We test the pioneering new version of the Range Rover Evoque, billed as the “world’s first luxury compact SUV convertible”.
Launched in 2011, the Evoque is Land Rover’s fastest-selling vehicle ever and more than half a million have rolled off the Halewood production line.
Now the Evoque Convertible has been launched, perfectly timed to cash in on the boom in luxury SUVs and Britain’s love affair with soft-tops because, surprisingly, more convertibles are sold in the UK than any other country in Europe.
Not everyone is convinced about the concept of the Evoque Convertible. Some say slicing the roof off has spoiled the car’s good looks, others question whether there’s a market for the car at all, while some Land Rover purists scoff.
Land Rover should choose to launch the new Evoque Convertible in the swish ski resort of Courchevel. Not only did the French Alps provide a stunning backdrop, it gave us the chance to drive the car on a mix of routes, including a series of off-road challenges in the snow.
The fact is that the Evoque Convertible isn’t just a looker, it’s serious 4×4 in the best tradition of Land Rover.
It may not have the distinctive roof-line of the standard Evoque, but the convertible works for me with the top up or down. The fully-automated roof stows in 18 seconds, and can be raised in 21 seconds, at speeds up to 30mph.
Land Rover’s also done a good job when it comes to refinement. With the roof up, there’s enough acoustic insulation to make it comparable with the regular Evoque.
Lower the roof and the cabin is surprisingly well protected. It’s perfectly possible to hold a conversation at motorway speeds, and the rear wind deflector does a superb job of isolating occupants from buffeting.
There’s no roll-over bar spoiling the car’s lines either – the Evoque Convertible features an impressive Roll-Over Protection Device which deploys two aluminium bars (hidden within the rear bodywork) within 90 milliseconds in “the unlikely event of a roll-over situation to create a survival space for occupants”.
Land Rover hasn’t just sliced off the roof, additional bracing has been fitted to stiffen the chassis so that it still drives well and is just as capable off-road as the regular Evoque.
This was perfectly demonstrated during a special off-road course. Perched on one uneven obstacle with the car balancing diagonally on two wheels, we were encouraged to open the doors and boot and, of course, they opened with ease.
Powered by Jaguar Land Rover’s efficient new 178bhp 2.0-litre Ingenium turbocharged diesel (a petrol version is also available) and coupled with a slick nine-speed automatic gearbox, the Evoque Convertible can reach 62mph in 10.3sec and tops out at 121mph.
The diesel is smooth and refined enough when cruising, if a little vocal during low-speed acceleration.
The downside of the car’s extra strengthening is that it weighs 250kg more than a regular Evoque, knocking performance and economy slightly. For the record, it’s capable of 49.6mpg and emits a reasonable 149g/km of CO2.
Thankfully, the Evoque Convertible’s all-terrain ability has not been blunted in any way. We drove it through a rocky forest track, on a ski slope, at amazing sideways angles and down steep snowy gradients and it managed it all with ease. Like all Land Rovers and Range Rovers, the Evoque Convertible is one of those rare vehicles where your trust in its capabilities is rarely questioned.
The All-Terrain Progress Control is especially good – a kind of off-road cruise control (between 1-19mph). All you have to do is steer. While the Hill Descent is as good as ever, automatically applying the brakes independently to each wheel to manage your descent downhill.
There’s also Wade Sensing, allowing the car to drive through water to a depth of 50cm, invaluable when roads are flooded.
Inside, the Evoque Convertible is a comfortable, premium place to be and it’s fitted with Jaguar Land Rover’s new InControl Touch Pro infotainment system, complete with 10.2-inch touchscreen featuring swipe and pinch-to-zoom smartphone-like gestures.
Sadly the hood mechanism has robbed the rear of a little space so there are just two seats separated by an armrest. Adults can sit in the back, but it is cosy.
There’s also less room for luggage in the boot 251-litre boot (down from 420 litres in the standard Evoque), although you can opt for a ski hatch should you wish to carry longer items.
The Evoque drop-top range starts at £47,500, though our test car, an HSE Dynamic LUX, weighed in at £51,700.
Verdict: A new niche has been created with the Evoque Convertible, which isn’t just eye candy, but a practical, fun and very capable off-roader with Land Rover DNA pulsing through its veins. It may not be an avalanche, but expect to see other manufacturers chopping the roofs of their SUVs too – this trend is here to stay.