Creating a successor to a hot-selling vehicle is sometimes a poisoned chalice. Change too little and there’s the risk of not raising the bar enough to keep pace with the opposition. Change too much and there’s the risk of deviating from the sweet spot that made the original a winner in consumers’ eyes.
Land Rover’s designers and engineers were faced with this conundrum in conceiving a follow-up to the compact-sized Range Rover Evoque — the premium off-roader brand’s best-selling vehicle to date, finding almost 800,000 buyers around the globe since its 2011 launch. Clearly, the pressure was on to not botch up the Gen2 model, so Land Rover has hedged its bets with its revamped Evoque, which chief interior designer Alan Shepherd describes as a “very careful and sophisticated evolution of the original design”.
Indeed, if you were to take it at face value, Evoque Mk2 might come across as a facelift rather than an all-new vehicle. But the latter is in fact the case, as underpinning the latest model is an all-new platform (Premium Transverse Architecture) that’s been engineered to accept both plug-in hybrid and full-electric powertrains. The new mixed-material platform is claimed to be both lighter and torsionally stiffer (by 13 per cent) than the old Evoque’s hardware, which is said to benefit both refinement and dynamics.
Shepherd says the Evoque’s existing customers liked the compact dimensions of the original model, so the latest iteration has retained more or less the same footprint on the road. That said, the wheelbase has been pushed out by just over 20mm to liberate more rear-seat space — something the outgoing Evoque was markedly short on.
There’s no three-door variant of the new Evoque, as it accounted for only about three percent of sales in the outgoing vehicle – clearly not enough demand to justify building a replacement for it. Land Rover execs aren’t mourning its demise, but they are a bit wistful about not being able to offer a convertible version of the second-gen Evoque, as it needs the three-door as its basis.
The new Evoque lands here in May and will go up against the likes of the Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3, Volvo XC40 and BMW X2 in the growing premium compact crossover segment. As per the outgoing model, motive power comes from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo motor, with the base (P200) variant pushing out 197bhp/340Nm and the up-spec (P250) version eking out 245bhp/365Nm. A 296bhp/400Nm range-topper (P300) will join the line-up later.
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Pricing will start at Dh173,775 for the P200, and Dh192,150 for the P250, which means the Evoque commands a healthy premium over the opposition (barring the BMW X2), although Land Rover execs say this is because it comes as standard with more generous equipment levels than its German rivals.
You’d need to stand the new Evoque next to the old one to glean how much has changed on the outside (only the door hinges have been carried through from the oldie). The design language might be heavily evolutionary, but there’s not a single panel or detail that’s remained the same. The second-gen Evoque now has more in common visually with the larger Velar as there’s a minimalism to its styling, with very few lines defining each surface. As per its big brother, the new flush door handles add to the sense of visual purity.
To my eye, the old Evoque was a striking looking vehicle, but I couldn’t help feeling as though an elephant had sat on it when viewed from the rear — it had a slightly squashed look about it. That’s less so now, even though the Gen2 Evoque has a similarly tapered roofline. A substantially redesigned rear end with slimline taillights connected by a blacked-out centre strip creates the impression of more visual width than before and, as a result, the new Evoque has a beefier stance on the road. Shepherd describes the old vehicle’s derriere as “a bit chaotic”, but this time around the execution is much cleaner.
Enough about the styling, let’s cut to the nitty-gritty. Our first taste of the vehicle takes place across a variety of roads and off-road tracks at the international launch in Greece. We’ve been assigned a P250 R Dynamic, equipped with 21-inch rims. Our car is white, but personally I feel the Evoque looks better in darker hues.
The cabin layout carries over the minimalistic design approach of the exterior, with the dash and centre console comprising mainly flat rectangular surfaces. The front seats are superbly comfortable and, as alluded to earlier, even the rear seats now offer enough knee- and headroom, which certainly wasn’t the case in the outgoing model. There’s also a lot more oddment space for mobile phones, loose change, water bottles and other paraphernalia.
There’s now a discernibly more premium feel to the Evoque’s innards, even though there’s no shortage of hard plastic used in the centre console, inner door panels and elsewhere — the key is in the deft design execution. However, one slight annoyance is the glare off the chrome trim on the centre console that can leave you dazzled if the sun is at the wrong angle.
The new Evoque features JLR’s Touch Pro Duo infotainment system that consists of two screens: one 10-inch unit for infotainment is integrated into the dashboard and supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while the second unit housed lower down is for the climate control, ventilated seats and terrain management system. The Evoque is equipped with cameras in the front grille and on the door mirrors to project a feed onto the central touchscreen that shows what’s ahead of and underneath the vehicle with a virtual 180-degree view. Very handy for off-roading in tight, tricky terrain.
But the more interesting novelty is the ‘ClearSight Rear View’ tech, which uses a rearward facing camera mounted in the roof fin to relay an image to the interior rear-view mirror. It takes a little getting used to, but the benefit is that it provides a wide (and crystal-clear) 50-degree view of what’s behind that’s unobstructed by rear-seat headrests, rear windscreen pillars and any large objects that might be stashed in the luggage bay.
The original Evoque was a nimble handler — especially for a 1.6m-plus tall SUV — and that hasn’t changed in the newbie. You can attack winding mountain roads with far more vigour than anticipated. There’s very little trace of body roll and understeer for something this lofty, and you need to be pushing ridiculously hard to prompt any howls of protest from the tyres. Helping in this regard is the fact our allocated vehicle is on 21in rims wrapped in 245/45R21 rubber. Rim sizes for the Evoque range from 17 to 21 inches, but cars bound for our market will be equipped predominantly with larger rims.
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The Evoque’s grin-inducing dynamism is complemented by a 2.0-litre turbo motor that’s decently peppy in the middle and upper ranges of its rev band, but frustratingly impotent at low revs. Flatten the throttle with less than 1,500rpm on board and the result will be… nothing. You need to wait a couple of seconds for revs to rise and the turbo to spool up before the action begins. The nine-speed auto the engine is hooked up to is a smooth-shifting unit, but it’s often slow — or downright reluctant — to bang down a couple of cogs when you want a burst of instant acceleration.
The launch program includes a couple of moderately challenging off-road sections across rutted tracks, with some steep ascents and descents thrown in. The Evoque features a front-biased all-wheel-drive system whereby torque is only sent to the rear when there’s no longer any purchase at the front. However, slotting the Terrain Response into the appropriate mode — be it ‘Mud and Ruts’ or ‘Sand and Gravel’ — ensures torque is distributed optimally and the traction/stability control thresholds tailored accordingly. All you need to do is basically steer the thing once you’ve selected the mode that’s best for the terrain. It’s pretty much a no-brainer.
The takeaway from the off-road loop is that the Evoque is a more legitimate all-terrainer than arguably anything else in this segment, and one feels this needed to be the case given that it wears the green Land Rover oval — synonymous with off-road ability — on its nose and tail.
All in all, there’s not a whole lot to fault in the new Evoque. One could argue it looks too much like its predecessor, especially as the designers had a completely new platform to work with. I, for one, would have liked to see a more dramatic evolution. The other gripe relates to the turbo motor’s lack of low-down poke, which can leave you frustrated at times. Other than this, the second-gen vehicle is a convincing revamp of the original Evoque, serving up more refinement, tech features and much-needed cabin space than before. If only it weren’t so pricey.