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We pulled down a tree last weekend. It took five of us""¦ and a Land Rover. The oak was dead, but still had enough spring left to yank the two-ton Defender four feet backwards while it was crawling forward in low gear with the diffs locked.
I've got a feeling that owners of the new Range Rover Evoque won't be pulling down oaks, but I bet that they'd like to think they could. This new mini-sport utility vehicle, the smallest ever Range Rover, is targeted at BMW's X1 and Audi's Q3. Land Rover says that 90 per cent of Evoque buyers will be new to the brand and younger, more urban and a lot more female than its traditional customers.
Those owners will love the Evoque as much for its origins 67 years ago, when Maurice Wilks sketched the first Land Rover in the sand at Red Wharf Bay in Anglesey, as for its striking looks derived from the LRX 2008 Detroit show concept. The Evoque's authenticity matters even if it is aimed at a latte generation of urbanites; they like to believe they're craggy horse whisperers at heart.
Some at Land Rover don't appear to agree, however. ""We don't talk about off-road capability any more,""� said John Edwards, Land Rover's brand director, earlier this year dismissing the old company motto of ""The best 4x4 by far""�.
""Whaaaat?""� spluttered one rival German marketing director. ""We'd kill for that kind of brand image, and they're throwing it away?""�
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Drive this car anywhere and heads will turn. Most makers like to think there's a buzz behind their launches, but on this one there is, with an unprecedented 18,000 orders already. We've seen fantastic Detroit concepts pork up in production (Porsche Boxster/VW Beetle), but Gerry McGovern's design team has done a wonderful job. From the glittering lamps to the rally-like wheel arches and rear spoiler, the Evoque exudes crispness and desirability.
The delight continues in the cabin, with glistening switches and dials from pricier Range Rover models and beautifully upholstered and supportive seats in the front which, with the adjustable steering column, give a perfect driving position. Features from a higher grade of cars include one-touch interior lighting and the split-screen centre console display, which allows passengers to watch television or DVDs while the driver can see only the satnav.
Look farther down in the cabin, however, and the cost accountant's hand is just visible as plastic quality drops off. Accommodation in the rear is just big enough for a couple of six-footers in the five-door, which has 1.2 inches of extra headroom. The back of the three-door is cramped, however, and the small windows make it feel claustrophobic. The boot is hardly huge, but big enough for a couple of medium-sized suitcases.
The chassis has been carefully wrought to make the most of its Freelander-derived independent suspension. The swaying induced by a tall ride height is partly assuaged by savings in top weight and unsprung mass, with an aluminium bonnet, roof and suspension components, and composite plastics one-piece tailgate. It's a shame they couldn't fit a split/fold item in the style of the original Range Rover, which proved impossible given the Evoque's pert rump. Weighing in at 1.64 tons (plus 62lb for the optional panoramic glass roof), the Evoque is 220lb less than the Freelander, which also helps to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
It also feels completely different to drive, similar to a car in response but with an off-roader's driving position. At medium-fast speeds it rides firmly, but is supple and positive over bumps. There's enough suspension travel to shrug off most potholes and sleeping policemen, but it's asking a lot of a single set of dampers to provide off-road agility and 100mph swerve safety combined with stability and ride comfort.
Land Rover's engineers have managed pretty well even with the standard steel suspension, but the off-road ability is compromised by a lack of suspension travel and the electronic traction and hill descent features have to make up for a lack of mechanical traction. The electronic power-assisted steering is almost brilliant but for occasionally variable weighting. The brakes are powerful, with a linear pedal feel.
Driven hard, the Evoque is fun, safe and more rewarding than anything in its class, or on the Land Rover price list. You can also opt for the Magnaride adjustable dampers, which extend the Evoque's competence and sporting mien across a wider range of road types.
Two engines are offered: a 2.2-litre turbodiesel with 148bhp or 187bhp, and the 237bhp, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol unit we tried. Prices start at £27,955 for a 148bhp turbodiesel five-door, with two-wheel drive and six-speed manual, rising to £44,320 for a 4x4 three-door Prestige with a 187bhp turbodiesel and six-speed automatic.
While the petrol engine is the smoothest, lightest and most powerful unit, it is also thirsty, with a Combined consumption of 32.5mpg and 199g/km of CO2 emissions ""“ we managed 25mpg on a fast, cross-country run. The six-speed Aisin Warner automatic transmission with steering wheel paddle shift suits the engine but occasionally gets lost for a ratio, especially on part throttle.
The 2.2-litre diesel is gruff under hard acceleration and the extra weight dulls the petrol version's peppy handling responses, but the Combined consumption of 49.6mpg and Band F 149g/km emissions make it an appealing proposition.
John Edwards isn't really abandoning Land Rover's 4x4 brand identity, even though this is the company's first two-wheel drive model. It is a measure of the degree of nervousness at the company, however, that the Evoque is being marketed half to death, which occasionally leads to management making some strange statements.
They should relax. The Evoque is one of the most innovative, interesting cars to come out of Land Rover since the original Range Rover 41 years ago. What's more, it's also one of the most desirable.
.
THE FACTS
Range Rover Evoque
Tested: Five-door with 1,999cc, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol, six-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive
Price/on sale: £27,955-£44,320 (£38,995 as tested)/now
Power/torque: 237bhp @ 5,500rpm/340lb ft @ 1,750rpm
Top speed: 135mph
Acceleration: 0-60mph 7.1sec
Fuel economy: 23.7mpg (EU Urban)
CO2 emissions: 199g/km
VED band: J (£445 first year, £245 thereafter)
Verdict: The excitement is justified. Expensive and not quite as economical as billed, but it tops the class for looks, agility and driving appeal
Telegraph rating: Five out of five stars
RIVALS
BMW X1, from £24,470
Ugly compact sport utility that sums up what's wrong about these vehicles. Neither good on the road, due to a rock-hard ride and limited accommodation, or off-road because of limited suspension travel and grip.
Audi Q3, from £25,000
We've not driven it yet, but early signs are that this compact SUV based on the Volkswagen Tiguan is a competent driver, with a lovely cabin and prices likely to undercut the Evoque by upwards of £5,000.
Range Rover, about £8,000
David Bache, Gordon Bashford and Spen King's 1970 three-door original. Probably rebuilt by now, maybe even with an LPG conversion for the V8. Roly poly handling, but comfortable, good for 100mph ""“ and very cool.
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Now this is a more balanced view, alluding to the petrol version's thirstiness and poor gearbox, the 3 doo'rs poor access and cramped rear cabin and the Diesel's lack of performance.
Still does not mention the extortionate pricing!

RBD914
 
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