When it came time to introduce its all-new Range Rover Evoque -- a vehicle that is projected to be Land Rover's bestseller -- the folks from Gaydon figured where better than the rugged Welsh island of Anglesey, an often wet, cold, and windy place where sideways rain can hit you like a spray of icy tacks. It's also a place whose rocky, hilly terrain could keep a mountain goat happy for eons. Seriously, where better to demonstrate the breadth of what Land Rover's best on-road vehicle can do off-road?

When I first learned I'd be driving the Evoque and did my initial research -- perusing specs of the 240-horsepower, 28-mpg-highway, 2.0-liter engine, reading up on the Haldex IV all-wheel-drive system, and looking at photos of the sporty four-door and concept-copy two-door -- taking it off-road never crossed my mind. Perhaps I was too smitten with the striking shape, high beltline, big wheels, scrunched greenhouse, and shrink-wrapped sheetmetal, all of which conjured up images of zipping along twisty blacktop at silly speeds. Unlike any Land Rover before it, the LR2-based Evoque is so sopping with sport, style, and urban appeal that venturing off-road seems almost inappropriate. But trust me, it's not.

According to Land Rover, the Evoque is as capable off-pavement as the LR2, thanks to similar ground clearance (8.4 inches versus 8.3), approach and departure angles (25 and 33 degrees, respectively, versus 29 and 32), break-over angle (22 degrees versus 21.5), and maximum wading depth (19.7 inches). Further, Land Rover says the Evoque is not too far behind the capability of the Range Rover Sport, which offers a true low range. Exploring Anglesey's unforgiving landscape with the Terrain Response system set to Mud and Ruts -- one of five settings that include General Driving, Sand, Grass/Gravel/Snow, and, when equipped with $1250 Adaptive Dynamics, Dynamic -- proved a hairy albeit effortless adventure. The Evoque handily overcame boulders the size of watermelons and divots that could hold more gunk than a wheelbarrow.

Why Land Rover Range Rover Evoque and not just Land Rover Evoque? High style, of course -- non-Range Rovers (LR2 and LR4) are workhorses and more about function than fashion -- and the perceived preeminence that goes with wearing the Range Rover badge. Speaking of Range Rover, the Sport, at 188.0 by 78.8 by 70.4 inches, used to be the smallest RR, a title the two-door Evoque now claims with dimensions of 171.5 by 77.4 by 63.2. Even the compact LR2, at 177.1 by 78.9 by 68.5, is larger in every measurement. And don't forget that the four-door Evoque is only slightly bigger in length (+0.4 inch) and height (+1.2 inches) than its two-door sibling, and still smaller than the LR2.

The Evoque is also easier on the scales. Utilizing such weight-saving techniques as an aluminum-intensive strut suspension, electric power steering, composite front fenders and tailgate, aluminum hood and roof, and a magnesium crossbeam, the I-4 Evoque four-door at 3945 pounds weighs 365 pounds less than the last I-6 LR2 we tested.

At the test track, the Evoque's decreased mass equaled more speed and agility. Compared to the 230-horsepower, 234-lb-ft LR2, which hit 60 in 9.0 seconds flat and the quarter mile in 16.8 at 82.5 mph, the 240-horse, 251-pound-feet Evoque four-door needed only 6.7 to reach 60 and just 15.1 at 91.8 to obliterate the quarter. For negligible bumps in power and torque, those are some significantly quicker numbers -- see what shedding an NFL lineman can do? (Surprisingly, the 30-pound-lighter Evoque two-door was slightly slower -- 7.0, 15.3 at 91.0 -- than the four-door, a fact Land Rover peeps had no explanation for.)

Within its competitive set, the Evoque four-door had no problem hanging with its foes, delivering comparable numbers to the Audi Q5 3.2 (6.6; 15.0 at 93.6), BMW X3 xDrive28i (6.7; 15.0 at 91.9), Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4MATIC (6.8; 15.1 at 91.8), and Volvo XC60 T6 (6.8; 15.2 at 93.9). Moreover, wearing sizeable rubber -- 235/55R19s for the four-door and 245/45R20s for the two-door -- the Evoques hung on for 0.82 g worth of lateral grip, again right there with the Q5 (0.85), X3 (0.81), GLK (0.80), and XC60 (0.81). Braking? At 128 feet from 60-0 mph (125 for the two-door), the Evoque four-door trails its rivals but not by much -- Q5 (120), X3 (125), GLK (118), and XC60 (120). And if you're wondering how the LR2 compares in handling and braking, well, quite respectably -- 0.76 g and 126 feet.

Out on the open, country roads around Anglesey and thru the busy, city streets of Liverpool, the Evoque provided a secure, sporty feel that made maneuvering a right-hand-drive vehicle on the left-hand side of the road far less nerve-racking than had I been in a bigger, boxier Range Rover Sport. Still, nothing quite compares to driving a U.S.-spec vehicle on familiar roads, something I was lucky enough to do with a pair of Evoques back in Los Angeles. No longer analyzing the odd sensation of feeling lateral g-forces from the right side, or worrying about hitting curbs or roadside vegetation, I found the Evoque to be far more lively and engaging than I had in the U.K. Output from the Ford-based DI 2.0-liter turbo is smooth and plentiful, negating any thought of needing a six-cylinder. In fact, peak torque of 251 lb-ft is realized at a low 1750 rpm. Its partner, an Aisin six-speed automatic with paddle shifters, is seamless and responsive, and efficient enough to return fuel economy of 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway, on par with that of Audi's 2.0T Q5 (20/27). Steering feel is first rate -- not easy to do with EPS -- and the suspension relays quick inputs without ever coming across harsh or nervous.

Our $57,795 ($52,895 base) Dynamic Premium two-door came with optional 20-inch wheels and the Advance Dynamics package replete with magnetic dampers, which proved a worthwhile upgrade for those looking for the utmost in sportiness. Set the Terrain Response system to Dynamic mode -- heightening reaction from the dampers, throttle, and steering as well as changing the gauge hue from white to red -- rotate the drive selector over to Sport, and the Evoque morphs into a wannabe rally machine. Never has a Land Rover been this fun and enthralling. Think WRX with Outback ground clearance, drop-dead body, and chic interior, and you get the picture. For a vehicle that is so competent off-road, its on-road prowess is truly impressive. Even our $50,020 ($43,995 base) Pure Premium four-door, sans Advance Dynamics, delivered not only comparable handling numbers but also a highly rewarding behind-the-wheel experience.

Inside, the Evoque treats with a handsome, smartly laid-out cabin. Except for Dynamic trims, which are available in a choice of four stimulating interior colors, the ambiance of the Pure trims is somewhat reserved, as in tasteful but not flashy. As it should be with a rig that starts at $43,995, standard equipment is extensive, including a power tailgate, Bluetooth phone and audio, 380-watt Meridian audio, leather seating, 19-inch wheels, pushbutton start, and six airbags. Among the many options are Xenon headlamps, a five-camera surround-view system, 825-watt Meridian audio, navigation, and 20-inch wheels.

Other than style, there is no reason to buy the two-door over the four-door. It offers poorer visibility and less rear headroom (38.2 inches versus 39.7) and cargo room (19.4 cubic feet versus 20.3 with seats up; 47.6 versus 51.0 with seats down), and it costs $1000 more. But, it's got that style. A dead ringer for the arresting LRX Concept that debuted in Detroit back in 2008, the two-door will make neighbors jealous and valets say, "Don't worry, this will go right up front." Land Rover sees owners of TTs, 3-Series coupes, and the like moving into the Evoque two-door, and we don't have any reason to doubt that prediction -- it combines sexy, coupe styling with a raised seating position and go-anywhere capability. Still, the two-door is expected to account for only about 20 percent of volume, with the four-door slated as the big seller.

Whether two- or four-door, the Evoque is destined to be a big hit for Land Rover. It melds an alluring, sturdy facade and smart, tech-laden interior with a robust, efficient powertrain and a rewarding, all-conquering chassis. Eliciting stares and cheers with the same ease that it dominates mountains and deserts with, the Evoque is indeed a rock star.

2012 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
Base price $43,995; $52,895*
Price as tested $50,020; $57,795*
Vehicle layout Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 2- or 4-door SUV
Engine 2.0L/240-hp/251-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb weight (f/r dist) 3945 lb (58/42%); 3915 (59/41%)*
Wheelbase 104.8 in
Length x width x height 171.5-171.9 x 77.4 x 63.2-64.4 in
0-60 mph 6.7 sec, 7.0 sec*
Quarter mile 15.1 sec @ 91.8 mph; 15.3 sec @ 91.0 mph*
Braking, 60-0 mph 128 ft; 125 ft*
Lateral acceleration 0.82 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 27.7 sec @ 0.66 g (avg); 27.7 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)*
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 19/28 mpg
CO2 emissions 0.87 lb/mile
*2-door