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Range Rover’s segment of the Land Rover stable was pretty well established bye their fleet of square — literally — SUVs that provide the basis of the company’s utility vehicles. They always look impressive, and are filled with luxury features, but they still prove surprising with their off-road prowess.
The company startled fans and critics alike when it brought a sleek new model to the auto show circuit as a concept vehicle a few years ago. It was the Evoque, and while it shared the corporate squareness, it also featured a sloped and lowered roofline — completely departing from the corporate look.
The cynics won, claiming there was no way the British stalwarts would ever bring such a vehicle to life, but it came out all right, and sold well worldwide, because it seemed the best of both worlds, a sleek SUV that was still imminently capable off-road.
A few months ago, the company, which is now a partner with Jaguar owned by Tata Motors of India, introduced a new 2020 Evoque. It is one of those good news/bad news stories in the auto industry. The 2020 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque doesn’t look all that much different, although it has a new engine developed by Jaguar as part of the JLR (Jaguar Land Rover) partnership, but it is a solid example of what makes Range Rovers loved by those who buy them.
Jeep has become the darling of off-roaders because they offer no-compromise off-roading excellence in every model, starting at the top, with the Wrangler, which retains its military heritage as a bruising over-achiever in rugged terrain.
Range Rover, on the other hand, has always been an upper-crust vehicle, over-engineered to conquer the toughest off-road challenges, but always with a demeanor that reflects upper-class refinement, from its rock-solid platform, long-travel suspension, potent engines, all the way to its solid and safe body structure, and finely fitted interior amenities, often leather and wood. Even when the company wants to cut a corner, it makes its componentry out of top-tier stuff.
So I was enthused to get my hands on a 2020 Evoque, which is officially: “The 2020 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque 250 SE.” Try to remember all of that. Or not. Just climb aboard and enjoy the drive.
Handling is taut and precise, and the seats, dashboard, doors, rear seats — everything — is pleasant to touch or to use.
The Evoque still wears that tilted roof well, and it has always reminded me of Humphrey Bogart in the promotion posters for Casablanca, where he has a proud expression, and his hat at a jaunty angle.
The price, of course, is steep because of all the luxury fittings. The SE model starts at $47,200, but once you load it up with the contemporary technology — lane-departure warning, back up camera, adaptive cruise control, brake assist, and so forth — you run the tag up to about $57,000.
The first thing cynics say is that there are a lot of really impressive SUVs in that price range, but those are people who have never spent much time with a Range Rover. The amazingly large number of off-road vehicles that look fantastic and are filled with gadgetry feature a whole bunch of SUVs that would rather stay at the shopping center or on the freeway than venture off road.
My connection with Range Rover comes from being the fortunate recipient of several trips to first-drive introductions of various models. Most notably, I got to go to Iceland and drive a new Discovery all around the country in January and wind up in the naturally heated mineral pool just outside of Reykjavik. On another trip we went to Montreal to do some winter driving on frozen lakes, and the weather responded with properly chilling weather, making it the first time I had ever climbed aboard an actual airliner and been told we had to climb back off — because the cold weather was so cold the jet engines wouldn’t start.
Another off-road tour with Range Rover featured a chance to drive on the actual off-road test course Land Rover engineers had carved into property they build in the Canadian wilderness.
Perhaps the best challenge, though, was when we drove up to the top of the Rocky Mountains and then ventured along the continental divide, journeying up and down the mountainside at something slower than crawl speed. And then back down. Unbelievable experience.
This time, no such fancy introduction trappings. I got a 2020 Evoque SE250 in gleaming metallic white, and drove it in and around the hillsides of Duluth, Minnesota, and up and down the North Shore of Lake Superior — my usual haunts, but impressive terrain nonetheless.
One of the criticisms of the new Evoque has been that the base engine is nothing to inspirational. It is a 2.,0-liter, dual overhead camshaft, direct injected and turbocharged “Ingenium” 4-cylinder, turning out 246 horsepower and 269 foot-pounds of torque.
On paper, that won’t snap any heads back. But the Evoque equipped in this manner had plenty of acceleration punch and can provide 0-60 times at about 6 seconds, and still deliver near 30 miles per gallon.
If you just want to take off and drag-race your neighbor, the Evoque SE250 will do a satisfactory job. If you are more interested in making a trip to the country club party, you will be greeted with admiring eyes and comments upon your arrival. And if you’re not, show them the interior.
The key point to remember is that the Evoque also lives up to the Range Rover heritage of turning off the road and being even more impressive off the road than on. I used to say that Range Rovers are the vehicles you’d choose if you had to drive from home to Hudson Bay, without using any roads.
And the Evoque will do it too. Range Rover, or Land Rover, make a number of larger SUVs that can seat more people, in more comfort, including the new Velar that only recently was l brought out anew.
But the Evoque is the sporty coupe of the entire Range Rover line. My guess is buyers will be those who want to live up to the more recent reputation of Range Rovers, which is to be off-road capable, but satisfy the desire of its owners to look tough and aggressive, but spend all that engineering and classiness as a safe and solid sporty model that combines the best of both worlds.
You could almost say the Evoque evokes an entirely new image for Range Rover.