By Jim MacPherson
Range Rovers pose an interesting question: Do we really need to experience the height of luxury while traveling off road to a destination that will allow us to rough it?
The answer is yes, as Range Rover sales increased 29.6 percent last year, compared to overall vehicle sales being up 10.3 percent.
Give some of the credit to the new Range Rover Evoque. This newest Range Rover burst on the scene late in 2011 as a 2012 model and accounted for nearly one of every ten Range Rovers sold. Expect it to do even better this year.
The Evoque is the smallest, most fuel efficient and least expensive of all the Range Rovers. It is also the most stylistically daring, with its dramatic roofline and sleek frontal design standing in stark contrast to the more squared-off styling of the two other Range Rover models.
"It's quite a departure from any Land Rover built in the past," says Adrienne Leader, general sales manager at Land Rover Farmington Valley in Canton. "Part of the thought process was to draw non-traditional buyers to the brand."
The Evoque features a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine. A six-speed automatic transmission and full-time all-wheel drive are also standard. Notably absent is a lower gear range for rugged off-road treks. However, the Evoque does come with Range Rover's Terrain Response System, which allows the driver to tailor the responses of the vehicle's throttle, transmission and stability systems for general driving, slippery conditions or off-roading.
Performance with the four-cylinder engine is quite good. Sixty miles per hour arrives in just 7.3 seconds. Acceleration from a stop is nearly instantaneous and, as speeds climb, the turbocharged engine seems to become more powerful.
The automatic transmission shifts firmly during full-throttle runs. The transmission's operation during normal driving does nothing to draw the attention of the driver or passengers, with one exception. It shifts to higher gears quickly, often putting the engine at a disadvantage when the driver wants to accelerate mildly. At these times, the four-cylinder engine feels and sounds like a four until the tachometer passes 2,000 rpm.
The ride is firm but comfortable. Handling is good. On pavement, the Evoque is easy to maneuver and tackles turns with little body lean. Off road, the Evoque is more than capable of doing more than the vast majority of its owners will ask of it.
The front seats are roomy and comfortable. The rear seats in the five-door version are also friendly for two average sized adults. The more costly three-door version has a lower roof and less headroom. The standard power tailgate makes accessing the cargo area easy.
The interior meets high standards with comfortable leather seating, soft-touch high quality plastics, handsome metal and wood trim, and logical controls. The view ahead is good for average and taller adults, but backing is complicated by the Evoque's rakish roofline and small rear windows.
Fortunately, a backup camera is standard. Our review car had the Prestige Premium Package that added niceties such as a navigation system, upgraded Meridian audio system, surround view cameras and upgraded trim. With this package and a few other options, the price of our review car ran to $56,920, not including $850 in destination charges.
The Evoque is the least costly Range Rover. It is also the most practical for day-to-day driving, cross-town urban errands and the majority of longer highway trips. It is bound to draw many new customers to the Range Rover brand.
Range Rover Evoque: Starts at: $43,995
Engine: 2.0 liter,I-4turbocharged
250 lb-ft of torque