Land Rover has been trying to bolster its sales with a small ute for a while. The first, 2002’s Freelander, was slow, unpretty, and—at a base price of less than $26, 000—might have been a bit too cheap to support the cachet of its brand. In Europe, where the brand’s image still is intimately tied to the utilitarian Defender, it worked. Here, where the brand is, like a double-nosed Andean tiger hound, something that matters primarily to the landed gentry, it didn’t. Freelander sales only occasionally surpassed those of anything else in the lineup. In becoming the LR2, Land Rover’s wee one grew more powerful, but it also just plain grew, gaining about 600 pounds in the process. It was quicker but still slow, slightly less unpretty, and with a base sticker almost 10 grand higher than the Freelander’s, inaccessible to more people. Rover’s smallest continued to trade the bottom sales slot with the LR3/LR4.
So Land Rover is rebooting its smallest offering again, this time as the Evoque. It’s more expensive still, now starting at $43, 995. Or , 395 for a Prestige Premium model like that tested here, which has 19-inch wheels, a 17-speaker stereo, navigation, five video cameras for better visibility when off-roading or—more likely—parking, and richer interior trimmings. With the Range Rover Evoque, Land Rover has righted several wrongs but introduced an obnoxious newbie: The name is a vaguely familiar compilation of letters that are supposed to be pronounced exactly like the word they resemble: Evoke. Ever see that bumper sticker, “Welcome to America, now speak English”? That goes for the English, too. If you think us ’Muricans buggered up your language, lead us back to truth and righteousness—starting with spelling.
Call the Police, Someone Stole a Concept Car!
Righteous certainly describes the Evoke’s styling. A dead ringer for the LRX concept, it has a dramatically plunging roofline that seems destined to meet its dramatically rising beltline somewhere just aft of the back glass. The headlights and the grille are aggressively pinched, the wheels are huge, the rockers look as if they’d been hiked up above the knee, and it’s available with just three doors. It looks more like a concept car than anything else that can be had for less than $100, 000, and it’s even more arresting in person than in photos. Walk up to the Evoke in a parking lot, and you can’t help being struck by its appearance.
There’s a sense of juvenile delinquency in the engine room, too. Down two cylinders on its predecessor—as well as most of its competitors—the Evoke levels the playing field somewhat with a turbocharger. Its 2.0-liter four puts out 240 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque, as well as a rousing soundtrack that would be a better fit for a slammed Honda. We like it but can imagine potential customers being turned off. In this class, the Evoke’s 6.9-second 0-to-60-mph run and 15.3-second, 91-mph quarter-mile are midpack.
Few people will have any complaints regarding the feel of the engine. A version of the EcoBoost four that will power the upcoming Ford Focus ST, it’s extremely smooth, with a linear swell in power that doesn’t let up until the six-speed automatic grabs the next gear. BMW, too, is rolling out a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder; the Bavarian engine matches the Rover’s horsepower but betters its torque production by 10 lb-ft. Additionally, when we drove a 528i powered by the four, we noted a drop in power near redline. We noted no such drop in the Rover.