Ever since we started running a Land Rover Evoque in the Top Gear magazine garage, it's been a bit... controversial. We gave it our Car of the Year in 2011, because it looked sensational, drove like a weirdly high hot hatch and brought the Range Rover brand right up to compete in the volume market. It's been a huge car for Jaguar/Land Rover, has sold by the bucketload - you'll see at least 5 Evoques per hour on any of the UK's major motorways - and generally secured Land Rover's future. It helps that it opens up the remit for a Range Rover product by being relatively small, relatively cheap (for a Range Rover; the bottom of the range starts at £28,695), and more car-like than anything Land Rover have managed before.
But there have been detractors. Everywhere I went in it - especially in the first few months when we had one of the early cars - people would tell me it was a 'girl's car'. Maybe that's got something to do with a PR tie-up with the Victoria Beckham special edition, which I still think she copied from the specification of my car (this is possibly not true), or just because the Evoque is blatantly road-biased. It might be because more women were keen to buy a smaller Range Rover product than the full-fat Rangie. It never really bothered me, if I'm honest.
What did annoy me was the other thing that was whispered when people thought I wasn't listening. That it 'wasn't a proper Land Rover'. Now, it seems that people assumed that because the Evoque was good on-road, it would be rubbish off it. But having driven the Evoque on the launch - albeit on a prepared and scouted LR off-road course - I begged to differ. So I asked to do some proper off-road, in the car that I'd been driving on-road for the previous six months. Which is why we ended up in Highland Perthshire, with no road at all.
So I changed the 20-inch sports SUV tyres for a mud-terrain pattern, because you wouldn't wear fashion trainers to go hiking, and changing tyres doesn't seem unfair to me. We also fitted a much more substantial bash plate than the mild-steel standard one, because we were going to try and push the boundaries of what an Evoque might be able to do, and I needed to drive home.
We took a Defender 110 as company, a proper off-road guide in the form of Land Rover's brilliant Roger Craythorne, and also a fully off-road equipped Defender 90. And then we just pointed the Evoque at the moor, and drove.
The Evoque wasn't as capable as either full-on LR. But it wasn't ever supposed to be - that's why Land Rover make the Defender, surely? And we got towed out a few times, and some of the added plastic bodykit got non-surgically removed by Scotland. But the Evoque, with a relatively inexperienced driver behind the wheel, managed to do stuff, in pretty much standard format, that you'd be impressed by. Far more than anyone with this kind of car is likely to attempt, and proof positive that underneath the tinsel, this still has the guts of a Land Rover.
Point proved. And I also think it looks better without the bumpers anyway. Enjoy the little video below - there's a more in-depth story in this month's Top Gear magazine...