Range Rover has traditionally been the luxo SUV brand with the highest commitment to off-roadability. That makes the Evoque crossover-coupe all the more of a departure. Its design is definitely style first, utility second, and its dynamic emphasis leans very much toward on-road dynamics. That just shows how the world is changing. But the luxury angle is very much intact.
The Evoque will be a third model for Range Rover, fitting below the stately, eponymous RR and the Range Rover Sport. It goes on sale mid-2011 at prices running about $40,000-$50,000. A five-door with the same wedge silhouette will follow half a year after.
The Evoque is a dead ringer for the Land Rover LRX concept from the Detroit Show in 2008. The sheetmetal surfacing has been rounded a little, but other 'concepty' aspects-proportions, stance, 20-inch wheels, even most of the external jewelry -- have survived pretty much intact.
Under the hood, there's a new 240-hp version of Ford's Ecoboost four. Given its direct gas injection, twin variable valve timing, and twin balance shafts, it should serve up highly competitive performance and economy numbers, while suffering little refinement compromise over a six. And it weighs 90 pounds less than the Freelander's I6.
Because the concept-car look has been carried into production, earlier reports that the Evoque is a top-hat job on the Freelander 2 platform are wide of the mark. The subframes and much of the floor plan are new, so that the engine sits lower (for better dynamics) while ground clearance is higher. The rear floor is new, otherwise back-seat occupants, who sit lower, would have had no foot space.
To save weight, there is far more high-strength steel in the shell, and a magnesium cross-car beam behind the IP. The suspension arms and wheel knuckles had to be redesigned to allow a wider tread and sufficient articulation with the 20-inch wheels. Engineers took the opportunity to change the material to aluminum to cut more weight. The hood and roof are aluminum, and the fenders and tailgate plastic.
Overall mass is pegged to about 3750 pounds for a 4x4. In Europe, super-economy versions will be available with a 2.2-liter 150-hp turbodiesel, manual trans, idle-stop and (shock!) front-drive.
At 171.3 inches long, 63.1 inches high, the Evoque is 17 inches shorter than the Range Rover Sport V8, 7.1 inches lower, and a staggering 1700 pounds lighter.
Range Rover remains serious about off-roading, despite the positioning of the Evoque, and claims it will be class-leading -- though this presumably means the crossover class rather than SUV. The AWD system deploys an electronically controlled Haldex center diff to split the torque front-rear as appropriate. The vehicle has Terrain Response to recalibrate parameters such as traction control, throttle and gearchange maps, and steering weight. There is also a Dynamic road setting, which puts the optional Magnaride dampers into a sterner program and changes the color of the instruments and ambient cabin illumination.
The interior, which is strictly four-seat, is lavishly furnished. Optional spec even runs to soft stitched leather to gift-wrap the dash and door casings. The visible metallic surfaces are actual metal, and the ambient lighting keeps up with the class leaders on perceived quality. The flavor of the LRX's cabin has come through, though the design is more practical. It is ever thus with concepts heading for production: The interior is always the part that's watered down the most.
The electrical architecture is shared with Jaguar Land Rover's top-end models, which brings the option of the 8-inch dualview center screen. It uses polarization to allow the driver to see one image - trip computer or navigation -- while the passenger sees another, such as a DVD movie. A 1200-watt, 17-speaker stereo system also is on the options list. Driver aids include self-parking (enabled by the electric PAS) and surround cameras.
Clearly this is a departure for the British manufacturer: a lot more light-footed than the Range Rovers, a lot less utility than the Land Rovers. But that's the point. The company is sure it will open new markets and end up as its biggest-selling model of all.