As controversial as the EU referendum, the world’s foremost luxury Range Rover have lopped the top off their Evoque in a bid to create a new lifestyle niche; the cabrio SUV. To some, this is the best of all words. To others, it is a motorized selfie stick.
Soft-top off-roaders are not a new concept. The Willys Jeep, which transported the Americans into WWII, was roofless and there were open air options for the Series I and II Land Rovers that came shortly after. Of course, they were utilitarian, designed for war and safaris not the car park outside Virgin Active. This Evoque, ignoring custom chainsaw jobs that are best not brought up, is the first convertible Range Rover. Hairdressers of Knightsbridge rejoice.
That’s the prejudice many people will have about this car; that after years of building mud-pluggers fit for royalty the marketing people in Coventry spiked the designers’ drinks and harangued them into building a Range Rover for St Tropez poseurs.
My car matches the colour of their tans: Phoenix Orange; the shade of Donald Trump and just as divisive. Parked up outside Tesco another man came over, shaking his head saying “It’s…just…no…” and walked off, bewildered and exasperated. But later a lady approached me to me to say how much she loved the car and the colour. So perhaps this machine splits the genders right down the middle.
Personally, I rather like the Evoque in tin top form, ideally with a contrasting black or white roof. It looks as fresh as when the concept was first revealed. It’s one of the few cars that lives up to the visual expectations. The convertible is the same below the shoulder line, and with the roof up still looks tight and well proportioned. Press a button and 18 seconds later it’s decapitated.
Viewed from the front, the looks are unspoilt. From the side it looks fun, like a beach buggy. From the back it’s a bit inelegant, like some kind of Tonka truck. The roof stowage is flush-fitting and svelte, with explosive roll-over hoops behind the rear seats that are programmed not to go off at less than 35+ degrees roll, so as to allow scope for off-roading. That large bundle of canvas and metal means the boot is tiny, however. Honestly, my post box is bigger. The rear seats in the convertible are also smaller than in the hard top, with space for three reduced to two, and the rake of the seats is Beefeater upright. Overall a VW Golf is more family-friendly.
And speaking of off-roading, although it might look prissy parked next to the Matterhorn this car does come with proper four-wheel-drive. It packs a sophisticated system which defaults to front-wheel-drive when cruising and snaps back to 4WD when the conditions demand it, including Terrain Response electronics that’ll stop it getting stuck or sliding about. Tom Ford might be a more likely destination, but should you come across a deep water ford instead it has sensors to help deal with that up to 500mm, and hill descent control. Just bear in mind that if you’re rattling through a forest with the roof down you might get a poke in the eye. It’s reinforced underneath which not only helps when traversing the rough stuff but keeps the chassis firm and, round corners, this car impresses.
It’s not quick but it’s a satisfyingly smooth drive. Zero to 60 takes 9.7 in the 180bhp 2.0L turbodiesel variant I drove, and V-max is 121mph. Plenty of torque and a nine-speed auto gearbox means it’s perfectly attuned to pulling horseboxes and boats, and average fuel consumption of 50mpg will help flowers continue to grow.
The interior design is a real delight and familiar from the bigger Range Rovers. Minimalist, stylish, light and ergonomic, Range Rovers are the most handsome of any SUV inside bar, possibly, the Volvo XC90 and in the Evoque you have a perfect judgement of high-class utilitarianism. At £47,500 this is not a car for the masses, but nor does it feel like you’re being short-changed. It’s a mobile Swiss Army knife; small, well-designed and able to deal with anything.
Handling the elements is key when it comes to being an America’s Cup sailing team and, thanks to Land Rover’s title sponsorship, I was invited down to Ben Ainslie Racing’s Portsmouth HQ and taken out across the Solent to watch the World Series. The British team beat the champions from the USA to win on home water. My presence was somewhat overshadowed by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who kept whizzing past our ferry on a speedboat, keeping pace with the fleet of hydrofoils.
So what of the Evoque’s competition? At £14k more than the entry level hard top the convertible hits the wallet pretty hard, and while it might be the only high-sided rag top on the market there are plenty of four-seat convertibles with more leg room, more boot space, more speed and a much lower price tag. The BMW 420d Convertible is £40,000 and is quicker, more economical and comes with a retractable hard top. But everyone has one.
If you want a car that stands out – and the Phoenix Orange helps – then the Evoque convertible is a brilliant choice, provided you don’t mind people asking if you borrowed it from Barbie.
If it was me, though, and I wanted an eye-catching 2+2 cabrio under £50k I’d look seriously at the Ford Mustang. You could get the EcoBoost to rival the Evoque’s mpg but, for this money, you could easily go all out and get the convertible 5.0 V8 that’ll blow away anything else in this class. Just £38k buys you 410bhp and 0-60 in a smidge over five seconds, and with £10k left over you can afford to fuel it. It’s a ‘Stang, meaning you’ll get just as much attention as the drop top Evoque. The only thing missing is the off-road capability and the Sloaney cachet. I doubt Kate Middleton would be willing to jump in the back in her sailing gear.
Having left Team Oracle in their wake, Sir Ben and his band of merry men headed back to base for an all-night celebration. The result put them in pole position in the lead up to the America’s Cup proper, which takes place in Barbados next year; a soft top Range Rover sounds perfectly suited to the Caribbean. The Evoque Convertible just wants to have fun.