Land Rover’s baby Range Rover was born into a very different world back in 2011. Compact SUVs were few and far between when the company christened the Evoque – now the market is flooded with jacked-up utility vehicles in all shapes and sizes. Audi alone will launch around a dozen new SUV models in 2019. Even luxury brands such as Aston Martin and Ferrari will soon join an overcrowded lifestyle segment that already includes the likes of Lamborghini, Bentley and Rolls-Royce. But it’s the compact SUV sector that has been overwhelmed with most new models, meaning the second-generation Range Rover Evoque had to grow up fast if it was going to compete with class-leading rivals from Volvo, Jaguar and BMW.
For a company recently rocked by redundancies and cutbacks, choosing Greece – a country which has suffered a decade-long economic crisis – for the international launch might have been tempting fate. Could Land Rover lift the curtain on a car that was still worthy of the limelight – or would its second-generation model be a fading star? You could be forgiven for thinking Land Rover had opted for a facelift, rather than a radical overhaul of the Evoque. The newcomer looked pretty darn stylish when it was first revealed eight years ago, so why change a winning formula? Like the Golf GTI and BMW 3 Series, success breeds success.
This new version is about a millimetre longer – or around the thickness of the film of dirt that covers the bumper of every vehicle bouncing along the Greek farm tracks. It’s instantly familiar and rivals the Jaguar E-Pace for catwalk looks. Fuller and more substantial, thanks to a raised waistline, it now has the appearance of a proper Rangey. Although the overall length hasn’t changed, increasing the wheelbase by 20mm has dramatically increased rear leg room – a common criticism with the old model. This Evoque is actually roomy in the back. And there are some neat touches, too. The flush door handles pop out when required, while the ClearSight system uses cameras mounted around the front and underneath of the Evoque to give a much more detailed view of the terrain when off-roading. The futuristic lines are still there and although some may be disappointed that Land Rover designers didn’t opt for a fresher approach, I think it’s a winner. The headlight shape is borrowed from the Range Rover Velar – nothing wrong with that – but remarkably, only the door hinges are shared from the first generation Evoque.
Inside, the cabin is loaded with high-tech features. The top-spec models have multiple screens and mirror the dashboard functionality of the latest Range Rovers. Unlike Volvo’s ‘one screen does everything’ approach, this makes the Evoque controls much easier to navigate at the wheel. That said, a lot of the equipment in our R-Dynamic test car was not standard and come at extra cost. The fixed panoramic roof, for example, is an additional £1,100; the heated and cooled massaging seats will set you back £2,045; while privacy glass is an extra £350. Grained leather seats are standard in top-spec models, but our car was fitted with premium textile and suede cloth seats that added a further £1,735. Personally, I’d stick with the leather.
I’ve already mentioned the optional ClearSight system (£315) and the car has another trick up its sleeve. The rear-view mirror can be switched to a camera-fed HD display when the boot is loaded to the roof with items, obstructing visibility – ingenious, although the moving camera imagery takes a little getting used to. The first car to be built on Jaguar Land Rover’s new Premium Transverse Architecture platform, the new Evoque is also ready to adopt plug-in hybrid and all-electric versions without major structural surgery or increased costs. The electric batteries will be stashed under the back seats.
For now, buyers can ponder over seven engine choices, starting with an entry-level, front-wheel-drive diesel option at just under £32,000. All diesel and petrol models are four-cylinders, although uber-frugal three-cylinder turbo petrols will join the fleet in 2020. All but the entry-level manual models feature a 48-volt mild hybrid system too, which recovers braking energy. Similar to those used by Audi and Mercedes, the energy is stored in a battery for use during low-speed driving, as well as for boosting performance when overtaking.
And the good news is the second-generation Evoque is also significantly better to drive than the old model. It has been improved by considerable refinements under the bonnet, while lower wind and road noise add to the relaxed nature of the cabin. Ride quality, cornering agility and performance have been brought up to date. Slip the nine-speed automatic gearbox into Sport mode and the throttle mapping gives it a decent turn of speed. If you are determined to take it off-road, remember this is a Land Rover. The brilliant Terran Response 2 system makes even an amateur look competent. This new Evoque is vitally important for Land Rover and first impressions suggest it is as good as, if not better than, key rivals. It would have been a tragedy otherwise.
From £44,100; 2.0-litre, 4-cyl turbodiesel; 240 hp; 40.4mpg (combined); 0-60: 7.2 seconds; 140mph
Evoque – The Competition
Audi’s compact SUV success story is hugely practical, spacious and classy, with a state-of-the-art interior and excellent driving dynamics. Only the petrol-engined versions require extra refinement.
World Car of the Year when it was launched in 2018, the baby Volvo majors on style and safety features. It looks fantastic and is more comfortable than key rivals too – a class leader in this burgeoning sector.
SUVs generally aren’t blessed with beauty but the low, sleek X2 looks more like a baby estate than a SUV. Refined and ‘almost’ fun to drive, it’s a crossover for people who don’t need much luggage and rear seat space.
Oddly, perhaps the Evoque’s biggest rival is Jaguar Land Rover’s other big seller – the Jaguar E-Pace. It’s by far the prettiest compact SUV on the market, with an equally appealing interior and engaging drive.