Another day, another round of teasers for Skoda’s first performance SUV
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£47,500 when new
Barbie has a new car? Hard not to be a bit sceptical about this one, huh? Land Rover, purveyors of the finest potential adventures, presents a luxury small SUV convertible. Doesn’t quite fit with the diff-lock image, and smacks of marketing people getting the engineers drunk and making them do things. Things they might regret in the morning. A convertible Range Rover though? Well, you could reasonably argue that LR products have been ‘convertible’ since the Series 1 back in ‘48 - after all, there have been quite a few Land Rovers with soft tops. They did tend to be on the more ‘practical’ side though. And by that I mean stuff with military waxed cotton and ropes. There’s never been a proper luxury Range Rover with no roof, mind - apart from some aftermarket conversions, of which the less said the better - although this is an Evoque, so the smallest, most ‘lifestyle’ of the product range. Is it possible not to like it on principle? Yes. But give it a chance. Turns out the LR engineers gave as good as they got. This isn’t as prissy as it might seem. And to spoil the ending somewhat, I’ve come away impressed. Explain, please. First, let’s address the styling. The roof is a big Z-fold fabric affair made by Webasto (who do lots of manufacturer convertibles, including Ferrari and McLaren) and actually looks reasonable erected. It’s tensioned by lots of wires, so looks a bit scrappy in process, but once dropped (18 seconds down, 21 up), the beltline of the car is completely clean aft of the reinforced windscreen pillars. This is good. There are flush-fitting explosive rollover hoops just behind the rear passenger’s heads to keep the back looking svelte, and even though the hoops themselves are especially tuned not to go off during off-roading (35degrees+), there’d probably be a decent dry-cleaning bill if they did. There’s a little spoiler painted half black at the back which looks a bit stuck-on, but its there for important aero reasons apparently. And the rest of it looks completely normal. Which is quite a feat, seeing as the rear had to be sculpted to neatly stow the roof mechanism - and quite a swathe of cloth - and still have a 251-litre boot about the same size as a large suitcase. All cars in the UK come with Dynamic body styling -necessary to balance out the proportions, and it actually looks pretty tough. Even in orange.
Is it front wheel drive? Nope. The Convertible is pitched ‘for all seasons’ so it’s got everything the next-generation Evoque has, including the usual Terrain Response electronics that take the pain out of wet grass clutch control, sophisticated four-wheel drive that defaults to front-wheel drive when cruising, wade sensing (500mm wade capability), all terrain progress control (ATPC), hill descent control - the lot. It’s been reinforced underneath and through the doors and bulkheads, so it’s stiff enough to let the suspension cope, and will get around with the best of them. I suspect the low-ish front valance might take a beating though. And you might get poked in the eye if you’re off-roading through forests. It also drives remarkably well. It barely flexes, and with the torque-vectoring by braking system (inside wheels get a touch of the ABS to quell understeer), it’s safe and controlled. Not fun as such, but certainly nothing you’d notice. One thing about all that extra strengthening though is the Convertible is a bit tubby. Pushing two tonnes including kit. You’ll feel that on the brakes, especially if you’re four-up. So it’s slow? Not especially. It’s not the kind of car you feel the need to rag to the edge of adhesion, and with only a pair of four-cylinder engines on offer, it was never pitched as a rocketship. Motivation comes in the shape of either a 2.0-litre, 178bhp ‘Ingenium’ TD4 turbodiesel or a similarly-sized 238bhp Si4 petrol, both with fairly average performance figures. Zero to 62mph in 10.3 and 8.6, and top ends of 121 and 130mph respectively. We’d go for the diesel - the petrol may be the range-topper, but the diesel is torquey (317lb ft plays 250), quiet and manages more mpg (49.6 vs 32.9mpg). As we said, you don’t really feel the need to thrash it, so you might as well go further per tank. The nine-speed ‘box helps - the car rarely uses first gear except in off-road/towing situations, and the leggy ninth ratio helps keep efficiency well up. It can be slightly hesitant on kickdown – probably doing too much maths with all those gears to contend with - but otherwise it’s a decent gearbox and drivetrain. So what’s the big deal? Simply, there’s not a lot like it. Nissan might have tried chopping the roof off a Murano a few years back, but that looked very bad. So this feels like a new thing. Most convertibles are inevitably low-slung and slightly vulnerable, and the Evoque’s hip-height seating position is a real boon. Add to that you can take four people - albeit with very upright rear seats - and it offers something we haven’t seen much of. It’s literally a different perspective, especially with the clean lines when the roof is stowed. It’s a bit blustery in the back, you won’t betaking much luggage, and there’s a blind spot the size of a small house in the C-pillar when the roof is up, but there’s a lot to like. We like convertibles in the UK - a habit of enthusiasm over prevailing meteorological conditions - and a proper convertible Land Rover suddenly seems like the most practical version of all. What’s the damage? Here’s a slight sticking point. No one buys low-end models for this kind of stuff according to LR, so the Convertible is only being offered in HSE or HSE Lux spec. That means a starting price of £47.5k. For that, you get a lot of kit, including the new 10.2-inch InControl Touch Pro multimedia system which makes the old JLR system look prehistoric (thank goodness), leather, heated everything, cameras, self-park, stereo and the like, but you’ll still be smashing the £50k barrier with a couple of options. Worth it? Depends who you are, and what you want to use the car for, but it’s attractive, practical and properly sorted. It’s going to sell like lava-based bread products. Photography: Ollie Tenant