A front-wheel drive Range Rover might make sense in every sense but sense itself. In Darwinian terms it’s like the bird that drifted off on a plate-tectonic conveyor into the blue yonder, lived a life in which flying was no longer necessary and in the end forgot how. Perfect, if surprising adaptation. Range Rover’s evolution took less time, but why?
In 1946 Willy’s put a ‘station wagon’ body on an agricultural 4×4 chassis and in doing so invented the Sport Utility Vehicle. Rugged, go anywhere, spacious: in the wide-open, fuel-rich USA the SUV was a winner. Heavy, thirsty, wallowy: they were a slower burn in Europe – where roads are twisty and fuel pricey – well beyond the birth in 1970 of the original Range Rover. I can’t remember many of those being driven by people who weren’t real farmers, probably because if you didn’t have to spend half your time in a field, or towing a horse-box, the time you spent doing neither of those things was compromised.
But then something happened: a daredevil in black leather careening down an Alpine road on a luge and a brand new BMW X5 driving over the top of him. The fanfare advert suggested and the car delivered handling and ground-clearance! Urban rumour had it BMW had bought Land Rover just so they could copy the drive-train, but if BMW did march off with the box of tricks that became the X-family, Land Rover took a trick or two away with them too. Slick styling to rival the German opposition and sporty on-road manners: all without losing sight of their mud-plugging genus.
But strangely, while the suave Evoque is the least off-roady of the range – much more David Beckham than William Fox-Pitt – it’s the one that has been selling like hot-cakes: 50,000 cars in Europe in 2015, as many as its bigger brothers combined. And the model at the Top of the Pops in this medium-sized SUV sector – Volvo’s XC60 – is even more of a carpet-slipper machine. The greenest lanes most of these cars see are in Kew.
Knowing as much, Volvo first took the plunge of building the flightless bird with legs more suited to its usual terrain. With 2WD came economy and with that came SALES. It is this model’s CO2 emissions of 117 g/km that has been driving their lead.
Now with its new 2016 2WD Evoque, Range Rover has Top-Trumped the pack with an ‘Ingenium’ TD4 engine, and apple-from-the-teacher stats of 109 g/km CO2, 150 bhp and a claimed 68 mpg. Which might be of muted interest to the Country Life reader if Range Rover – in chasing the school-run and company-car market – had totally emasculated the car’s muddy abilities. But this is the version I drove for a week, including a journey from Norfolk to Eastnor where I took the machine for a thorough mud-bath across Land Rover’s proving ground. I can report it will go more or less anywhere all but the most hardened rural enthusiast could possibly want to take it. And across the spaces in between, 2WD frugality will give you more to spend on cartridges. Or hay.
A quick skim then, across what it’s like to live with. I loved the interior, especially the seats. The one thing you are always doing in a car is sitting down in it – assuming what you are doing is legal or decent – and the armchair in the Evoque is perfect. Soft enough to feel luxurious, not so soft as to feel wallowy. Infinitely adjustable too. The next thing I need to say is that when I put the car into reverse at night I thought someone (else) had finally repaired the motion-sensing security light at the back of my house. The reversing light is AMAZING. There’s stadium lighting at the front as well. This new LED adaptive headlamps could light up a polo field. Great for lamping rabbits too, even if the urbane styling suggests that rabbit lampers are not quite the market.
I didn’t get to the 68mpg claim, but I did get 45mpg through traffic thick and thin, and over 50 mpg on a long run, which isn’t half-bad for a car of this size. This wasn’t at much expense of oomph either. Between 2,500 and 4000 even this, the least pokey Evoque, lifts its metro-sexual skirts. Handling is good. I did, for the sake of journalistic integrity, enter a few empty roundabouts with ‘enthusiasm’ and the tight suspension kept the whole thing in check, even if the ride is a bit too choppy to fall in love with. Service intervals are massive. An array of electric safety features help prevent you from crashing if you fall asleep, close your eyes, or tailgate your way into a traffic jam.
Most insightfully, my daughter, collected from school and asked what she thought, offered the following wisdom: “It’s a car. It’s red. … Is that touch-screen? That’s cool.”
Model tested: Range Rover Evoque eD4 SE Tech
Annual road fund licence: £30
Fuel consumption (claimed): Urban 56.6 Combined 65.7.
Service intervals: 22,000 miles
Power: 150 bhp / 380 Nm @1750 rpm
0 – 60: 10.6 secs