From £31,0308

The second-generation Range Rover Evoque: a car whose length has grown compared with its predecessor by one solitary millimetre. On width, the difference is a relatively profligate four millimetres.

Hardly seems worth mentioning, does it? I expand more than that when breathing out - and, come to think of it, I bet even Victoria Beckham does too. On overall height the car has actually shrunk by eleven millimetres over the past eight years (not sure on the comparison to Posh Spice on that score). Compactness matters to the Evoque driver, says Land Rover. Evidently so.

So how come this seems like a car that’s mushroomed in size, as if it has become at least one fighting weight classification bigger, if not more? That’s what you’ll be asking yourself while you’re taking in and processing the various particulars of the driving experience of what might be the most important new British-built car due to be introduced in 2019. The Evoque is a compact SUV that’s just taken on many of the dynamic traits of a much bigger one.

It’s the result of a telling change of product strategy for Land Rover. Eight years ago this was Gaydon’s catwalk idol. Visual appeal was given such priority for it that there was even a three-door version with a lower, more rakish roofline – which Land Rover, ambitiously but not unreasonably, called a coupé. In the build-up to its launch, the Evoque was openly billed as Land Rover’s TT-rival: its new style icon. Which is precisely how it went on to be embraced by the buying public.

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That was all before the explosion of the European compact SUV segment, though – something a brand like Land Rover could hardly ignore. The sheer force of competition to be faced by this car today means it must be a more serious, rounded, practical and multi-talented prospect than the car it replaces just to tread water.

By convenient coincidence, of course, developing the Evoque in that direction might also help to address one of the criticisms levelled at it over generation one: that it didn’t quite seem, to some, like a proper Range Rover underneath those celebrated designer clothes. Though the second-generation version is still smallish and transverse-engined, and still uses a clutch-based, front-axle-biased four-wheel-drive system, you’d be quite a bit less likely to say that about it, I reckon.

What changes has Land Rover made to the Evoque's drivetrain?

But for the door hinges and some parts inherited though widely updated powertrains, this is genuinely an all-new car; and that’s true right down to the model platform.

Evoque II (L551 if you’re into your Land Rover model generation code numbers) becomes the first car to adopt Jaguar Land Rover’s Premium Transverse Architecture: a platform that allows lightweight mixed-metal construction, but that also permits both 48-volt mild-hybrid electrification for all but the very cheapest version of the Evoque. The platform will also allow Gaydon to introduce a plug-in hybrid Evoque in 2020 – something which, in light of the arrival of all-electric competitors like the Mercedes EQC and Audi eTron, is probably the least it ought to be doing.

All derivatives but the aforementioned very cheapest Evoque D150 get a clutch-based torque vectoring four-wheel-drive system and a nine-speed automatic gearbox as standard, as well as a redesigned all-independent suspension system of struts up front and JLR’s Integral Link set-up at the rear. Adaptive dampers are optional (though weren’t fitted to our test car).

There’s a choice of seven engines at launch, four diesel and three petrol, with the entry-level diesel version offering a feed-in price of just under £32,000 and broadly competitive lab-tested carbon emissions for fleet drivers. All versions of the car will be powered by British-built Ingenium four-cylinder motors, though, until JLR’s three-cylinder Ingenium turbo petrols augment the line-up next year. The enlarged lithium-ion battery for the car’s mild-hybrid electrical circuit, meanwhile, is carried under the back seats, and stores what electrical energy can be harvested under braking using the engine’s belt-driven starter-generator motor, to be redeployed back into the crankshaft later under acceleration.

And if all of that sounds, well, a bit heavy? You’d be guessing right. Despite that mixed-metal construction, the 2.0-litre turbo petrol-powered Evoque P250 we tested was actually 66kg heavier than its like-for-like predecessor – but, more revealingly, also almost 200kg heavier than an equivalent Audi Q3 45 TFSI and more than 100kg heavier than an equivalent Volvo XC40 T5. Luxury costs weight, Land Rover would reply, as does genuine off-road capability, too. But that’s a lot of extra weight for any relatively compact car to carry around – even one with 212mm of ground clearance and 600mm of wading depth.

Suffice it to say, you can feel that weight in more than one facet of the Evoque’s driving experience – though not always as a detracting factor. The car has weightier steering, marginally more permissive body control, a longer-wave ride gait and more stable, dampened down handling than the last Evoque: in none of those ways by a lot, but enough to notice.

How does the Evoque perform on the road?

Land Rover has quickened the car’s overall steering ratio and calibrated its variable power assistance to help it into tighter corners quite discreetly but cleverly; but around the straight ahead that rack remains fairly slow, prioritising good motorway stability over a sense of handling incisiveness. This needed to be a relaxing car to drive over long distances – and it is.

The outright performance of the P250 petrol version, though, is a little bit underwhelming; if the Evoque’s mass is a problem for it anywhere, it’s here. The car is fairly swift in full stride but not in a way authoritative enough that most would guess they were driving a car with hot hatchback-level power.

Of greater significance is that the engine’s torque doesn’t seem quite enough to make it feel particularly effortless on the road. The engine doesn’t have the accessible muscle to keep the car’s nine-speed gearbox from becoming a touch hyperactive when you want to move along more briskly. You always seem to be at least two gearchanges away from the ratio you need in response to any biggish pedal input when you’re using ‘D’; less often so, perhaps, in ‘S’ – although in both cases, the transmission still seems a bit hesitant to get to the cog in question. Nine-speed automatic gearboxes are like that, you might say. Maybe so – but they’d have less cause to be, I’d estimate, when working with the sort of torquey diesel engine that is slowly being driven out of the mix in cars such as these; and very regrettably so.

Still – what a beautifully quiet, well-isolated turbo petrol engine the Evoque’s is, even when working hard; and what world-class refinement the car has gained in a broader sense. Even on standard-fit passive dampers, the suspension fillets and filters the road surface underneath its wheels as well as some luxury cars costing more than twice its price. It achieves that neat trick of remarkable suppleness and absorbency at such little cost – because the ride certainly doesn’t feel limousine-soft or wallowy. There is gentle but present progressive vertical body control apparent in response to any bump big enough to set the car’s sprung mass moving upwards; and yet so many of the smaller intrusions simply melt away behind you unperceived – and body control remains very respectable in any case.

More genuinely luxurious character flows from the richer trim elements of the car’s interior, many of which really catch your eye. Land Rover’s dual-screen, double-decker touchscreen infotainment system appears from nowhere, ‘invisible until lit’ as the designers say, as a really sophisticated technical highlight, while the leathers on the fascia, doors and seats are lovely and the chrome decorations likewise. Second-row occupant space is better, but probably still not quite class-leading.

Land Rover’s Clearsight rearview mirror comes as standard on the top-of-the-line Evoque or as an option elsewhere. A backwards-facing camera on the roof allows it the neat trick of switching over to become a widescreen video display when you flick what would otherwise be the anti-dazzle knob on the bottom. The display is bright and clear and permits a much wider field of vision than you’d otherwise have. It does have a habit of making objects look a touch closer than they are, mind you – and isn’t much use in low direct sunlight.

The car’s other visibility innovation is what Land Rover calls a ‘see-through bonnet’: otherwise known as Clearsight Groundview. A system of cameras on the front bumper reproduce an image of what’s underneath the front end of the car on the upper infotainment screen. Land Rover says it comes in very handy when off-roading or parking in tight spaces, and you can easily imagine it’ll become a strong Evoque selling point – although it wasn’t fitted on our test car.

How does the Evoque compare to its rivals?

The new Evoque doesn't seem unbeatable in this class, and certainly doesn't get everything right. That cabin isn’t so materially rich or expensively hewn everywhere you look, for example; the odd slightly wobbly trim and shiny moulded finish have survived into the second model generation - and they do undermine the otherwise convincing sense of expensiveness evident in the car where you find them.

Depending on your choice of engine, there's clearly a chance you might also expect stronger and more effortless performance (we've covered that), and also that you might also miss the more standout styling and agile handling of the first-generation car; although, in both cases, I suspect those eventualities are unlikely. To suggest the Evoque isn't very impressive to drive in its own way would be grossly unfair.

Overall, I imagine this car will give its owners many more reasons to be grateful than to regret. It’s a slightly different kind of Evoque, granted; but from its new comfort levels to its improved richness and practicality to its remarkable, ground-breaking onboard technology, the car really has come of age. And, while it looks expensive at list price, you might be surprised by the competitive value it can offer on monthly finance - latterly thanks to some outstanding forecast residual values.

For the record, this tester wasn’t one of those who thought the Evoque unworthy of a Range Rover badge in the first place; but I don’t see how anyone could think so anymore.

What Car? new car buyer marketplace - Land Rover Range Rover Evoque

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