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New Evoque is a surprising drivers’ delight

Thursday, 17th October, 2019 8:46am

The Range Rover Evoque, in its original form, became such a galloping, runaway success for Land Rover that I guess it’s hardly surprising that they’ve not monkeyed much with the design for this second generation model.

It’s time to break out the Big List Of Clichés and choose from ‘bring a magnifying glass’ or ‘noticeable only to brand aficionados’ because telling the old Evoque apart from the new one is an exercise in hair-splitting.

The overall shape and silhouette is basically the same, the details only barely different.

The only major giveaway is that the new Evoque gets the same flush-fitting, retracting door handles as the Velar and the Jaguar I-Pace, which gives it a nice touch of kerb-side theatre when you thumb the unlock button.

Underneath, it’s a rather similar case of the same, but (slightly) different. The new Evoque rides on a platform that Land Rover calls its Premium Transverse Architecture (PTA). That sounds very grand, but effectively it’s a major update of the old LR-MS platform.

That chassis has its origins in the ancient Ford EUCD platform which spawned such cars as the third-generation Mondeo, and the second-gen Volvo S80. As we shall see, what Land Rover has wrought with such old iron is really quite remarkable.

Carried over it may be, but the PTA means that this Evoque gets a longer wheelbase, which liberates an extra 20mm of rear legroom (answering one of the frequent criticisms of the outgoing model), and a bigger boot (which increases by 10 per cent to 591 litres, and which still manages to swallow a full-size spare wheel).

The PTA platform is also electric-ready, and can handle both 48 volt mild hybrid, and a full plugin-hybrid system. The plugin model arrives later this year, but mild hybrid tech comes as standard with all four-wheel drive models.

It can boost the engine with an extra 140Nm when needed, and Land Rover reckons it saves as much as 8g/km of CO2 overall. In action, it’s basically unnoticeable.

It does include the 2.0 litre 150hp Ingenium four-cylinder diesel engine. Land Rover is currently being a bit crucified by this engine, having sunk so much money into developing it, and building its factory, only to see buyers turn their backs on diesel power.

The answer is hybridisation, but that’s not coming fast enough, especially in the all-important Chinese market, where LR’s sales have plummeted in the past year.

Still, for an engine that had a troubled start in life (the Ingenium range has been heavily castigated for a lack of refinement) this basic version seems pretty decent. It gets an AdBlue injection system to reduce its emissions of nitrogen oxides, and which allows Land Rover to claim that the Evoque is the first compact luxury SUV to meet next year’s demanding Real Driving Emissions stage 2 (RDE2) emissions standards.

It’s also much quieter than it used to be — still sounding a little rattley and breathless if you let the revs climb beyond 3,500rpm, but much better than before overall — and with decent performance (380Nm of torque goes a long way, even with 1,800kg to haul around) and decent economy (Land Rover claims between 5.7 and 8.5 litres per 100km on the WLTP test cycle and, happily, that’s what we managed at an average of 7.3 litres per 100km, or 38.6mpg).

If there is a letdown in the Evoque, then it’s literally in the Evoque — the cabin. When you’re up against rivals such as BMW and Audi you can’t afford any mis-steps. The Evoque’s cabin isn’t exactly a mis-step as it is just not big enough of a step. The overall shapes and style are, as with the exterior, pretty much identical to what you got in the old Evoque.

That might keep existing customers happy, but Land Rover needs this car to steal sales from the German big three. There are nice details — the twin-screen centre console is slick-looking and better to use than before, the new digital dials look smart, and there’s nothing wrong with the comfort levels.

Indeed, there’s nothing wrong with the quality levels either — the Evoque feels palpably well-built, but some of the material choices let it down. The huge expanse of the dash-top looks and feels odd, and the awful, cheap, scratchy black plastic of the glove box has no place in a car costing this much.

How much? Well, you can get a (very) basic Evoque for €42,845 but our 150hp 4WD SE automatic model clocked in at €62,910. For that, you get 20 inch alloys (gorgeous), a clever warning system that tells you if you’re about to open a door into the face of passing traffic, LED headlights, parking camera and sensors and an automated parking assistant, and the clever ClearSight electronic rear view mirror which takes a feed from a rear-mounted camera, and which helps to get around the Evoque’s low-line roof and small rear window.

Well, it will come with the ClearSight — our test car was too early in the build schedule to have it, but it’ll be fitted to all SE models from June onwards.

None of which matter when you find the right road. Now, most Evoques are, if we once again follow the Big Book Of Clichés, destined for a life of gentle shuttling between posh suburb and pricey department store, with an occasional drop-off at the fee-paying school gates/gymkhana/wherever it is Rachel Allen is today.

Now, this being a Land Rover, even a compact one, the Evoque will properly off-road, and can actually wade through more than half-a-metre of standing water.

Even so, the ‘right road’ is neither the approach to the Brown Thomas car park, nor a gravel track ascent to the local pony club. No, the ‘right’ road is as tight, twisty, challenging, and enjoyable as you can find.

You see, for all its social-climbing status, the Evoque’s engineers have clearly had posters of the VW Golf GTI and RenaultSport Megane RS on the wall because, honestly, this thing feels like a tall, luxurious hot hatch.

The steering doesn’t have quite as much feel as you’d (secretly) hope but it’s fast, has meaty weight, and laser-like accuracy. The chassis is also quite remarkable, able to cope with far more flinging about than you’d ever credit.

There’s not even very much body-roll, and on a rally-stage-like stretch of mountain road, the Evoque is capable of painting a broader smile on your face than you’d ever think was possible. It’s hugely capable, and hugely enjoyable.

The problem is that’s likely to be lost on most owners.

Just as they’ll probably never test the Evoque’s remarkable off-road ability, they’ll likely also not bother to investigate its tarmac dynamic repertoire too closely. Which is a shame.

There are issues with the Evoque — not least that its interior needs work if it’s to match the best that Germany can offer, and that we remain to be convinced of its outright reliability given the problematic nature of its predecessor — but right now there’s only one other SUV that’s as much outright fun to drive, and that’s the Alfa Romeo Stelvio.

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