Beneath the revolutionary skin, the Range Rover Evoque is a rather more evolutionary tale. Because it rolls down the same Merseyside production line as the Freelander, the two cars’ architectures are inextricably linked.
The Evoque’s engineering is its own, true, but without the Freelander links, which extend to about 30 per cent of the architecture, there’d be no Evoque.
The Range Rover is up to 100kg lighter than the Freelander, though, partly because it is much shorter (at 4355mm it’s shorter than a Volkswagen Golf) and partly because of more extensive use of aluminium, both in its body panels and suspension, and plastics in the body.
That’s part of a drive for greater efficiency, as is the Range Rover Evoque’s electric power steering system, which is fixed to the front subframe, rather than the body, to improve steering feel.
The 2.2-litre diesel is the same as in the Freelander, and in a raft of Ford, Peugeot and Citroën models, and in 187bhp SD4 output it’s 4WD only. Thumb the starter to fire the diesel and chances are that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the relative absence of clatter at idle. For initial refinement, it feels to us on a par with this engine’s application in Jaguar’s XF or, in fact, anywhere else that derivatives of this unit have been used to date.
To haul 1815kg, as tested, the Evoque’s 187bhp is on the modest side. At our test track, that power and 310lb ft of torque propelled the Evoque to 60mph in 8.5sec and dispatched 30-70mph in 9.5sec. The claimed maximum is 121mph. These are not poor figures and people do not usually come to SUVs expecting to find they go fast. Most Evoque buyers, however, will not have come to an SUV before and might be a mite surprised by how moderately their monetary outlay performs compared with the estate or coupé they had before it.
The Evoque features Land Rover’s Terrain Response system, which affects not only how the hardware and stability software reacts to different road surfaces, but also how much accelerator movement you need to make progress. Left in either ‘no program selected’ or Dynamic, both intended for road driving, the response is clean and smooth. There’s a little creep from rest, step-off is clean and the six-speed auto feels like it begins to lock up early to give positive shifts.
Smooth progress is easy to make, with the ’box shifting mostly intelligently. It returns its best economy in its Drive programme, so sometimes it is a little flustered if you ask for slightly more power than it was expecting, making for a reluctant downchange. Select Sport and things improve, but if, say, you’re cruising between roundabouts but want a kick in the back on the way out, neither is quite the ideal compromise.
There are shift paddles on the steering wheel if you want to make the decision yourself – something we found ourselves doing a touch more often than we’d expected.
A 148bhp eD4 variant is available with either two- or four-wheel drive. Thanks in part to the 75kg weight saving from the deletion of the four-wheel drive gubbins, the two-wheel drive Evoque will emit as little as 129g/km and return as much as 57.6mpg.
The other available engine is a 237bhp 2.0-litre turbo petrol, mated to 4WD and an automatic gearbox only. This engine dramatically alters the Evoque's character, playing to the strengths of taut, agile handling overlaid on proper off-road ability. It takes just a few hundred yards to sense this fastest Evoque's eager pace and the crisp revvability of its engine.
For 2014 model year cars, the six-speed automatic gearbox has been replaced with a nine-speed variant developed in conjunction with transmission specialist ZF.
Instead of the ’box having two overdriven gears, as the six-speeder does, four gears are now overdriven towards the top end, and the upper ratios stretch much further than sixth did. At the bottom end, first is even lower than before, too.
The main benefits, then, are improved drivability at the bottom when towing or off-roading, and at the top it gives a lazier, quieter and more economical cruise.
It’s like a six-speed Evoque and, if you’re cruising around and letting the car do its own thing, you’d not know a great deal of difference between the six-speed and the new nines-speed, because the Evoque auto is fairly painless at low speeds anyway.
Ask a bit more of it, and make the decisions yourself and you might notice a bit more of a difference betwixt current car and new, largely because there is less gap between the gear ratios.
In auto modes, it’s more inclined to hold a gear mid-corner so you can accelerate away more easily. None of this makes any difference to the cabin controls, which remain unchanged.