Hate to admit it, but I’ve never had the warm-fuzzies when it comes to the original baby Range Rover, the coupe-like Evoque.
Yes, I’ve always loved the cool, urban-chic styling with that sleek, swoopy roofline. Loved the not-too-big, not-too-small package.
But every time I climbed aboard, I felt the cabin had all the style and class of a Waffle House banquette. Lots of hard plastics, leather with all the tactile delight of naugahyde, and a touchscreen that could have been designed by Amstrad. A true Range Rover it wasn’t.
Fast forward to now, and there’s a brand new Evoque gliding into showrooms and throwing down the gauntlet in the booming $40,000 to $65,000 compact-luxury SUV class.
As transformations go, this new Evoque is up there with Christian Bale becoming Dick Chaney in that movie ‘Vice’.
Not that you’d know it. Despite having an all-new platform and every body panel changed, the Evoque’s still-striking shape is pretty much unchanged from the eight-year-old original. The thinking? Don’t mess with success.
Yes, there’s some lovely new detailing that comes with this latest version, like more slender LED head- and tail-lights, pop-out power door handles, new wheels and a new front grille.
But park this newcomer next to an original, and you’ll be hard-pressed to distinguish new from old. Which I think is a mistake. Call me shallow, but if it were me splashing $50,000-plus on this new Evoque, I’d want friends/family/neighbors to know I hadn’t bought a five-year-old model off Craigslist.
The new appeal however, comes when you slide inside. Instantly, it looks and feels like a proper Range Rover. Lovely soft-touch materials, classy satin metal details, and lots of new tech.
With the new platform comes a little extra legroom in the back seat, though it’s still pretty tight. And, of course, that fastback roof still means rear headroom is at a premium. It’s the price you pay for cool design.
But behind this style there’s some real substance. Arguably the most significant improvement comes under the hood; this new Evoque can be had as an hybrid.
It’s what’s called a mild hybrid system and it’s an option on the standard 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo engine. It means that while this new Evoque can’t whirr along on electric-only power, the battery-powered starter-generator, plus battery pack, adds some extra oomph when accelerating away.
This hybrid drivetrain packs an impressive 296 horsepower and a meaty 295 lb-ft of torque, though the extra muscle over the standard 246-hp 2.0-liter is down to higher turbo boost and not electric assist.
Either way, it delivers a truly delightful drive full of eager, responsive performance, strong mid-range acceleration for swift passing and whisper-quiet refinement.
Couple this to a quick-shifting nine-speed automatic and this latest Evoque feels as lively as a sugared-up three-year-old.
Land Rover engineers have also done a fine job calibrating the electric-assist steering, which has just the right amount of assistance and, for me, near-perfect precision and weighting.
Terrific suspension too with just the right balance of firmness for responsive, sporty handling, but not too firm that a rough road will loosen dentalwork.
While the Evoque’s standard all-wheel drive will haul you out of muddy parking lots, through waist-deep water and – probably – up the side of Everest, think of this Range Rover as a master of the urban jungle rather than the Amazonian variety.
Pricing kicks off at around $43,000, though my Evoque First Edition tester at $59,215 was a lovely, though pricey, specimen.
If you don’t go crazy with the options list, a mid-range Evoque SE at around $50,000 represents good value against rivals like Audi’s Q5, the Cadillac XT5, Mercedes GLC, Lexus RX and BMW X3.