Land Rover's crystal-ball department reckons the global lux 'ute market is going to expand by 35 percent over the next five years, and it wants a big bite of this widening slice of profit pie. How best to get it? Expand the Range Rover brand while shrinking its footprint, both physically and environmentally.

This could have been accomplished lickety-split and on the Tata-Nano cheap by pounding the LR2's sheetmetal into the shape of the similarly compact LRX concept vehicle, but thankfully, that's not how the new Indian parent company rolls. No, the LRX is being developed into the Range Rover Evoque the hard way--by reimagining every detail to perform in a way that befits its bucks-up branding, while remaining faithful to the popular concept car's initial design and packaging.

First, the basics: The Evoque will be available in the U.S. as a two- or four-door, with the two-door seating four or five passengers. In place of the LR2's Volvo-designed 230-horsepower, 234-pound-foot I-6 is a Ford-built 2.0-liter turbocharged direct-injected engine good for 237 horses and 251 pound-feet. (It was developed alongside the Explorer's EcoBoost mill.) Power flows to the ground through a six-speed automatic transaxle and a standard Haldex Gen-IV all-wheel-drive system. Other markets will get the option of a 2.2-liter diesel that can be teamed with a manual transmission, auto start/stop technology, and front-wheel drive for max fuel economy.

The Evoque's architecture is loosely based on the LR2's Ford EUCD platform (Volvo S60/S80), but only a few floorpan and front crash-rail stampings are common in the bodywork, and the upper rear strut mounts are the only common chassis bits. The wheelbase is 0.1 inch shorter, while the bodywork shrinks 5.1-5.5 inches in length and 4.1-5.3 inches in height. (Width grows by 2.3 inches.) An aluminum hood, plastic fenders and tailgate, and extensive use of boron and other high-strength steel alloys help shave 128 pounds out of the bodywork. Figure in aluminum suspension knuckles, a magnesium dash-support beam, and the smaller engine, and the Evoque weighs in about 600 pounds lighter than the 3.2-liter I-6 LR2. Extensive aero tuning lowers the drag coefficient to 0.35, while the frontal area shrinks by 4.7 square feet -- all of which, along with electric steering assist, a smart-charging alternator, a transmission that shifts to a virtual neutral at idle, and low-rolling-resistance tires should make this the least thirsty Land Rover product ever, by a long shot.

Chassiswise, the little Evoque lacks its siblings' air-sprung suspension, but gets an optional Adaptive Dynamics package like the Range Rover Sport's. These third-generation MagneRide strut dampers can alter their damping rates in 10 milliseconds, and typically do so 50 times per second to provide the smoothest possible ride while restricting body pitch, dive, and roll to the bare minimum when the standard Terrain Response system is set to its Dynamic Program setting. Naturally, the rest of the Terrain Response settings work their magic along with myriad other electronic aids -- such as Dynamic Stability Control, Roll Stability Control, traction control, Hill Start Assist, Hill Descent Control and Gradient Release Control, and engine drag torque control -- to help the Evoque safely go practically anywhere. It also has Trailer Stability Assist, to help when towing. Short overhangs and 8.3 inches of underbody ground clearance (0.4 inch better than the LR2's) give the littlest Range Rover best-in-compact-class approach, breakover, and departure angles (25, 22, and 33 degrees respectively). It's also designed to be able to splash into and ford a 20-inch-deep channel.

So does it drive like a Range Rover? To find out we took a quick spin on Land Rover's Gaydon, England, proving ground in a two-door Evoque prototype with Adaptive Dynamics, riding on 19-inch wheels (20s are optional). First impressions: It feels far nimbler and more agile than the LR2. Acceleration is said to match that of the naturally aspirated 5.0-liter Range Rover Sport, with 7.1 seconds to 60 mph. That would make it almost two seconds quicker than the LR2, and that seems perfectly believable. Transmission response to the steering-wheel paddle shifts is admirably quick. The turbocharged engine will never be confused for a melodious V-8 or Honda four, but it emits a roarty, snorty growl that seems reasonably sporting, especially above 5000 rpm, when a sound pipe from the intake manifold takes over as the exhaust note tapers off.

The ride quality is far from plush, though body motion control seems admirable in the normal on-road setting (my chaperone wouldn't permit me to sample the naughtier Dynamic Program). Steering effort is on the light side, but I could read the road surface texture through the wheel pretty well, and it heavies up fairly naturally as cornering grip builds. Braking effort and pedal travel seemed ideal for a sport-oriented lux 'ute. In fact, the overall sensation -- from the driving position, cockpit orientation, and dynamic behavior -- was more like that of driving a sport wagon or a Subaru Forester turbo with starchier suspenders. The Land Rover LR2 and Range Rover Evoque must rank as two of the best-differentiated platform mates out there.

Evoque production began this summer, for an on-sale date around October. Expect pricing to start at $45,000, give or take -- that's right where loaded LR2s leave off, and customers who exert themselves will be able to spend quite a bit more than that personalizing an Evoque. Three unbadged trim levels will be offered: Pure, Dynamic, and Prestige. Pure offers two interior color/trim combos; Dynamic has six; and Prestige has five different ones, including an all-leather interior with 10 square meters' worth of hides from three cows. Factor in the eight global wheel designs, 12 body and three roof paint colors, and the possible build combinations total some 380,000. That sort of bespoke vehicle tailoring, plus a surprisingly roomy interior, Range Rover Sport-like performance, and Land Rover-like off-road capability, should help Evoque claim its bite of the widening lux 'ute pie slice.


2012 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
GENERAL
Location of final assembly Flint, Michigan and Wayne, Indiana
Body style 2-/4-door crossover
EPA size class Special purpose
Drivetrain layout Front engine, RWD/4WD
Airbags Front (side, side curtain opt on 2500)
POWERTRAIN
Engine 90-deg V-8, iron block/alum heads
Bore x stroke 4.00 x 3.62 in
Displacement 364 ci/6.0L
Compression ratio 9.6:1
Valve gear OHV, 2 valves/cyl, VVT
SAE horsepower 360-plus (est)
SAE torque 700-plus (est)
Transmission type Hydra-Matic 6L90 6-speed automatic
1st 4.03:1
2nd 2.36:1
3rd 1.53:1
4th 1.15:1
5th 0.85:1
6th 0.67:1
Reverse 3.06:1
Opt engine 90-deg turbodiesel V-8, iron block/alum heads
Bore x stroke 4.06 x 3.90 in
Displacement 403 ci/6.6L
Compression ratio 16.0:1
Valve gear OHV, 4 valves/cyl
SAE horsepower TBD
SAE torque TBD
Transmission type Allison 1000 6-speed automatic
1st 3.10:1
2nd 1.81:1
3rd 1.41:1
4th 1.00:1
5th 0.71:1
6th 0.61:1
Reverse 4.49:1
Axle ratio 3.73:1; 4.10:1
Final drive ratio 2.50:1, 2.75:1 (6L90); 2.28:1 (Allison)
Recommended fuel Regular unleaded, diesel, B20
DIMENSIONS/CAPACITIES
Wheelbase 133.6-167.7 in
Length 225.0-259.0 in
Width 80.0 in
Height 77.5-78.3 in
Track, f/r 68.8/67.3 in
Headroom, f/r 41.1-41.2/39.4-40.5 in
Legroom, f/r 41.3/34.3-39.0 in
Shoulder room, f/r 65.2/65.1-65.3 in
Bed volume 60.7-75.5 cu ft
Bed LxWxH 78.8-97.7 x 62.4 x 21.0 in
Width bet wheelhousings 50.6 in
Ground clearance 8.2-9.1 in
Curb weight 5600-7900 lb
Max payload capacity 2613-6335 lb
GVWR 9300-13,000 lb
GCWR 27,500 lb
Max towing capacity 13,000-20,000 lb
Fuel capacity 36.0 gal
CHASSIS
Construction Ladder frame
Suspension, f/r Independent, torsion bars/live axle, leaf springs
Steering type Recirculating ball
Ratio 16.1:0
Turns, lock to lock 3.6
Turning circle 44.9-55.4 ft
Brakes, f/r 14.0-in vented disc/14.0-14.2-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels 7.5x17-in steel or alum; 8.0x18-in steel or alum
Tires 245/75R17; 265/70R18
PERFORMANCE
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy Not rated
0-60 mph 8.9 sec (mfr est)
PRICE
Price range $29,000-$50,000 (est)
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