What is there to say about the original Range Rover Evoque? It was a style icon in its own time, borne of the Land Rover LRX concept that emerged more than a decade ago, it was so radical and sought-after that it quickly became a cornerstone of Jaguar Land Rover’s revival.
For that we should be grateful. Since then JLR has produced some marvellous cars that it might not have had the cash for had it not been for the Evoque. But, rose-tints placed to one side, the car wasn’t actually all that pleasant. It was cramped in the back, it didn’t ride as well as it should have, the bizarrely shallow rear windscreen was about as useful as a pizza menu at the bottom of the Mariana Trench and bits of it felt surprisingly cheap.
It did gain a truly stonking hi-fi system from Meridian Audio, though, and that alone (despite the ball-and-chain price tag) redeemed the Evoque of much of its sins. There’s a new one now, though, and has it done more than just paper over the cracks?
It arrives in the hands of a cheerful delivery driver on a blisteringly hot day, its smooth £640 Corris Grey metallic paint sparkling like crushed marble. Forms signed, the driver declines a lift to the station and happily wanders off to catch a bus. Weirdo. I’m left alone to ponder the complexity of the shape before me. It’s instantly recognisable as an Evoque; you couldn’t misplace it as anything else in the automotive world except maybe for Range Rover’s own Velar. Telling the two apart needs a second glance until you’re fluent in the subtle differences.
And yet, the longer you let your eyes linger over the panels, the more different the 2019 model seems. The original was radical but the new one is elegant; less starkly sketched in brutal 9H pencil and more delicately balanced, as if the designer had more time to gently caress the page with something like a 5B. It’s at once a more grown up thing to look at, without losing an ounce of identity. That’s a feat of design in itself.
I step in and set the driver’s seat to what’s comfortable, ticking the legroom and decent range of steering wheel adjustment off my mental checklist. I don’t have any problems fitting into the back, either, at just over 5ft 10, but it is still a bit dark and enclosed back there, the rising shoulder lines limiting the glass area to ‘not enough.’ But wait, what’s this? Overhead I find a button for a full-length panoramic glass roof. One press-and-hold later and a fabric-coated panel whirrs out of sight, opening the interior up to vastly more light and enhancing a sense of roominess.
Better see how it drives, then. There are no upgrades to the suspension or chassis on this P200 model so I’m expecting the default Evoque experience, whatever it may be. The four-cylinder petrol engine fires on the button, vibration extremely well suppressed. The familiar, diesel-ish chunter can’t be hidden.
Whatever, its modest 236lb ft of torque is dampened somewhat by the sheer weight is has to pull: some 1845kg with a 75kg driver. This entry-level petrol never really feels out of its depth, though, and in our tests the on-board trip computer recorded fuel economy in the low-30s miles per gallon (UK), actually beating the official WLTP figures if the car’s are accurate.
It’s a strange one, this engine. That characteristic but always odd noise is common to every iteration of the Ingenium unit we’ve tried, both at idle and under moderate power. On the other hand, once you’re moving in the new Evoque the thought of it fades from your mind just as the sound itself fades from your ears. This thing is refined. Massively so, in fact. For a car that retails at £42,600, plus options, it quells road and engine noise magnificently. It’s not even like it’s on small, skinny eco-tyres. These are potentially compromised all-season items to help the Evoque master winter weather as well as the drive to work on sweltering days like today. The level of hush is, therefore, eye-opening.
The large rolling circumference skims right over small potholes that normally, with a jarring slam, catch smaller cars out. Supple front suspension soaks up speed bumps. The back springs are noticeably harder, pinging over the ever-present Tarmac humps with way less chill – until you fill the boot full of bottles of your chosen summer refreshment, at which point the front-rear disparity eases.
In between humps I investigate the heavily digitised controls. The main instrument cluster is a single digital panel. A further pair of screens sit in a stack in the centre console, the upper showing me menus and media choices, while the lower one has tabs for climate control, the heated seats and the various off-road driving modes. I won’t need any of those today unless Aldi has been swallowed by an active volcano. Nothing comes between me and cheap chocolate buttons, damn it, but for now I’ll just take the climate control.
There’s a much greater feeling of robustness to the new Evoque’s cabin. The seat is big and deeply padded but not too soft. The steering wheel is chunky but not too much so, the general off-square design theme throughout merely whispering Range Rover. Ignore the big Range Rover badge on the steering wheel…
What is still a little lacking is the electric power steering. Gloopy if you’re idly mooching around top dead centre, it then goes light and vague towards the one-eighth turn mark before biting with renewed vigour. When you drop down to really slow speeds it just goes wildly light, as if you’ve hit ice. It’s a sensation I’d never get used to. That’s not to say the car won’t hustle; it really will and if you’re suitably sharp with the steering then the Evoque will turn in like it’s on fire.
The Pirellis start to protest quickly, though, chirruping their discontent a decent way before the fronts actually wash wide. It’s safer this way; it’ll put people off going too near the actual limit. Factor the steering in and the Evoque seems happiest at seven tenths or less, getting along briskly thank-you-very-much without wanting to be pushed too hard. It is a weighty SUV, after all.
Range Rover uses a nine-speed automatic gearbox here. It’s smooth enough for you not to really notice when it’s swapping cogs around according to what your right foot is up to, and it’s a slick shifter when you’re cruising. It’s been badly tuned for performance, allowing the engine to rev to almost 6500rpm when it runs out of puff soon after 5500rpm. Manually requesting shifts at the lower engine speed drops the needle back into juicy torque and makes the car faster.
The Evoque P200 is very likeable, now that it’s stripped of some of the annoying traits of the original, especially once you’re moving. You wouldn’t think twice about living with one unless you’d have to squeeze its 2.1-metre girth down a particularly narrow street every day. The boot is a reasonable size, comfort levels are Premier League for the class and it looks way more expensive than it actually is.
Overall the new Evoque is a different animal to the one that arrived so cockily and so temperamentally in 2011. It has grown up, has just released its third album and has left its flawed and frustrating youth behind it.
It’s better in lots of tangible ways including refinement, performance, build quality and technology, but arguably the most glowing praise I can lay at its door is that, well, I actually quite like it. Eight years ago I’d never have dreamed of saying that.