Boldly forsaking a history of boxy, gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles, England's Land Rover now sells a compact SUV that's so stylish former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham is consulting on a special edition model.
The new-for-2012 Range Rover Evoque with standard all-wheel drive Terrain Response System also is impressively capable off-road and recently snagged the 2012 Motor Trend Sport/Utility of the Year award against competitors that included the 2012 BMW X3 and 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUVs.
Best of all, the Evoque, which in the United States comes only with a turbocharged, 240-horsepower, four-cylinder, gasoline engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, is the most fuel-efficient Land Rover vehicle ever. Its federal government fuel economy rating is 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway.
Intriguingly, the Evoque is offered in two body styles. One has two side doors besides the rear liftgate and standard two separate back seats for a total passenger capacity of four. It's called the coupe. A bench rear seat is a no-cost option that provides seating for five. The other, four-door Evoque with easier access to a usual bench rear seat is expected to be the top seller in the United States
All Evoques come generously stocked with standard leather-covered seats, navigation system, rearview camera with towing guidance, panoramic roof and sound system with at least 380 watts of power.
So price is not cheap. With a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $43,995 for the four-door, the Evoque is $7,445 more than the 2011 LR2 SUV that it replaces in the Land Rover lineup. The two-door Evoque Coupe starts higher, at $44,995.
The 2012 BMW X3 has a starting retail price of $39,025 for an xDrive28i model with 240-horsepower, inline, gasoline six cylinder, eight-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive and leatherette upholstery. Adding leather seat covering, panoramic roof, rearview camera and navigation system pushes the X3 price to more than $45,600, according to the BMW consumer website.
And the 2012 Mercedes ML350 with 302-horsepower V-6 and seven-speed automatic has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $49,865.
The test Evoque Prestige model attracted people of all ages. The look, with a roof that seems squashed down onto a vehicle riding on 19-inch tires, is urban and distinctive. Everyone agreed the 14.3-foot-long Evoque was a worthy alternative to a luxury sedan as well as luxury SUVs whose styling is traditional and well worn.
The Evoque's interior is handsome and crafted with soft-touch materials _ even the sun visors had a rich, "cushy" feel. In the tester, stitching on seats and dashboard was perfectly aligned and all body gaps outside were consistent for excellent fit and finish. Faux jeweled crystals in the speedometer, right where the speed needle extends to the speed numbers, add an unexpected touch of glamour.
Another touch: A graphic of the Evoque projected onto the ground in darkness from the puddle lights on the front doors.
After a short-stature driver adjusts the driver's seat upward, the Evoque's dashboard doesn't seem high up and blockish as dashboards are in competitor SUVs.
Passengers could not guess accurately the size of the Evoque's engine. The direct-injection, turbocharged four cylinder is from Ford and is used in Ford's 2012 Explorer SUV.
In the Evoque, this engine is covered completely by black plastic covering under the hood and it performs like a lively six cylinder. Indeed, the test Evoque was difficult to drive smoothly because tip-in on the accelerator was touchy and acceleration came quickly.
Peak torque is reported at 250 foot-pounds and comes full on by 1,750 rpm in this less than 4,000-pound vehicle. Estimated 0-to-60 mph time is about 7 seconds, but it seemed faster than that in the test drive as I easily beat everyone away from stoplights. In comparison, the 0-to-60 time for the 2012 ML350 with 273 foot-pounds of torque coming at 3,500 rpm, is 7.3 seconds. The base ML350 weighs 850 pounds more than the base Evoque.
There was little indication of turbo lag during the Evoque test drive. Rather, there was always a steady, smooth power delivery through the automatic transmission.
Paddle shifters are provided on the steering column, but the automatic in the tester moved through the gears pleasingly on its own.
Fuel mileage averaged 18.4 mpg in combined city/highway driving, which put full-tank range at 340 miles. Premium gasoline provides peak turbo performance. The 2012 X3 xDrive28i is rated by the federal government at 19/25 mpg, and the 2012 ML350 has a 17/22-mpg rating. Both competitors use premium gasoline, but the Mercedes M-Class also is offered with a diesel engine that improves fuel mileage to 18/23 mpg.
Evoque's passengers felt and heard some road bumps through the big tires, but they were not harsh.
Body motions were well controlled. The Evoque took sweeping curves confidently and maneuvered nimbly in tight spaces. It also braked capably in an emergency maneuver.
There was little wind noise around this sleek vehicle, and the electric power steering was nicely responsive.
Front seats felt good on long drives. Rear-seat legroom of 35.7 inches is less than what's in the larger-sized ML350.
The Evoque's maximum cargo room is 51 cubic feet, with rear seats folded. But the ML350 has 71 cubic feet of cargo room.
Note that the shifter is a knob that recesses into the center console every time the car is turned off. Drivers must wait for it to resurface after the car is started before the vehicle can be shifted from "Park."