Range Rover Evoque; electric Rolls-Royce Phantom; Audi Q3; BMW 320d Efficient Dynamics
22 December 2011

We started the month with drives in two key cars – one destined for imminent sale, the other heading for the ‘great in theory’ pile of cast-off concept cars.

The car with an assured future was the Evoque, Land Rover’s most eagerly awaited all-new car since the original Range Rover 41 years ago. Although we have now covered thousands of miles in dozens of Evoques, back then we had a dozen miles in one to form our first opinion. We concluded: “All signs are that Land Rover has created a brand new kind of driver’s car.”

These are not words we’d be likely to level at the electric Rolls-Royce Phantom, but as an insight into just how well an ultra-luxury car is suited to mains power it was instructive. “Your first instinct is that the Phantom’s V12 motor is rendered instantly redundant” sums up our incredulity at its smoothness, silence and torque delivery. A shame, then, that the 20-hour recharge time from a standard electricity source will ensure its potential remains unrealised.

If you want some indication as to how fast this industry moves, consider this: the very week after our drive in the Range Rover Evoque confirmed it to be pioneering a new class of car, the first of its true rivals hove into view. The Golf-based Audi Q3 has its Solihull-based rival firmly in its sights and has the looks, image and quality to cause the Evoque a major headache right around the world.

But nothing like as big as that inflicted on the Lexus CT200h hybrid by BMW’s ever-excellent 320d Efficient Dynamics. Despite impressive fuel consumption, compared with an optimally configured diesel rival, even the best petrol-electric hybrid appears to lack enough good answers to enough of the really important questions to make a truly convincing alternative.

Still, if it’s an alternative to the mainstream norm you’re looking for (albeit at a somewhat different price point), the Noble M600 continues to provide it. Back in the spring we pitched it against the Porsche 911 Turbo, and even a rival of such outstanding all-round abilities failed to daunt the brave new British contender, which walked away from the contest bloodied but ultimately victorious.

Another Anglo-German confrontation came when BMW’s new 6-series convertible was pitched against a raft of opponents, including a Mercedes-Benz SL and a Maserati GranCabrio. All had merits, but when talent was totted up across the board, it was an ageing Briton in the form of the Jaguar XK 5.0 convertible that still possessed enough chutzpah and raw ability to sneak home the winner.

And as if that wasn’t enough good news for Jaguar in a single month, the very next week it was the all new Audi A6 in 3.0 TDI guise, as well as more familiar competitors from Mercedes and BMW, that faced up to the diesel XF S and, once more, the spoils ended up on this side of the Channel.

But it was a German that made sure our month ended on a positive note, when BMW proved with its 1-series M Coupé that it hadn’t forgotten how to build a great driver’s car after all.

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