Range Rover’s Evoque is no slouch in the city

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      When we think of Range Rover, we tend to picture overpriced, boxy luxo-utes favoured by rich folks who rarely, if ever, use them to their full potential. Range Rovers are absolutely formidable off-road, yet rarely get the chance to prove it. Most of the time, they’re grocery-getters and cottage-schleppers.

      That applies to the newest model—the Evoque—as well. Despite having a Haldex four-wheel-drive system that could probably take it up the side of a cliff if necessary, this made-in-the-U.K. compact SUV is an urban vehicle. It’s a trendy little runabout that acquits itself surprisingly well in the city and is likely to be passed over by those whose idea of a good time is getting stuck in mud up to the window sills.

      Funny-looking little spud—especially the two-door, which is what I drove this time around. Technically, it’s called the Coupe. With its sharply raked roofline and tiny rear windows, it looks like it’s been squashed by a giant Monty Python foot. Definitely a departure for this company.

      Unfortunately, it also affects visibility—a lot. Backing up is just about as difficult as it can be, and peripheral visibility out back is virtually nonexistent. I’m hard-pressed to think of another vehicle I’ve driven that presents as much of a challenge when it comes to parallel parking—maybe the new Chevy Camaro. Yes, you can get a back-up camera, and it beeps like it’s wounded when you get too close to the car in front or behind, but these don’t help much.

      Elsewhere, the Evoque has a round Jaguar-type knob where the stick-shift lever would normally be. This didn’t bug me one way or another, and I got used to it almost right away. That said, when it comes time to go back and forth between reverse and drive—parallel parking, for example—it sometimes hesitates and forces you to wait while it makes up its mind. Form over function here, I’d say.

      Power is handily provided by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder that develops an impressive 240 horsepower and 250 foot-pounds of torque. This engine was developed in part by Ford before Land Rover was taken over by Tata in 2008. There is but one transmission choice: a six-speed automatic, and the Evoque has full-time four-wheel drive. Weighing in at a svelte 1,770 kilograms, this gives it lively performance, with excellent off-the-line snap and oodles of reserve power during kick-down. Land Rover is giving the Evoque a zero to 100 kilometres per hour time of about seven seconds and that seems fair—certainly in the city, it’s no slouch.

      Excellent comfort factor as well. Unlike Range Rovers from days past, ergonomics and switchgear are readily understandable and standard equipment level is high. As well as the usual modcons—one-touch power windows, climate control, keyless entry, et cetera, et cetera—you get goodies such as hill-descent control, hill-start assist, cruise control, steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles, Bluetooth, and so on. My tester, the Pure model, also had a heated steering wheel, a huge power sunroof, and slick little “puddle” lights mounted on the outside mirrors. These light the way when you get into the car at night. A small thing, but kind of nice.

      What slipped my mind most of the time while driving this one was that it is, in fact, a rough and tumble off-road bushwhacker—it is still a Land Rover, after all. But, in terms of handling, balance, and driving dynamics, it felt like a city econobox—a nicely trimmed and solidly built econobox, to be sure. I drove this one in much the same way I would something like, oh, a VW GTI or Mini Cooper.

      Not bad storage room in the back, either. One-touch folding rear seats reveal 1,350 litres of cargo space. By way of comparison, a Honda Fit is good for 1,622 litres, while a CR-V has 2,007 litres. Unfortunately, the sloping rear roofline of the Coupe severely limits the size of your cargo—bulky objects won’t fit, but you can get the dog back there, or a couple of golf bags. Interestingly, the Evoque will tow up to 1,585 kilos.

      Fuel economy: both the Coupe and four-door version of the Evoque deliver 10.6 litres per 100 kilometres in town and 7.1 on the highway. This isn’t bad. Hyundai’s Santa Fe is about the same, while the CR-V is slightly thriftier. The Evoque is way more fun to drive than either of these two, however.

      Apparently, when Land Rover re-entered the Canadian market, in—what?—the 1980s, one of its first customers was Gordon Southam, of the Southam newspaper dynasty. One frosty—pre-Internet—Ontario morning, he apparently found himself stranded by the side of the road wearing just his slippers and dressing gown. So the story goes, he had jumped into his spanking new Range Rover to go get the newspaper himself because the previous night’s snowstorm had prevented home delivery that day. Alas, his trusty Rover broke down and he had to hitch-hike, slippers and all.

      Those weren’t the days.