2012 Motor Trend SUV of the Year: Land Rover Range Rover Evoque

Form, Function, Finesse: A Brave New Land Rover Conquers a Greener Frontier

Motor Trend
In the enthusiast's dream, all sports cars have manual transmissions and all SUVs are body-on-frame. But as so often is the case, reality does not intersect with our fantasies. Ferraris — save for one — no longer have manual transmissions, and car-based crossovers are rapidly pushing traditional SUVs to the brink of extinction. In a world that appears increasingly hostile to an all-SUV brand like Land Rover, adaptation is the only option. Some adaptations are failures. Others are Motor Trend Sport/Utility of the Year winners. The Range Rover Evoque is most certainly the latter.

But how? The Evoque is, after all, based on the Land Rover LR2, a vehicle many of you would be surprised to learn is still on sale today. Just as the LR2 was an impressive improvement on the Freelander, the Evoque is an evolutionary leap over the LR2. Though we can confirm that Land Rover did not consult us on the Evoque's development, you'd be forgiven for wondering if the R&D team used our six criteria as guidelines, as the vehicle satisfies each one so completely.

Advancement In Design

The Evoque is a striking vehicle. We don't envy any designer tasked with making an SUV sexy and sophisticated, as they are by traditional definition boxy and utilitarian vehicles. When we see fantastical concepts like the Evoque-preceding LRX, we can't help but shrug off hopes it might be produced, as experience has taught us better. Every now and then, though, an automaker will surprise you. To see the Evoque arrive in showrooms within millimeters of the concept's dimensions is a dream come true.

Throughout our test, the Evoque drew more comments than any other contender. From its aggressive stance to its big wheels, devilishly raked windshield, and daring roofline, the Evoque continually elicited compliments from the staff as well as passers-by. The "Coupe," in particular, was near universally admired for its uncompromising fashion-first motif. The better part of a decade has passed since a two-door SUV was sold in America (Wrangler excluded), and Land Rover's willingness to gamble on an essentially dead body style is as refreshing as it is surprising. We appreciated the Evoque's interior, too. Our editors were enamored of the stylish layout, roominess, and high-quality materials. Some complaints were registered against the parts sharing with Jaguar and Ford, and with the somewhat slow response from the vastly improved infotainment system, but while several editors questioned whether the Evoque was more Land Rover or Range Rover, none considered these concerns deal-breakers.

Engineering Excellence

The fact that the Evoque is no less capable or useable than the LR2 is icing on a delicious cake. You would expect such a rakish roofline would wreak havoc on passenger and cargo space, but that simply isn't the case. Much to our delight, even the tallest members of our staff found themselves comfortable in the front and rear seats of both body styles, despite the presence of a sunroof that would shame Dallas Cowboys Stadium, a testament to Land Rover's impressive packaging. While the roof does impact vertical clearance, the Evoque's cargo space is sufficiently deep to fit oversized luggage and your weekly allotment of mega-store purchases.

Equally impressive are the improvements to the vehicle's dynamics. Despite sharing a platform with the LR2, the Evoque performs considerably better in every measure. Extensive use of aluminum, composites, and other lightweight materials lightened the Evoque by more than 350 pounds compared with the LR2, earning it the distinction of being the lightest Land Rover ever built. That lightness helps the vehicle reach 60 mph from a stop nearly 2 seconds faster than the fastest LR2; increases average skidpad holding by more than 0.05 g; and takes more than a second off the quarter-mile time, and more than a second and a half off the figure-eight time. Beyond outperforming its predecessor, the Evoque performs on par with its direct competition, despite offering one of the smallest engines in the class.

The cumulative improvement is most evident in the Evoque's handling and road-holding. It was consistently commended for its controlled body roll, tenacious grip, and sports car reflexes. While the adaptive suspension-equipped Dynamic model garnered heavy praise for its highly responsive steering and nimble handling, it was also dinged for its very hard ride. The standard Pure model was likewise praised for its impressive handling, and for its considerably less-compromised ride quality. Luxury-car levels of isolation had many an editor traveling much more quickly than anticipated as the perky engine doled out strong, linear power that makes the Evoque deceptively quick and all the more fun to drive fast. Well-chosen ratios and intelligent programming had the six-speed transmission moving quickly and consistently to the best gear for the style of driving asked of it.

Off-road, the engine's meaty torque band paired nicely to Land Rover's latest Terrain Response handling system to turn the corner-carver into a credible rally machine. Retaining all the surprisingly capable LR2's clearances and employing the latest version of Haldex's AWD system, the Evoque easily conquered our off-road test. Grip from the street-biased tires was impressive in the dirt, particularly in the sandy hill start, where the Evoque never stuttered. Its various off-road modes allow the driver to tailor the engine, transmission, stability control, and traction control responses to the terrain under assault and permit a comfortable level of oversteer before stepping in. Coupled with adjustable hill descent control, the Evoque generated a great deal of driver confidence both on- and off-road.

Efficiency

The Evoque's Ford-sourced 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is a radical departure for Land Rover, which powers most of its U.S.-bound models with thirsty V-8s. Returning an estimated 19/28 city/highway mpg, the Evoque can also claim the title of most efficient Land Rover ever built, easily besting its V-8 brethren and even the I-6-powered LR2. A substantial reduction in emissions goes with fuel economy, as Land Rover claims a 20-percent reduction in CO2 emissions compared with larger engines with the same power output. The Evoque lands in the heart of its segment with competitive fuel economy that doesn't sacrifice output. At 240 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque, the four-cylinder's output betters that of some six-cylinder competition without guzzling fuel. With full torque available at 1750 rpm, the Evoque experiences almost no turbo lag, and what little is present can be eliminated by rolling into the throttle rather than simply stomping on the pedal.

Safety

A pervasive myth suggests that smaller vehicles are less safe. Thanks to modern technology, that isn't the case, as the Evoque demonstrates with a litany of standard safety equipment. The steel monocoque frame is reinforced with high-strength and Boron steel and supplemented by impact beams in all passenger doors. Seven airbags, including full-length curtain airbags and a knee airbag for the driver, while a laundry list of computer programs built into the standard stability and traction control systems help avoid a collision in the first place. Rain-sensing wipers, automatic and adaptive headlights, and an optional five-camera Surround View system increase the driver's visibility while front and rear sensors aid in parking maneuvers.

Value

At first glance, the Evoque's $43,995 sticker price seems steep for a compact, four-cylinder SUV based on the significantly cheaper LR2. Indeed, many of the Evoque's competitors boast lower starting prices. The baby Range Rover's value lies in its content, as well as its intangibles. Most of the Evoque's direct competitors attain their low starting prices by making features such as AWD and navigation expensive options, while they're standard on the Evoque. Further, the Evoque offers a combination of styling, prestige, dynamic capabilities, and off-road abilities that the competition will struggle to match.

Performance Of Intended Function

Land Rover proudly declares the Evoque the smallest, lightest, and most efficient vehicle the company has ever built. From a traditional perspective, all those traits would be the opposite of what's desirable in a Land Rover. For that reason, the Evoque is badged a Range Rover, a sub-brand that has increasingly placed luxury and style over absolute off-road capability. Land Rover doesn't claim the Evoque is as capable off-road as an LR4 because it was never intended to be. Rather, the Evoque takes aim at the largest growth segment in the luxury SUV market: comfortably heeled urbanites who don't really plan to drive off road. It's no secret that few LR4 owners actually conquer the wilderness with their vehicles, and the Evoque openly embraces this fact. The Evoque, then, is meant to appeal to the buyer who ranks style, content, and fuel efficiency above approach and departure angles.

In that regard, the Evoque hits all the marks. It's irresistibly stylish and loaded with standard features including Land Rover's best infotainment system yet. It gets significantly better fuel economy than any other Land Rover product without sacrificing performance; retains an off-road prowess that would embarrass most crossovers; and offers it all in a compact, fun-to-drive, and easy-to-park package. For Land Rover to survive in a future punctuated by tighter CAFE standards, higher fuel prices, increased concern for the environment, and waning consumer interest in traditional SUVs, the Evoque is exactly the product it needs.


The Evoque is the way forward for Land Rover. And it's Motor Trend's 2012 Sport/Utility of the Year.

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