TestDrive: Range Rover Evoque deserves top SUV award

TestDrive: Range Rover Evoque deserves top SUV award

May 12th, 2012 by Mark Kennedy in Business Around the Region

Land Rover Evoque is the Test Drive selection. Staff Photo

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FAST FACTS

• Model: Land Rover Range Rover Evoque (5 door).

• Exterior color: Fuji white.

• Interior: Black and red leather.

• Engine: 2.0 liter four-cylinder (turbocharged).

• Horsepower: 240.

• Transmission: Six-speed automatic.

• Fuel economy: 28 mpg highway, 18 mpg city.

• Dealer: Land Rover Chattanooga.

• Price (as tested): $56,520.

Ever since Motor Trend magazine named the 2012 Range Rover Evoque its SUV of the year, I've been eager to slide behind the wheel of this British import.

Actually, the Evoque is something of a citizen of the world. Assembled in Halewood, England, it includes an engine made in Spain and a transmission manufactured in Japan.

After test-driving a Fuji White Evoque from Land Rover Chattanooga, I now know what all the fuss was about.

The Evoque is simply one of most luxurious, fun-to-drive small SUVs on the road.

Before we commence with the test drive, though, a little nomenclature lesson. Range Rover is a premium brand offered by the Land Rover SUV company, and the Evoque wears the Range Rover badge. So, technically it's a Land Rover Range Rover Evoque.

Got it?

STYLING

Interestingly, the cover of the brochure for the Evoque does not feature a photograph of the car. Instead, there are plumes of red and white smoke emanating from an unseen explosion -- symbolic of a sudden, violent release of energy. Boom!

It's not a bad metaphor for a compact SUV that has exploded onto the scene with almost universally good press. For example, Motor Trend -- in bestowing the Evoque with its top SUV accolade of 2012 -- called it "irresistibly stylish."

Our Fuji White tester, with contrasting black top, is indeed a handsome piece of work.

The clean-sheet exterior design includes a daring sloped roofline, a wide stance accentuated by a high beltline and Range Rover's signature fascia with wraparound grille. Our model featured gloss black detailing and sparkling 20-inch alloys (a $2,000 option).

Often, such dramatic sheet-metal architecture means interior compromises like pinched visibility and cramped head room. The Evoque has no such limits. I sat in the back seat with my fist on top of my head, and it still didn't touch the headliner. Land Rover has made up for its mail-slot rear window with oversized side mirrors that give the driver an expansive rearward view.

Inside, the Evoque is a sumptuous blend of high-quality materials and classy design.

The show stopper, according to Land Rover of Chattanooga sales consultant Emily McGinnis, is a standard panoramic tinted glass sunroof that stretches the entire length of the cockpit.

Other luxury touches include a rotary-dial automatic transmission shifter -- like Jaguar's -- and an upscale, fabric-covered dash.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

McGinnis said a common misimpression about the Evoque is that a four-cylinder motor is not enough.

After all, Range Rover is famous for its V-8 engines.

Indeed, the torque from the little 2.0-liter turbo is a real kick, rivaled in this segment, in my view, only by the VW and Audi turbo-diesels.

The Evoque's cabin is so quiet I couldn't believe I was going 70 mph in freeway traffic on I-75.

Interestingly, the Evoque emits a little courtesy chime when the speedometer needle passes 70.

How English.

Although many units never will experience a dirt road, the Evoque is fully equipped with Land Rover all-terrain functions, including all-wheel-drive and traction control.

For drivers who desire a sportier experience, there's a manual mode with paddle shifters on the nicely weighted steering wheel.

FINAL IMPRESSION

While base price for the Evoque is $43,995, our tester came with options that boosted the sticker price to $56,520.

A $9,500 Dynamic Premium Package includes a black grille, navigation, an 825-watt Meridian sound system and perforated leather seats.

The leather is top grade with double-stitching and sporty red inlays.

Bottom line: If the Evoque is designed to evoke emotions, mine are all positive.