and forefinger. Land Rover says it wanted to distinguish one Evoque from the other.
The coupe's rear seating is okay for adults, but the low roof does sacrifice headroom. The boot offers 550 litres and, for New Zealand, holds an 18-inch steel spare wheel.
Some markets will abandon the spare in favour of a "get home" kit.
The new model arrives on the back of Land Rover's highly visible role as vehicle sponsor of the Rugby World Cup, where organisers expect 1.6 million spectators to attend the games.
Two Evoques will be parked at Auckland's Britomart during the tournament to allow potential buyers to customise their choice of vehicle, via the use of Apple computer iPads.
Options include: 12 exterior colours, three contrasting roof colours, 17-inch to 20-inch alloy wheels, 16 designer interiors, panoramic glass roof, black or chrome roof rails, Meridian surround sound, TV, automated parking system, powered tailgate.
There is also a wide range of accessories, among them a luggage strap with an inertia locking reel, which works like a seat belt, to tie down stuff in the back.
The Evoque has been been added to the Range Rover line-up to further extend the premium brand's appeal. Its four-cylinder 2-litre petrol and 2.2-litre turbodiesel engines and choice of two- or four-wheel-drive models will also help the off-road specialist meet new fleet emission standards set down for Europe in 2012.
For example, the turbodiesel is the same as in the Freelander and delivers 140kW/400Nm and claimed CO2 exhaust emissions of 169 grams per kilometer.
But a 112kW version of the same engine mated to a six-speed manual gearbox delivers a claimed 129gr/km. This engine is only in the front-drive model, available in New Zealand only on special order.
The 2-litre petrol engine combines direct fuel-injection, turbocharging and twin variable valve timing to deliver 180kW/336Nm.
Land Rover calls it the Si4, but it is pretty much identical to the Ecoboost engine that Ford New Zealand will use under the bonnet of the Ford Falcon from next year.
The petrol engine suits the Evoque's edgy design. It loves to rev and, coupled with the six-speed automatic, provides smooth shifts and good throttle response. It is lighter over the front wheels than the diesel and encourages more spirited driving.
The Evoque's electric power steering system is part of the package of efficiencies. It is fixed to the front subframe, rather than the chassis, to improve steering feel. It is one of the better electric systems, accurate and well weighted.
The Evoque uses Land Rover's Terrain Response system, which controls throttle response and how the vehicle reacts to different road surfaces. Again it works well.
The long-travel suspension uses MacPherson struts at the front, with a multi-link variant at the rear. An adaptive electronic system called MagneRide uses dampers to improve the ride and handling. Its benefits aren't as obvious on sealed surfaces as they are in the bush, where the appropriate off-road setting will deactivate the dampers to provide more comfortable going.
In a nutshell, the Evoque is the most road-friendly Range Rover yet. Its ability off road lives up to Land Rover's reputation. It might not cope as well the rough stuff as a Discovery, for example, but its all-round appeal is hard to beat.