Range Rover Evoque review - subtle progress for trend-setter

To some hardcore Land Rover enthusiasts it’s a trinket aimed at metropolitan types rather than “proper” Range Rover owners. But to newcomers to the brand it’s a more accessible, more fashionable, more desirable model than the utilitarian mud-pluggers of old.

And it’s that latter segment who have made the Evoque a resounding success for Gaydon since it first appeared.

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Having done sterling service for the brand since 2011, the trend-setting first-generation Evoque was recently retired and replaced with an all-new car.

It’s not immediately obvious that this is a ground-up new car. The exterior designers have clearly looked at the old car, decided that everyone liked it and thought “let’s do that again”. The shape is instantly recognisable as an Evoque with its pinched headlights, angled beltline and coupe-like roof. But there are changes. Perhaps the most obvious are the pop-out door handles, a la Velar. Also new are those squinty headlights - all LED this time - new front air intakes, slimmer tail lights and a more sculpted tailgate. Still, it’s hardly a revolution, so if you liked the old one you’ll like this. And if you didn’t, it won’t change your mind.

The interior changes are more immediately apparent, although they’re also designed to enhance what was there rather than rip it up and start again. The rotary gear selector has been replaced with a Jaguar F-Type-style pistol grip, altering the whole central console. Also immediately evident is a new touchscreen setup. In basic cars this is a single 10-inch screen that tilts out to meet the driver but in our test car it included the Touch Pro Duo first seen in the Velar. Here, the upper screen handles the major media, communication and navigation elements while the large lower screen controls heating and ventilation functions plus the Evoque’s off-road settings. While it’s mostly touchscreen, two big dials allow for quick adjustment of things like temperature and work well as a compromise between old-fashioned physical controls and the buttonless future some manufacturers are embracing too quickly.

Like its predecessor, the new Evoque has a chunky, cosseting vibe that seems to wrap around its occupants. The seats are broad and deep, the controls solid and even the way the dashboard pinches in around the dials gives an air of envelopment. Front passengers will be instantly comfortable but, even for the class, rear space is tight and visibility restricted by the chunky pillars.

The new Evoque uses the current range of Ingenium petrol and diesel engines, ranging from a 148bhp diesel to a 238bhp turbo petrol, and a new plug-in hybrid has just launched. Our test car was the middle ground - a 178bhp, 317lb/ft four-cylinder diesel. On the road that massive well of torque is instantly apparent, offering plenty of shove through the eight-speed transmission. Push it hard and it gets a bit gruff but once you’re at a cruise the diesel rattle all but vanishes.

Unfortunately, the ride isn’t so serene. Possibly in part due to our car’s 20-inch alloys, progress is harsh over broken road surfaces, intruding into the cabin more than you’d expect from a premium car. Yet at the same time, the Evoque lacks body control, wallowing over big undulations and leaning noticeably in corners. Obviously, this is an SUV not a sports car but rivals remain more composed.

By and large, though, those rivals won’t offer the Evoque’s off-road abilities. As usual, Range Rover has equipped the Evoque to be capable far beyond anything most users will ask, with class-leading approach and departure angles, plus its advanced Terrain Response off-road system to adapt to any conditions.

The entry level Evoque S starts at £39,000 and our car had a modest £2,000 worth of options. Frankly, I’d save £1,280 and do without the 20-inch alloys but the £315 ClearSight mirror is a must. Using a roof-mounted camera, at the flick of switch this turns the rear view mirror into a display screen, giving a clear view behind even when you’ve got three rear passengers or are towing a trailer. Even in day-to-day use it provides a wider angle view and is sharp enough to safely rely on.

Aside from that, equipment is largely what you’d expect from a small premium SUV. Heated 10-way adjustable seats, dual-zone climate control and leather upholstery are standard (replaced here by eco-friendly fabric), as is internet connectivity, smartphone mirroring, navigation and safety features including cruise control, autonomous emergency braking and lane keep assist.

Normally when testing a car for a short time I can forgive the odd minor niggle. They tend to be early production cars and most have already been abused by cack-handed colleagues who can break things in ways designers couldn’t imagine. But this particular car threw up so many issues I can’t ignore them. A misaligned cover meant one door handle wouldn’t sit flush, while another jammed open every time it was used. Beyond that a heated seat that wouldn’t switch off and several false alarms from a seatbelt warning proved minor but repeated irritations. These may be one-off issues unique to this car but Range Rover doesn’t have the best record for reliability so it’s worth bearing in mind when considering the Evoque.

If we give the Evoque the benefit of the doubt and assume these are one-off issues then it remains a solid player in the class it helped invent. Volvo’s XC40 has rightly won plaudits for its sharp styling and good handling, and the usual suspects from Germany also offering credible alternatives. Among them the Range Rover offers comfort and composure along with unbeatable off-road pedigree.

Range Rover Evoque S

Price: £39,000 (£40,995 as tested)

Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, diesel

Power: 178bhp

Torque: 317lb/ft

Transmission: Nine-speed automatic

Top speed: 127mph

0-60mph: 8.8 seconds

Economy: 38.4-41.3mpg

CO2 emissions: 150g/km (NEDC corr)

This article first appeared on The Scotsman