BEFORE I get into trouble for saying this little Range Rover Evoque is Land Rover’s first foray into the open-top market, let me make it clear that I know all about those old Defenders with bits of canvas flapping about the place, a farmer at the wheel and piles of hay falling out of the back. Yet this Evoque is surely the first SUV with a button you press to lower an electrically powered hood. Happily, it doesn’t look half as stupid as it sounds. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s quite the catwalk model.
The standard Evoque is a stylish car; you may recall Victoria Beckham had a hand in designing a limited-edition version. I like the gnarly front bumper, which gives it a square-jawed look that’s a dead ringer for David Coulthard, who’ll never forgive me for comparing him to a bluff-nosed car.
At this point I should admit I’m something of a convertible fan. I own a Fiat 500C Gucci Edition, I’ve had a succession of Honda S2000 roadsters and my dream car is a Dallas-era Mercedes SL.
So I jumped into the Evoque convertible, pressed the button to lower the roof . . . and promptly closed it again. Typical: I’m asked to review a car designed for warm Californian sunshine and the UK is hit by a deluge of rain.
On the way to Silverstone, where I was presenting BT Sport’s coverage of the MotoGP world championship, I had a chance to marvel at the technology in the car — though there’s an obvious omission: Apple CarPlay. This system for synchronising phone and dashboard has to be one of the best gadgets for drivers who want to keep in-car tech as user-friendly as possible.
Admiring glances came thick and fast on the drive north but, let’s be honest, you’d get that with any convertible. What’s novel is the fact you’re sitting high up. Van drivers are at eye level, so there’s no uncomfortable feeling of being peered down on. I think a lot of women will like the secure feeling they get at the wheel of this car.
When there was a break in the weather, I put the hood down. It was unusual to have such an unobstructed view over hedgerows and into people’s gardens. You can lower it on the move too, at speeds up to 30mph, which is handy in a country such as ours with its unpredictable weather. With the wind on your face, you get that feeling of connecting with your surroundings.
“It’s more “boutique” than other cars I’ve owned. But then it should be — have you seen the price?”
That said, the Evoque is more chilled-out cruiser than sporty car, especially with the somewhat lethargic diesel engine. I’d prefer something with more vim. I didn’t have to ring Carol Vorderman to know that when you chop the roof off a vehicle there’s a good chance it will wobble about like jelly on a plate. Land Rover’s engineers have compensated for this by reinforcing the car’s structure in unseen places.
I also didn’t have to call Carol to appreciate that this means the car piles on the pounds. The drop-top Evoque is almost 300kg heavier than the coupé version, and when you brake hard or zip round a roundabout it dives onto its nose or heaves around. I didn’t feel as if it especially wanted me to chuck it around, whereas most convertibles in this price range at least try to be sporty.
The first person I bumped into in the paddock car park was Neil Hodgson, a former British and world superbike champion. “It looks pretty good. Suits you,” he said, before asking: “Is it nippy?” When I told him it was a tad hefty and disappointing in performance, he was nice enough to add: “In that case, it doesn’t suit you.”
There are other problems too. The boot is ridiculously small. After 20 years of flying around the world, reporting on bike racing and Formula One, I like to think I’m a pretty slick packer: I take one roller bag and a laptop case. Yet once these were in the Evoque’s boot, there wasn’t even space for a pair of Jimmy Choos. Also, you can hardly see anything out of the tiny back window, which is why Land Rover has fitted a camera for reversing. Happily, it works.
When the time came to leave Silverstone, I had plenty of time to appreciate the nine-speed automatic gearbox: it took 2½ hours to get off the site. Usually, I prefer my cars to come with a manual unit, because I like hands-on driving, but in this instance the Evoque’s smooth-shifting box did the job nicely.
The traffic jams also meant I was able to take in the cabin properly. There’s a luxurious ambience to the interior: it’s more “boutique” than other cars I’ve owned. But then it should be — have you seen the price? I nearly fell off the (optional) leather-clad seat when I glanced at the spec sheet and saw that, with a few extras, the Evoque cost more than £50,000. That’s a lot of money for a car that is underwhelming to drive.
It does look different, though. In fact it just is different — a little slice of California for British drivers. And I think Land Rover deserves recognition for being bold enough to do things differently