The Isle of Anglesey is where prince William, the future king of England is stationed at presently serving with the RAF's search and rescue unit. That alone makes it worth flying the nearly 7000km to drive the new Range Rover Evoque, just in case I don't enjoy the drive. But I'm not here to mingle with royalty neither is he coming to spend some time with us to do any promotional activity. The only way I see me coming face to face with his royally receding hairline is if I drive the new Range Rover Evoque off a cliff into the sea and he comes to rescue me.
Putting my royal conundrum aside, the Isle of Anglesey has more significance for any petrol head. This little island off the north west coast of Wales is where the Land Rover was born on Maurice Wilks' farm. So visiting the Isle to get a first impression of the Evoque is soul stirring. Unfortunately we aren't driving on the Llanddona beach where the first ever Land Rover was tested, instead we would be touring the countryside, one of the most picturesque in the world designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It perfectly fits the bill for what will undoubtedly be an SUV of outstanding design. And one market that the Evoque will light up with it's brilliance is India, taking on the established Audi Q5 and the newly launched BMW X3.
The Evoque's strongest weapon in it's arsenal is its styling. Based on the LRX concept the Evoque has retained nearly every bit from that concept and offered it in production form. SUVs simply don't come any cooler than the Evoque. It is in totality from the grille to the hatch a SUV that clearly defines and sets the trend for the future. After the Evoque I no longer expect any SUV to be designed in the same manner.
What makes it all the more special are the millions of details and each of them looking crisp and fresh off the boat. Now I'm not sure how nightmarish it's going to be to service an Evoque given all those body parts but I have never ever seen any vehicle that blends so many bits seamlessly. The hood that clips the projector headlamps making it look like the Evoque's got eyebrows. The twin slat big honeycomb grille, the chunky bumpers with myriad scoops and bulges and convex and concave areas, the jewelled driving lamps, the splitter over the lower mesh grille, nothing looks out of place. The same uninterrupted lines, curves and panels continue blending in till you arrive at the rear. And what a rear end, this is the hottest piece of tail on the globe with the same narrow lamps as the front, the massive sculpted bumper, the huge splitter and the twin exhausts.
The Evoque is nonetheless a fairly compact SUV and the dimensions indicate clearly that it is shorter in length and height compared to the X3 and Q5 by nearly 300mm and 30mm respectively. The wheelbase correspondingly is also shorter by around 140mm. The only points it scores then is with its width, nearly 90mm more than the competition. Ground clearance however is a very respectable 215mm at the front axle with good approach and departure angles. Overall the effect of physically seeing that width and compact length conveys a sense of solidity and stability, it looks well planted especially thanks to those chunky fenders bearing the 18" wheels and tyres.
Then there are the body styles, the Evoque can either be had as a 5-door or 3-door coupe like form. No points for guessing which is the more dynamic of the duo. For India Range Rover is looking at both the body styles though which would be offered first hasn't been decided yet.
Step inside the cabin and you are greeted by an expanse of dashboard that looks like it has been meticulously carved out of the highest quality leather and aluminum. The several elements on the dashboard look vaguely familiar to what we see in the Range Rover or Jaguar and yet there's a freshness to it. The steep slope of the centre stack, the layered dashboard, the sporty seats and the steering wheel with the sunken boss indicate a new design direction. It's an interior that you just know will keep interest levels high for years to come.
On the flip side however the short dimension, length and height in the ace of the coupe make this cabin feel claustrophobic. The space management is a very European trait which means there isn't much knee or legroom in either half of the cabin and neither is there enough headroom, yet the panoramic sunroof which extends quite literally from the A-pillars to the C-pillars provides some sense of breathing space. The only saving grace is the width which provides enough room for three adults on the rear bench, make that three Indian sized adults. And yet the way the various components that sit inside this cabin have been designed make you turn a blind eye to the space constraints. The controls on the steering wheel for instance are intricately yet subtly detailed, you might not realize that the expensive look of the steering wheel arises from two simple chrome surrounds on the volume and track selector switches. Or that the traditionally gimmicky gearknob which rises out of the centre stack sits inside a black mirror finished surround. You might not even realize that the terrain response selector switch requires a very gentle touch to shift between modes or that switching on the overhead lights requires you to just pass your fingers a centimeter away from the lamps themselves to switch them on or off.
All that style however does not stand a chance without getting the mechanical bits right. To that effect the Evoque will come powered by a choice of both petrol and diesel engines. Globally there is an updated 4-cylinder 2.2-litre turbo diesel with a choice of either a 190PS or 150PS power outputs. While the obvious choice for India would be the 150PS diesel, Range Rover is strongly considering allowing the 190PS version make an appearance here. The petrol will also be available which makes a much more generous 240PS max power. As for a 2WD option don't expect much on that front as currently only the 150PS engine is provided with a 2WD drivetrain propelling the front axles.
I drove the 190PS diesel Evoque in both coupe and 5-door form (the height of the 3-door coupe body style is lower than the 5-door variant) and the engine felt torquey in both, compensating adequately for whatever weight gain adding two doors to the coupe could incur. From the word go this engine pulls away cleanly, no turbo lag and definitely no laziness from the 6-speed transmission with paddle shift action. It feels quick too though I suppose it's early to say if it might be quicker than the new X3 or the Q5. The one advantage it has going for it is its weight. The 1.6 tonne kerb weight it carries is lighter than either of the other two SUVs it will compete against. That also means better fuel efficiency and drivability.
I did not drive the petrol, but it's a 2.0-litre engine with direct injection, a turbocharger and twin variable valve timing. It delivers 240PS of max power and Range Rover claims it will do 100kmph in just 7.2 seconds. It sounds fun and though that option will be available in India with start stop function I'm not sure how much enthusiasm it will generate.
But performance is a moot point, Range Rovers the world over are known for their off-road abilities and the Evoque continues that tradition admirably. Driving across the moors, plains and hills of Anglesey on diverse off road terrain the Evoque easily meandered over everything. Even though Range Rover claims that the off-road abilities of the Evoque aren't what they intend to project, focusing more on its abilities as a crossover and therefore urban and interstate driving comfort, the Evoque will make it across the next hill without flinching. It's got the full off-road package available in every other Range Rover, the Terrain Response system is omnipresent, working silently behind the curtain.
Still I don't see too many owners taking their Evoque dune bashing or mud splashing and so what will make the Evoque an enriching experience for them is its ride comfort and dynamics. Now it's not an accomplished handler like say the X5 is, yet it's stable and there is a little body roll. The electronic power assisted steering feels precise and well sorted for all round driving and there is a small amount of feedback though self centering feels a bit too false.
The dampers work on magnetic ride technology which uses electric currents and magnetic particles suspended in the damper to instantly adapt to a variety of driving conditions. It smooths out rough roads making cruising speeds a luxurious affair and yet provides benchmark stability and poise on fast and smooth tarmac.
Given the luxurious nature of the Evoque, it's been specced with kit that is worth some serious money. Take for example the five cameras placed around the car, with the centre display on the dashboard showing all five views. Of these you can select two to enlarge in a split screen mode. It is primarily a safety feature since it allows you to park precisely or crawl through narrow ruts by showing the proximity to the edge of the rut. And then there is the two dimensional view on the centre screen, one dimension will show the passenger television while at the same time the driver will view navigation on the same screen.
All of these myriad aspects enrich the Evoque experience. There are shortcomings, interior space is one of them and probably the price expected to be around 45 lakh rupees when it comes to India by November this year will be another.
On the whole though the Evoque definitely enlists a new sense of cool to the SUV brigade. It stays true to Range Rover's commitment to making a genuine crossover. The thing is most other SUV's in the segment are just trumped up versions of sedans, the Evoque though is an SUV through and through, and along the way if it just shows the way forward for a sedan, you aren't going to find me or anyone else complaining.