What is it?
Evidence, primarily. Evidence of Land Rover’s ascent into the self-belief stratosphere, where no idea is too far out nor any niche too small. Evidence too of its preference for blue-sky imagineering; of packaging an answer before the question even occurred to its European rivals. Evidence, certainly, of the firm’s Tata-era fearlessness.
Being undaunted by the prospect of failure seems like a fairly important commodity when you’re thinking about separating an SUV from its roof. There have always been open-top off-roaders, of course, (the first ones came equipped with machine guns and wise-cracking GIs) but the Evoque convertible is the first compact luxury model to attempt the trick.
Range Rover Evoque Convertible revealed
Quirky though that might seem, the model has arguably been on the journey since its arrival. The Evoque’s claim to the more robust side of Land Rover’s image has always been fairly tenuous. Yes, there’s a proper 4x4 drivetrain underneath, but the manufacturer clearly wasn’t thinking of green-laners when it announced Victoria Beckham as a design consultant the first time around.
The same niche that might’ve found that spurious piece of information interesting at the time is transparently the one it has in the cross hairs now; and in that sense, the convertible version is merely the pretty-boy Evoque carried to its logical conclusion. An acceptable rationale though does not a great car make, otherwise the Mini Coupe, Roadster, Paceman, Countryman and Clubman would’ve been more deserving of our praise.
There are serious obstacles to overcome here: many in the engineering department, some in marketing. Sensibly, Land Rover has kept the line-up simple. The convertible will sit at the upper end of the Evoque range in HSE Dynamic and HSE Dynamic Lux trim, and be offered only with the TD4 177bhp 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel or the lesser-seen Si4 237bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine. We drove the former in its exceedingly costly £51,700 guise.
What's it like?
Thornily subjective though its appearance might be, it’s worth stating that the car doesn’t look farcical on the road. Certainly it helps if that road is Verbier high street, and the pedestrians are predominately clad in neon jump suits, but the car’s impenitent showiness is kept in check by generally sound styling decisions. The high, prominent shoulder line is ship-deck clean and flat, and the adjoining Webasto roof low and slender. It is quirky, yes, and terminally unsuited to say, a builder’s yard – but the Evoque’s fine bone structure is unquestionably intact.
Broadly speaking, there’s little wrong with the Z-fold fabric roof either. The 18 seconds required for it to go down isn’t fantastically quick (nor the 21 seconds needed for it to come back up again), yet it’ll do it on the move and without unwarranted fuss. It can get a little blustery with it stowed, but the refinement underneath it is impressive. There’s a very faint whistle at very high motorway speeds, but a raised voice is never required, even when speaking to those in the back.
Range Rover Evoque review
Ah yes, the back. Here, from where the B-pillar used to be, the Evoque’s wicket gets stickier. For any buyer equating the model’s physical presence with rear-seat spaciousness, the convertible is likely to be a disappointment. There is room for two adults in the back, although that rating is scuttled by even modestly tall occupants or anyone not up to the inelegant clamber required to get in.
Those that do will find their feet resting on a sloping incline of what must surely be extra bracing running across the floorpan. Even with a 2.4 family of the right scale, the Evoque is no longer able to cope with much clutter. To accommodate the hood above, Land Rover has effectively cut the load space in half, leaving you with the kind of ungenerous two-suitcase aperture you’d find above your head in an Airbus.
If none of that wrinkles your nose (and there are plenty of older, sunbed searching couples for whom it might not) there are other attention-to-detail blind spots to get up it. The plastic covers, for example, which fold down to neatly seal up the body when the roof is stowed, stand redundantly upright next to the rear headrests when it’s pitched. That's almost as functionally untidy as having windows that don’t fully retract into the door or a boot handle (and button) that is no longer far enough away from the hinge to make it a good lever for opening and closing the lid.
Traditionally, Land Rover has managed to sweep this kind of negligible unevenness under the thick, plush carpet of its ride and handling – but even for Gaydon, the undisputed master of managing mass and high-sidedness, the open-top Evoque has plainly proven a difficult compromise. Rigidity, as you might have guessed, is an issue. Not, it must be said, to the extent we’d feared: there is no creak or chronic scuttle shake from the pre-production car, and while the platform’s displaced quiver registers in the jowls and rear-view mirror, it is subdued enough to be forgiven in the long run.
It is the firming up of the suspension that proves less pardonable; presumably it's required to help prevent the convertible from subsiding towards an apex like a cardboard bathtub. The standard Evoque was hardly blessed with an unblemished ride; now, with the springs, dampers and larger anti-roll bars taking up some of the body’s slack, and 20in wheels under the arches, the quality of its secondary control feels like it is forever being vigorously interrogated by the road surface.
None of this, it must be said, is made easier by the other inevitable consequence of the car’s transformation: weight gain. The coupe isn’t a dainty presence at well over 1600kg; tot up the cost of the convertible’s extra buttressing, and with a driver it almost certainly breaches two tonnes, which, for the size of its footprint, is profoundly heavy. Manoeuvring this white dwarf isn’t difficult thanks to the variable-rate speed of the Evoque’s steering and the Ingenium’s 317lb ft of torque, but the negative effects are nonetheless felt across the board: from the smell of the brakes when faced with prolonged descent to the 8mpg Land Rover has had to lop off the combined economy.
In corners, the mechanical grip of the on-demand drivetrain and the suspension’s primary stiffness keep outright inadequacy at bay, yet the coupe’s amenability to cutting a pleasant dash is curtailed by the onerous toil being exerted on the contact patches. Expecting the carefree flightiness of an MX-5 from a product as ample as the Evoque would be unreasonable. Nevertheless, it feels a shame that the convertible very rarely gets to exude the cavalier, go-anywhere Jeep-style vitality of an open-top SUV, especially given that it will still venture off-road with all the usual nonchalance intact.
Should I buy one?
It is that salient feature (only very briefly tested in our hands), which obviously distinguishes the Evoque from other AWD open-top options, although whether or not buyers think it integral to their decision is another matter. As a product, the convertible seems unplugged from such necessities, just as its success probably doesn’t hinge on the comparative absence of either practicality or comfort.
For a brand that considers itself vertically opposed to style over substance, the Evoque feels like Land Rover’s most brazen statement to the contrary. However, while the skin-deep nature of its appeal – made even more shallow by its immodest weight and expense – limit the car’s likeability in our eyes, we’d be reluctant to bet against Gaydon’s assessment of its niche potential. Expect evidence of high customer demand to follow.
Range Rover Evoque Convertible HSE Dynamic Lux
Location France; On sale Spring 2016; Price £51,700; Engine Four-cylinder, 1998cc, turbocharged, diesel; Power 177bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 317lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox Nine-speed automatic; Kerb weight 1967kg; Top speed 121mph; 0-62mph 10.3sec; Economy 49.6mpg; CO2/tax band 149g/km, 27%