Vehicles that can be described as being posh, chic, exclusive, haughty and aristocratic can usually always be described similarly as being outlandish. While generally more associated with triple digit supercars than high volume gateways, the boutique market is all about being seen and going about in style. Because looks are the most important priority, vehicles of this nature are usually always far too expensive, rare, inefficient and when faced with real world tasks, they prove to be utterly useless. Every once in a while however, a manufacture can manage to marry efficiency, comfort and useability with all-out ritz. It may be difficult to accomplish but most recently, Land Rover set out to turn their latest gateway vehicle into their most dashing offering. Enter the 2012 Range Rover Evoque.

This 2012 model year marks the debut of the Evoque. Hitting the market as the entry Land Rover, the littlest off roader was honestly created to improve the SUV brand’s CAFE standards. Similar to the Aston Martin Cygnet, the Evoque appears to be the least Land-Rover-ish Land Rover available. Unlike the Aston clad Toyota, the Range Rover received a bit more attention from its parents so it can actually fit nicely into the family. Riding on a unibody chassis, the Evoque shares some of its blood with the LR2 but is more tailored toward the street than the dirt. Despite its 20 inch wheels, the little Rover still packs some serious mud-slinging technology such as the proven Terrain Response System and all wheel drive with Haldex coupling. Measuring in at 171.5 inches long and 63.2 inches tall, it’s right on par with the other premium compact crossovers such as the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLK and Audi Q5.

With thoughts of big shouldered and heavy chested dinosaurs running through our brains, it took us a moment to grasp the concept of a compact and efficient Land Rover. At this moment, there are two Range Rover Evoques: a four and two door. We got behind the later which starts at an MSRP of $44,145. Also known as the “Pure Plus”, the coupe is $3,000 extra compared to the four door and comes with the added benefit of being downright cool. Standard features include such items as Terrain Management with Hill Descent, dual zone climate control, leather seating, panoramic sunroof and a power tailgate. Added to our tester were $15,000 worth of options including navigation, surround cameras, premium stereo, Xenon headlamps, body moldings, blind spot monitoring, satellite radio and 20 inch wheels. In total and with destination, our Evoque ran out of the Halewood, United Kingdom assembly plant with an MSRP of $59,995.

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Even though our tester is the most loaded out Evoque, it is still the cheapest Land Rover currently available. With that in mind, it isn’t surprising to not find a brawny V8 under the hood. Instead, all U.S. spec Evoque models use a 2.0 liter turbocharged inline four cylinder that is borrowed from Ford. Direct injected, this dual cam powerplant pumps out 240 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque which is more than the Audi Q5 2.0 but less than the BMW X3 xDrive35i. With standard all wheel drive and a six speed automatic, the Range Rover can hit 60 mph from a stop in the mid seven second range. A bit slow for its segment, the boosted four does happen to sound excellently racy and is nowhere near as rough or intrusive as the EX35 from Infiniti. Torque delivery is linear and smooth all the way up to redline, which can be visited in each gear as the slushbox holds true to heavy acceleration. Both the engine and trans are tuned more for spirited driving however which can get in the way of low-speed cruising. Putting a powertrain intended for a much lighter and sharper hatchback into a crossover shouldn’t be a simple install as a retune feels needed. A boost in power – perhaps closer to the big 300 – would do the Evoque some could but for now, it’s Ford derived drivetrain should do the trick

The littlest Range Rover’s small car characteristics don’t stop at its straight line performance as cornering is just as surprising. Unlike other Land Rover products, the Evoque feels lively and ready for action. Body roll is well controlled and traction from the all wheel drive system is world-class. It is so good that when pushed hard, oversteer refuses to show its face. Instead of swinging its tail out in rally car awesomeness, the Evoque scrubs off speed in a safe but slighty boring fashion. If kept at the edge of its limits, it will stay confidently stable and with the added benefit of dynamic stability, roll and cornering brake control, the Rover will surely prove to be one of the safest offerings in the entire compact SUV segment.

Going around a corner fast may be cool in a BMW or Audi, but anything stamped with a Range Rover badge has to do well in the muck. With its ultimate background being a front wheel drive vehicle, the Evoque is the least conventional Land Rover ever produced but like its much more hardcore siblings, its ride is superb no matter what the terrain. The key to its success is the Terrain Management System that mitigates the dampers to coincide with all types of territories. With no multi-speed transfer case or low range, the Evoque is by no means a pure rock crawling forest chopper but it can go farther down the trail than the BMW or Mercedes-Benz. Good enough from some light dirt trekking to a trailhead or remote camp ground, anything more serious should be avoided unless replacing front bumpers sounds routine. What is more impressive about the vehicle is its ability to stay confidently safe in all types of weather. No rain, slush or snow should slow the Evoque down to making the red-carpet release.

Inside, supple leather and a futuristic layout put occupants in a world unmatched by anything from Germany. Easy to use and easy to find, all the standard creature comforts are there with helpful technologies such as blind spot monitoring to make things even easier. Perhaps catered more for the single driver, the Coupe is styled like it came straight off the concept car turn table. Each line, crease, angle and bulge are unique while its squared face is muscular enough that even the boxy GLK would cower in fear. Inside and out, the Evoque is the best looking premium small SUV on the market today.

CAFE standards are a funny thing. They may ultimately prolong this planet but they are greatly responsible for some seriously questionable vehicles. The Cygnet may be a bit of a laugh but the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque is so much more genuine. It can actually compete in today’s market and unlike its guzzling brothers and sisters, its 28 mpg highway rating is impressive enough to warrant cross-country trips. Even if left solely in the city, 18 mpg is right on par with the other small crossover offerings which are incapable of matching the Range Rover’s overall style. With both two and four door variants, the Evoque can be either a bachelor’s dream or a small family’s posh savior. The chassis dynamics are lively enough that driving isn’t a chore and safe enough that all occupants should feel completely at ease while inside. It may be the most exclusive looking offering, but instead of being just a show off, the latest Land Rover is actually useful. It can be driven anywhere, parked in all spots, filled up cheaply, and it doesn’t have to bow out if more than just some golf clubs want to go for a ride. For once, a boutique vehicle isn’t a broken down, terribly expensive and uncomfortable disappointment. The 2013 Range Rover Evoque is too cool for school even though it will gladly make the trip.


Photos: © Copyright 2012 Ossamah Shabbir