Occupying the most niche of niches, this Evoque is a peculiarity that’s surprisingly endearing…
Automotive oddities abound in the history of the motorcar. Some more recent ones, like BMW’s four-door-coupé-cum-SUV X6, have succeeded in attracting risk-taking buyers; others, such as the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, were miserable commercial failures (and, thankfully, the latter was never offered for sale in South Africa).
We mention the Murano because the vehicle you see on these pages – if your eyesight remains unaffected by the intense Solar Orange paintwork – follows the blueprint laid out by the Nissan: take an SUV and chop off its roof.
We were curious to find out who, aside from game rangers and the Pope, would leap with excitement at the prospect of a cabriolet-SUV. There was certainly a chorus of cynics in the CAR office when the – take a breath – Range Rover Evoque Convertible Si4 HSE Dynamic arrived for testing…
But here’s the thing: after driving Land Rover’s flight of fancy, all of CAR’s road testers returned with grins on their faces as wide as the Evoque’s shapely hips. All but one, that is. That member of the team found the vehicle insufferable, penning the word “everything” in the negatives column of the test feedback sheet. Then again, he’s a Land Rover traditionalist, and the British brand isn’t exactly targeting those customers.
Nope, this second-most-expensive Evoque is aimed squarely at those buyers for whom the ability to make a fashion statement is far more relevant than the practical merits of owning such a car. Who cares if it costs more than a million rand when it draws as many stares as a R5-million supercar?
Offered in just one trim level – HSE Dynamic is as comprehensive as you’d hope, with xenon lights, sat-nav, electric seats and a punchy Meridian audio system fitted as standard – the Evoque Convertible competes on price with German drop-tops with two more cylinders each than the British vehicle’s four.
But, then, the 4 Series and C-Class simply can’t match the Evoque’s kerbside appeal. “Bathtub on wheels” jibes aside, the Range Rover is strikingly styled; the cloth roof is neatly integrated into the structure to create the illusion its use was planned right at the inception of the now-five-year-old Evoque’s research-and-development phase; and, coated in Solar Orange paint mated with 20-inch satin-black alloys (a no-cost option), it attracts attention like no other car this side of a Barbie pink Rolls-Royce Phantom.
Jump inside, keep the roof raised and the Cabriolet feels more conventional. There’s the same neatly trimmed Evoque cabin that’s simple to use thanks to the latest version of the InControl Touch Pro infotainment system with eight-inch touchscreen functionality, coupled with fabulously comfortable leather-trimmed front seats adjustable 14 ways and a multi-layer cloth roof that shuts out noise to a surprisingly successful degree considering the compromised aerodynamics of the SUV.
Drop the top at speeds of up to 48 km/h and the calm quickly dissipates as wind swirls around the cockpit at anything above urban speeds, despite the intrusive header rail suggesting otherwise. Thankfully, there’s a mesh wind blocker that’s easy to install across the rear seats, but that of course rules those out for use.
You wouldn’t want to sit back there, anyway. Offering less legroom than you’d find in the smallest of city hatchbacks and a sloped floor that presumably hides the additional structure-strengthening bracing Land Rover’s engineers have had to add, the rear seating caters solely to occasional use or, better yet, functions as a spot for luggage on a fabulous weekend away. Drop the 60:40-split rear seats to supplement the “cosy” boot space and the Evoque morphs into a surprisingly practical set of wheels.
The Evoque Convertible is offered locally with the venerable single-turbocharged 2,0-litre petrol engine that does service in a variety of Jaguar Land Rover products, and it’s coupled with a nine-speed torque-converter automatic transmission feeding motive force to all four wheels.
On paper, the outputs of 177 kW and 340 N.m of torque at 1 750 r/min look sufficiently frisky to create the impression that the Evoque has a strong turn of speed, but that’s not quite correct. Weighing a portly 2 017 kg, this 4,3-metre long SUV (cabriolet?) reaches 100 km/h in 9,47 seconds and takes 6,37 seconds to accelerate from 80 to 120 km/h. The last time we tested a petrol-fuelled Evoque, the Si4 Prestige five-door in February 2012, we weighed it at 1 803 kg, recorded a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 8,25 seconds and discovered it needed 5,78 seconds for the same in-gear discipline.
The transition into drop-top guise presents further penalties on-road. Land Rover has had to stiffen the MacPherson-strut-front/multilink-rear suspension setup to compensate for the higher roll angles due to the heavier structure, and you can definitely feel the difference over a series of bumps. The hard-top Evoque rides with a fine degree of pliancy despite being shod with low-profile tyres; the Convertible, meanwhile, fidgets more than you’d like. The ride isn’t poor by any standard, mind, and settles into a loping gait once the vehicle reaches cruising speeds.
And that’s where it’s most comfortable. Never able to fully disguise its weight in corners or under braking, the Evoque prefers a steady hand guiding the lovely direct variable-ratio steering. Commit it fully to a corner once the body settles, only to hit a bump midway through, and the otherwise relatively stiff structure shudders. Scuttle shake isn’t as severe as in the outgoing-generation Audi A5 Convertible, for example, but the BMW and Benz definitely make a better fist of keeping things in check.
One dynamic discipline in which the drop-top matched the fixed-roof test vehicle is in emergency braking, where the former posted a commendable average of 3,01 seconds across 10 stops. Fuel consumption, meanwhile, is much less impressive. Averaging a thirsty 11,1 L/100 km on our 100 km fuel route and 13,4 L/100 km on a weekend away that took in mainly conservative national-highway driving, the Evoque quickly drains its near-70-litre fuel tank.