Evoque drives like a car, not an SUV

06/27/2014 7:00 AM

06/30/2014 11:31 AM

Don’t let your eyes fool you. The Ranger Rover Evoque looks like an SUV, but barrel down a country road, dive into a turn and you’re rewarded with handling that is more akin to a sports sedan than a utility vehicle. The turbocharged, four-cylinder engine responds as if it can read your mind, and it lunges from turn to turn with enthusiasm.

The Evoque represents a class of vehicle that is, for me, nearly ideal. It has room for four, a tall cargo compartment that can be expanded to swallow large objects and all-wheel drive for winter security. Oh, and yes, it has a responsive engine that gives it the legs to jump from corner to corner when you’re zipping through the countryside, as if you were driving a sports car.

Several auto manufacturers – Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi – have latched on to this formula, and it has proven to be popular. Compact SUVs are morphing into high-roof sedans whose only real exposure to off-roading consists of gravel roads or suburban construction zones. Realistically, these vehicles fit perfectly for 95 percent of buyers, many of whom are either young couples or empty nesters.

The Evoque is available as a two-door coupe or a five-door SUV. There are three trim levels – Pure, Premium and Dynamic – and prices start at $42,025 for the Pure five-door and soar to $57,225 for the Dynamic. The Pure Plus coupe starts at $46,025 and tops out at $58,225.

I drove a Pure Plus model from Land Rover’s press fleet. Its base price was $45,025.

The all-aluminum 240-horsepower engine has twin balance shafts, variable valve timing and direct fuel injection. It buzzes up to speed with a satisfying push in the back. It has gobs of low-end torque yet it revs with gusto. Fuel economy is not quite stellar, at least in the city, with a rating of 21 miles per gallon. The highway estimate is 30 mpg.

The transmission is a ZF nine-speed automatic with Normal, Sport and Manual shift modes. The wide spread of ratios improves fuel economy over last year’s six-speed automatic. Paddle shifters on the steering wheel are perfect for a quick downshift when you need to burst around slow traffic on two-lane roads.

The clever all-wheel-drive system lets the driver choose settings for general driving, gravel or snow, sand and mud and ruts. There is no low-range. The system automatically varies drive from front to back and side to side according to the setting selected by the driver. It will automatically slow the vehicle on steep off-road descents and control wheelspin during acceleration and braking.

Suspension tuning was spot on. The ride was quite compliant most of the time but tackle a corner quickly and the Evoque felt flat and nicely anchored. The ride was surprisingly comfortable given that the test car had 19-inch wheels. Wind and road noise were moderate at highway speeds.

The brakes were quite strong but at times the pedal seemed overly sensitive. Stopping smoothly took a deliberate touch but the feeling of braking power was welcome.

The interior is plush and cozy. The front seats were among the best I have sampled this year. They were soft enough to be comfortable for hour-long drives yet they had support in all critical areas. There is seating for five, but cramming a third person into the back seat would be tough unless all three were children.

One beef concerns the lack of a navigation system in a vehicle with a sticker price of $47,045. The same could be said for adaptive cruise control and a blind spot monitoring system. Many less expensive vehicles have these as standard, but luxury brands seem to want to charge a hefty premium.

The Evoque’s cargo space is not large unless the seat is folded down. Two carry-on suitcases and a laptop will fit under the cargo cover, but no more. The Evoque’s excellent highway behavior makes it appealing as a long-distance tourer but the small luggage space means you have to travel light. A tad more cargo space would be ideal.

Price

The car’s base price was $42,025. The Pure Plus package of leather seats, panoramic sunroof, fog lights, 19-inch wheels and power tailgate was $3,000. Heated seats, front and rear, along with a heated steering wheel and Sirius satellite radio brought the sticker price to $47,075.

Warranty

Four years or 50,000 miles.

Tom Strongman’s e-mail is tstrongman@gmail.com

2014 Range Rover Evoque Pure Plus

Engine: 2.0-liter, 240-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder

Transmission: Nine-speed automatic, all-wheel drive

Wheelbase: 104.8 inches

Curb weight: 3,680 pounds

Base price: $45,025

As driven: $47,075

MPG rating: 21in the city, 30 on the highway

At A Glance

Point: The Evoque is more like a sports sedan that looks like an SUV. The four-cylinder engine delivers a nice punch, the suspension is supple and the cabin is as on par with some luxury sedans. It has

Counterpoint: The cargo space is small unless the back seat is folded.

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