This has been like some ridiculously drawn-out teenage tease. The first glimpse of the Evoque was July last year. It has been breathlessly revealing more of itself since then. Now, finally, there’s been the first hurried physical contact behind the bike sheds. I got a drive of it.
As I say, though, it was just a quick furtle. The tease goes on for an agonisingly long time yet, as showroom cars won’t be launched until summer. This wasn’t a road test, but a short drive of prototypes on a test track.
See more pics of the Evoque prototype
That said, they were pretty finished prototypes, and the track was varied enough to yield useful information. Like: is the drive as good as the looks?
The petrol will be the quickest powertrain. It’s the 2.0 turbo direct-injection engine from the latest Mondeo, but powered up to 240 horses. It’s re-engineered to allow the usual Range Rover off-roading ruggedness. It can still run when tipped at 45 degrees, or you’re 50cm deep in water.
It gives the little Range Rover convincing acceleration and pick-up to the accelerator, with no lag. Most of the time it’s quiet too.
It comes with a six-speed auto. But I’d be using the shift paddles. A lot. Left to its own devices, it doesn’t seem to want to shift down until you floor it, and then it goes berserk. And to be honest, a four-cylinder is never as refined as the V8s Range Rover has got us used to.
I rather took to the 190bhp 2.2 diesel though. Again it isn’t actually all that quiet. But there’s willing torque over a wide rev range, it’s easy to drive smoothly or briskly or both, and the standard manual six-speed works well. And in this form it’s economical, with a sub-150g/km rating.
See pics of the Evoque during winter testing
Both the prototypes have the 4WD system, and so there’s plenty of grip out of slow corners in the wet. The steering is sharp enough to dance cleanly round tight bends in a way you’d never associate with the words Range and Rover. But the whole rig feels stable on the straights too.
A quibble: the electric power steering has too much false self-centring if you switch the chassis to the dynamic mode. I think the development drivers agree with this, and they still have time to change it.
The ride has that lovely long-travel feel that makes the best SUVs so relaxing, but the brilliant thing is the way it’s combined with car-like control. For this, a big shout to the MR adaptive damping system, which uses a more advanced version of the hardware in Ferraris. (Honestly – an extra set of magnets for faster response.) It tautens up to keep the body in check over big bumps and in hectic cornering, but loosens to allow the ride to stay cloud-soft the rest of the time. Harsh ridges and potholes are smothered with luxury-car quietness.
The Evoque shell feels strong and solid, and everything is well bolted to it. This seems, even at prototype stage, like a quality item. This matters. It’s smaller and lower than a Q5 or X3 but it will cost as much, and those vehicles are granite-strong. The Evoque has to match them.
Besides which, the Evoque must feel expensive on the move, because it treats you to a proper luxury interior. The Q5 and X3 are just taller versions of very common (if excellent) Audi and BMW saloons. The Evoque is something different. It has the regal style and materials of a Range Rover, stylishly updated and re-booted for a new generation.
I wish they’d open the test-track’s security barrier and let me go further.