Family dynamics are among the most difficult to comprehend. I just spent time with members of the clan with whom I differ substantially on most of life’s heavy issues, and it got me thinking about the complexities of family and the need to fit in while also establishing a unique identity.
These are admittedly heavy thoughts to start out a car review, but hear me out: I also recently spent time with the new Range Rover Evoque Convertible. For Land Rover traditionalists, it’s perhaps the most bewildering member of the family. Before we jump into the Convertible, let’s take off our “Real Land Rover™” blinders for a moment and reflect on the realities of the Evoque itself.
First off, it was conceived not with rock crawling, mud bogging or trailblazing in mind, but for real-world conditions in more civilized locales. It’s a family car for all conditions, a crossover meant to inspire confidence that you’ll arrive on time and safely no matter what the weather throws at you. In that way it’s not unlike a multitude of other capable crossovers from virtually every other carmaker, European or otherwise.
Second, it’s a Range Rover. In simple terms, it’s the most style-conscious and luxuriously equipped version of all the derivatives with which it shares its hardware; that’s always been the case with Range Rovers. It’s a lifestyle statement more than a proclamation of pragmatism, long a point of contention with those who choose a Land Rover for more practical reasons. We get it.
Finally, as the most compact Range Rover, it’s approachable and easy to drive, particularly in congested environs. Its stubby overall length of 172 inches puts it about halfway between a VW Golf and Jetta, making it easy to park when space is at a premium.
All three of these factors help the Evoque appeal to contemporary buyers who don’t need an overland expedition vehicle, just a fun and stylish “everything car” for all seasons. So how do you further improve the image of a car like this? Go topless, obviously.
The Evoque Convertible was first shown as a thinly veiled concept at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show, no doubt the native environment for such a vehicle. Land Rover’s decision to include a three-door Evoque in the lineup made the transition to a convertible an easier one. No doubt, this was prt of the plan from the beginning, and with every other premium crossover being built exclusively as a five-door, the chances of a competitor easily spinning off a two-door convertible to challenge the Evoque are slim. Given the dubious results of Nissan’s failed effort with the softtop Murano, most firms also likely don’t have the stomach to take such a risk.
The Evoque convertible then finds itself uniquely positioned as a four-seat convertible with true all-road capability, thanks to standard all-wheel drive and respectable off-road chops. Sure, you can get all-wheel drive in a coupe-based convertible like a BMW 4-series or an Audi A5, but they lack the Evoque’s ground clearance and suspension travel should you choose the road-not-recently-traveled to get to a favorite hidden beach access or that remote weekend cabin. Your next best option becomes a Jeep Wrangler, and that’s hardly in the same league for daily use.
To accept the Evoque Convertible is to appreciate it for what it is. In the time we spent with it, we found it to be a great little four-seat convertible, ideal for carefree days in the sun. With summer now in full effect, it seems the ideal method of arrival for a day at the beach. And frankly, everywhere we parked it, people lost their inhibitions at the sight of a Range Rover convertible. The world is clearly not expecting this yet.
More subjectively, the droptop Evoque is deceptively quick and nimble. Its 240-hp turbo four-cylinder makes effortless progress without much prodding, and stoplight getaways could be even quicker if not for the nine-speed automatic transmission’s resistance to starting in first gear without the authority of a heavy right foot. It’s not a light vehicle for its size, weighing in at 5203 pounds, but manages to mask its heft with the help of ample power and a firm chassis.
The 20-inch wheels and performance street tires on our HSE Lux package soak up bumps surprisingly well and deliver a degree of agility not normally associated with Range Rovers. The electric power steering is predictably overassisted, but precision and accuracy moderate any numbness. The brakes are similarly reactive, at times almost grabby, but always effective.
The new InControl Touch Pro touchscreen interface for audio, navigation, ventilation and other functions is a major improvement over past Land Rover touchscreens, providing sharp, clear graphics and none of the lag time between inputs and results. Pairing a Bluetooth device is a snap, with fewer hurdles to streaming your favorite station on the incredibly self-indulgent optional Meridian audio system.
As a convertible, it doesn’t get much easier. Folding the top is a one-button, 21-second delight. Nothing to latch or unlatch, just pull the button located where you might expect to find a handbrake lever and marvel at the swift silence of the top’s operation. You can even do it on the move, up to 30 mph, as we did several times. The whole thing stacks up neatly behind the rear seats without so much as a cover to install. Top-down driving in the Evoque is pure joy, absent of appreciable chassis flex from the stiff unibody and unwanted wind buffeting.
Putting the top back up is equally effortless and deploys three seconds quicker than the retreat. Once in place, the thick insulated roof with its fully finished headliner dampens most of the outside world’s problems, at least if they’re related to sound or temperature. It’s nearly as quiet as a hardtop Evoque, even at speed. A glass rear window means a functioning defroster and never a worry about clouding or yellowing with age.
If there’s a drawback to the top, just check out the available cargo space when stowed: only 8.9 cubic feet of trunk room, enough for a couple of full beach bags, but none left for chairs or an umbrella. The compartment is nicely accessible, thanks to an articulated rear hatch that opens high, but there’s no pass-through from the trunk to the interior.
All four seats are built for adults, despite first appearances. While the rear seat cushions reach forward incredibly close to the front seatbacks, they’re actually quite deep as well, meaning there’s more real legroom in back than some coupe-based convertibles. Too bad there’s not a bit more storage for the rear passengers; a center console or tray between the two rear seats would make that space a little more habitable.
Despite the marketing team’s best effort to connect the Evoque Convertible to the original Series One, it is indeed a very different type of Land Rover . It’s not your granddad’s simple Series II, nor your brother’s versatile Discovery. It’s not even your stately old Range Rover Classic. It’s a fashionable road car, an urbanesque Land Rover designed for the not-so-mean streets of the modern metropolis, preferably within a short drive of a coastline.
Even in its styling, we grasp to find evidence of its Solihull heritage. The Evoque was the first of a new breed of Land Rovers conceived by Gerry McGovern, whose influence, with the recent introduction of the Discovery, now extends across the entire lineup. He claims to possess a solid understanding of the brand’s history and what the brand means to buyers, yet we struggle to find a link to previous Land Rovers in either looks or function in the Evoque.
Back to the beginning — where I was waxing on about family and the difficulty of finding one’s place within it. The Evoque Convertible may seem a bit of a misfit compared to everything that’s come before it, but we should embrace it on its own merit. Whether or not we see the relationship to any past Land Rover, it now bears a strong resemblance to other models that do.
The public sees it as a Range Rover whether or not traditionalists do. We’re not saying you have to love it, but maybe it’s time to accept the new kid as a genuine scion of the marque.