Remember the Murano? That was a decent family hauler, but then came the Cross Cabriolet. Billed as the world’s first all-wheel drive convertible SUV, it was supposed to be as good off-road as it was cruising along the boulevard. When Nissan revealed the concept back in 2010, nobody actually believed that it would be put into production. It looked like an ironing board on wheels but this was no April Fool’s joke — someone in the upper echelons of power thought it was a very good idea and, yep, it entered production. It wasn’t long before Nissan was wishing it hadn’t. SUVs are supposed to be practical, tough, able to carry lots of people and haul a lot of stuff — and a drop-top should be fun to drive. The Cross Cabriolet was none of these things. What it was, however, was a sales disaster of epic proportions. You’d have more chance of seeing the E-Type — three times — before you saw one of these on the road.
It seemed obvious that a convertible SUV was a hopeless idea...

It wasn’t the only one — there have been other awful models such as the X-90 of the mid-Nineties. The two-door Targa ute had 95 horsepower, looked absolutely dreadful (especially when viewed from the back) but fortunately was only built for a few years before Suzuki discontinued it, and it was never heard of again. Until just now. My apologies. At least the VX-O2 remained just a concept but it hasn’t been only Japan that has sinned against the automotive industry — America has been sent to the naughty corner, too, for the SuperSport Roadster, a model that was built by Chevy at a time when General Motors thought the world of the Aztek. It crossed more segments than you could ever imagine; the SSR was a hardtop convertible pick-up truck with retro styling and built on the same platform as the Trailblazer. And, yep, it was terrible. By now, you’d have thought carmakers would want to stay as far away from making another convertible SUV as they possibly could, but our next stop on this little world tour takes us to Britain because Land Rover thinks otherwise. It’s given us an Evoque Convertible. Has Range Rover lost its head? Literally, that’d be a ‘yes’. But metaphorically?

This one, remember, is built by the same company that’s given us so many open-top Defenders for decades, and thanks to a lot of trial and error over the years, the Evoque Convertible is unlike any of the aforementioned, that’s for sure. But it isn’t without its issues.

The most popular and strongest-selling segment in the automotive industry at the moment — and for the foreseeable future — is the SUV. In fact, many have been predicting that the end is nigh for the saloon. Once the aspiration for many buyers, it could go down the same route as the manual transmission due to the sheer demand for tall family haulers. People sure do enjoy sitting up high in a commanding position it would appear. The numbers certainly seem to point that way as buyers continue to opt for trendy SUV/CUVs over the traditional four-door car. They’re just more practical, or so the marketing spiel will have you believe, but aside from countless models to select from, all you really have is one body style — a closed roof. But the SUV craze has taken a new twist thanks to this latest Evoque.

They’re calling this one “the world’s first premium SUV convertible” (hmm, where have we heard that before?) and although there seemed to be an absence of any demand for such a vehicle, it’s here — and it most certainly is eye-catching. The Evoque, revealed in 2011, stood out back then for its concept car looks, but has since been joined by the Macan, X4 and NX. If truth be told, it’s now beginning to show its age a little so if taken as just a bid to refresh it, the Convertible knocks it out of the park. It looks far better than the hard-top and has a heck of a party trick — but even with the roof up, it’s elegant.

A push of a button and 18 seconds later, once the lightweight fabric roof has stowed neatly in the back, it’s downright ravishing. I’m not the only one to think so; I’m cruising around Mamzar and the amount of attention it is getting borders on the ridiculous. People are gawking and pointing as if it’s a 488 Spider; I’ve driven one and have to say that the Evoque Convertible is turning more heads. No, I didn’t think it was possible either — and if you thought they’re staring because it looks, well, bizarre (for all intents and purposes, it should...) I’d hazard a guess that only a handful feel this way. The vast majority are bowled over by the bold design and I’m up to 10 before I decide to stop counting the thumbs-up it is getting — and that is just in the space of a few minutes. Triple digits will be appearing soon. One curious chap — in a white Viper no less — feels the need to lower his window and enquire who I’ve had my Rangey modified by. I chuckle and tell him he can go to the dealership and buy one and the way he shoots off from the lights has me suspecting he’s heading directly to the nearest one to put his deposit down. It’s the sort of knee-jerk reaction I envisage this Evoque will evoke from people, one which used to be solely reserved for the Ferraris, McLarens and Lamborghinis of this world. You don’t need any of those — and you don’t need this — but heck, you want one.

You’d have thought carmakers would want to stay as far away from making another convertible SUV as they possibly could, but our next stop on this little world tour takes us to Britain because Land Rover thinks otherwise.

The original Evoque was never intended to be a convertible, but its distinctive shape allows for the new style and it doesn’t look forced unlike the Murano et al. This is the fifth member of the Range Rover family and it combines all of the traditional luxury you’d expect from the brand — but it falls a little short in the engineering department to meet Land Rover’s standards. For instance, there’s some scuttle shake (it isn’t so bad that you think the windshield might be about to land on your lap) if you’re overly aggressive with your steering inputs. Also, due to the lack of a fixed roof, this one is carrying extra bracing and, as a result, a lot more timber in a bid to bolster the chassis. How much more? Almost 280kg over the hardtop, meaning it tips the scales at an alarming 1,967kg. That is very hefty and it isn’t able to hide the fat; it isn’t nimble — albeit being blessed with all-wheel drive — and you can feel the weight it’s lumbered with in the corners and even in the straights. Put your foot down and the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-pot, which is mated to a nine-speed automatic has to muster up all of its 240bhp to get the Convertible going. It may take 8.6 seconds to get it to 100kph from rest — but what’s the rush? This is a model that you want to be seen in, and the real way to go is slow because unfortunately, the extra kilos have a negative effect on the way it handles.

Tackle a corner in a hurry and it understeers and displays a bit of body roll and you soon realise a far more relaxed approach pays dividends. Cruising at 60kph allows far more people to see you, and the car, and they should be given every chance to appreciate the new aesthetics. The fabric roof retains the design of the original hardtop model but when you push that button on the centre console, the Convertible can hit you for six. The Z-fold mechanism — which can be operated at speed of 50kph — sits flush with the rear bodywork and the overall look is of a sleek, if a little taller, boulevard cruiser — however, with the top up, its acoustic insulation struggles to keep road and wind noise from entering the lavish cabin. It’s bad enough to make you double- and triple-check if the windows are fully closed.

Boot space is at a premium now, too, and you only have 251 litres — most of which is taken up by the spare wheel — and you have what’s best described as a letter box to post luggage through. There’s nothing else to really moan about, but the chic cabrio has plenty else to compliment. For instance, it packs an all-new, high-resolution 10.2in touchscreen with Jaguar Land Rover’s next-generation infotainment system, InControl Touch Pro. It has a fabulous sat-nav, allows you to pair your smartphone seamlessly and it is very intuitive to use — in fact, this new software alone helps take years off the cabin, which has a luxurious ambience about it and which still easily accommodates four tall adults. There is ample headroom at the back when the roof is closed (immeasurable when it’s open...) even though this was never designed with practicality in mind.

On the safety front, it packs a Roll-Over Protection Device with roll-over bars hidden in the rear bodywork; Land Rover says they deploy within 90 milliseconds in the unlikely event of a roll-over) and even if you’re left wanting a little with its on-road performance, take it off the beaten track and it comes into its own, what with its all-terrain capability — and as an added bonus you can enjoy 360-degree views, but a word of warning; dune bashing with the top down isn’t the smartest idea, I’m sure you can guess why. Its all-wheel-drive traction and advanced technologies such as Terrain Response system, Wade Sensing and All-Terrain Progress Control helps it to claw its way through sand and other loose surfaces with ease, making this a convertible for all seasons, and all terrains too.

It may be slightly disappointing on the road when you fancy a bit of spirited, driving although it makes up for that when you venture on to trickier surfaces. But the fact we have a convertible SUV that looks as attractive as this means the potential is there for it to succeed.

It commands attention like an Italian exotic and since no other carmaker has a model to rival it, it’s a class leader. That’s by default for now, however, with the way trends are going and the eventual demise of the saloon to come, it might not be too long before we see others enter this, for now, niche segment. So, has Range Rover lost its head? In more ways than one, but I have a feeling this model will do well for JLR in markets such as the US, Asia and right here. It might not be to everyone’s liking, but a little bit of variety doesn’t hurt.