It’s well-known that America-based car companies Ford and General Motors are backing away from sedans so they can concentrate on pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles.
That’s a business contraction. It’s based on the idea that drivers today overwhelmingly prefer multi-use vehicles over straight passenger haulers like sedans. It’s true that crossover sport-utilities – the most common type of SUV – are really just passenger haulers. Their elevated roofs and cargo-carrying hatchbacks make them suitable for occasional utility use, so they pass as multi-use vehicles.
For the luxury brand Land Rover, today’s preference for crossovers has brought a business expansion. The old-line Britain-based manufacturer of authentic sport-utility vehicles moved deeply into smaller, more car-like crossovers with the introduction of its Range Rover Evoque as a 2012 model.
This year Land Rover is out with a wholly redesigned and re-engineered, second-generation Range Rover Evoque. The new, 2020 model arrived early this year. It stands out for its sleekly and slickly wedged, artfully linear body design, its sumptuous cabin appearance, and its attractive and discrete disguise of electronic controls in two big, well integrated touchscreens.
The 2020 Evoke starts at a list price of $43,645 for a model that includes sophisticated all-wheel drive beneath a 246-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder engine and nine-speed automatic transmission. List prices range as high as $56,795 for a hybrid-drive model that adds an electric motor alongside its gasoline engine, producing combined output of 296 horsepower.
Even as a crossover sport-utility wagon, the Evoque is a personally sized, expressively styled vehicle that serves best as a fashion statement for its driver – at the same time providing some of the utility that makes crossovers so popular.
Of course, the model’s fashion-statement status gets its biggest boost from the Evoque’s identification as a Land Rover. As with all luxury makes, Land Rover attracts people who will pay higher prices in part for the status attached to the name. They wear the car like they’d wear a designer’s clothing outfit.
At the same time, Land Rovers are legitimate rough-terrain transports. Their roots go back to the British manufacturer Rover, which launched the Land Rover all-wheel-drive vehicle in 1948, later spawning the Range Rover in 1970. Known for uncompromising quality and toughness, and for stubborn go-anywhere capability, the models were identified with gentleman farmers and the safari set. Like early Mercedes-Benz vehicles, the high quality and higher prices of Land Rover models elevated them to luxury status.
Today Land Rover is part of Jaguar Land Rover, a Britain-based luxury car maker owned by Tata Motors, part of a large manufacturing company from India. It makes two lines of SUVs, the Land Rover Discovery models and the Land Rover Range Rover models.
The Range Rover Evoque possesses some real back-country abilities. It provides generous ground clearance of a little over eight inches. Its front and rear bumper areas taper to let it mount and dismount steepish slopes. The Evoque can wade through water that’s a fraction less than two-feet deep. Its four-wheel-drive system uses Land Rover’s “terrain response” management that lets drivers dial in surface types, such as sand, snow, mud or ruts, so the vehicle can optimize traction for specific conditions.
You don’t have to look too long to conclude that the Range Rover Evoque is more about conspicuous style than rough-duty rambling. You see it as soon as you settle behind the 2020’s model elegantly styled, cleanly detailed dashboard. The dash stretches as a two-tiered, continuous horizontal surface that’s richly upholstered and seems minimally interrupted by by essentials like air ducts and driver instruments and controls. Two large touch screens in the center, stacked one over the other, are neatly discrete, used for controlling cabin conditions and vehicle functions.
Other enhancements Land Rover added to the 2020 model reinforce that Evoque’s largest focus is on luxury. Its four door handles project outward automatically when the model is unlocked, and recess flush into its sleek sides when underway. The new Evoque provides a camera view of the surface beneath the front of the vehicle as the wagon moves forward, and a selectable camera view of following traffic displayed on the rear-view mirror. It uses artificial intelligence to learn the habits and preferences of individual drivers, and sets up the car in advance when it detects a driver’s approaching key fob.
For physical comfort, the new version rides on a longer wheelbase than its predecessor. The greater stretch between front and rear axles is used to create more cargo capacity and also more leg room for back-seat riders. That helps correct a common complaint leveled against the first-generation Evoque: that its back seat was too cramped.
For my part, I don’t think a smallish back seat is a problem for the people most likely to drive an Evoque. They’ll use the back cabin only occasionally anyway. For them, the car already offers all the right qualities, as a stylish, luxury-laden, personally sized crossover utility vehicle with the spirit of a sports coupe.
My experience evaluating the Range Rover Evoque uncovered some shortcomings that surprised me in a model whose luxury-class status otherwise is so apparent.
The non-hybrid, gasoline-powered version includes a start-stop feature that conserves gas by automatically shutting off the engine when waiting at intersections, restarting it the instant you’re ready to move again – supposedly. Quite often my test model stuttered and hesitated when I wanted to resume travel after a stop light changed to green. The stuttering restart was most severe – and most annoying – when I wanted a quick jump to stay well tucked into traffic.
I also found myself often waiting for a response when changing or resetting vehicle-information screens on the instrument panel.
On the underside of the elegant and artistic dashboard, the glove box seemed poorly fit: it didn’t close flush. What’s more, its construction seemed flimsy. So did the swing-down sunglasses holder in the overhead console. They seemed to say “Chevy” more than “luxury.”
Some of those issues might be explained as temporary growing pains, because the car still was learning my driving patterns and preferences.
Whatever the cause, as the market for crossover utility vehicles – in the luxury class and elsewhere – becomes more and more competitive, Land Rover will want to make sure that Evoque’s beauty is more than skin deep.
Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.
2020 Range Rover Evoque
Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, all-wheel-drive compact luxury crossover utility vehicle
Price range: $43,645 to $56,795 (plus options)
Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles basic warranty; 6 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 4 years/50,000 miles roadside assistance
Base engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged I4
Power: 246 horsepower at 5,500 rpm; 269 lb.-ft. torque at 1,300 rpm
Transmission: nine-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 20 mpg city; 27 mpg highway
Wheelbase: 106 inches
Length: 172 inches
Width: 75 inches
Height: 65 inches
Weight: 3,935 pounds
Fuel capacity: 17.7 gallons
Turning circle: 38.1 ft.