The new 2012 Range Rover Evoque is a different kind of Land Rover, aimed at urbanites who want luxury, sport-utility usefulness, and reasonable fuel economy in a compact package. The new Evoque wraps it all in a refreshingly different exterior design.
A growing segment of the market, the compact luxury SUV class is currently dominated by German offerings: BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLK, and Audi Q5. All three are bigger than this new Range Rover. Not quite 172 inches long, on a 104.8-inch wheelbase, the Evoque gives away six inches in length to the GLK, more than 10 inches to the Audi and the BMW. Evoque is closer in size to the new BMW X1 (not yet on sale in the U.S.), as well as the Acura RDX.
But while it's shorter than its key competitors, it's distinctly wider, at 77.4 inches, which is 3.3 inches wider than a BMW X3. This enhances elbow room inside. Its width and low roofline, the lowest in the class, contributes to the Evoque's athletic look and aggressive stance.
Though smaller than its key German rivals, the Evoque delivers cargo versatility with a hatchback design. Fold the rear seatbacks forward and cargo capacity expands exponentially, though to be accurate the Evoque's max cargo number, 51 cubic feet, is lower than that of the three Germans.
The Evoque's interior measures up well in terms of roominess for four passengers. All the vehicles in this class are rated for five passengers, but none of them provide anything approaching comfort for a center rear seat occupant. The Evoque's interior appointments are arguably more upscale than the others, even in base trim. That's why Land Rover applied its upscale Range Rover badge to the model.
The snappy styling descends almost undiluted from the concept vehicle Land Rover unveiled at the 2008 Detroit auto show. The show car was a three-door hatchback, a body style that made it all the way to production, and one not offered by any of the Germans.
There's also a more practical five-door model. It's essentially the same size as the three-door version, and Land Rover expects that it will account for about 80 percent of the Evoque's U.S. sales.
Beyond the visual distinction, the Evoque differs from its competitors in three key areas. The first is under the hood. Other Range Rovers are propelled by V8 engines. The Evoque employs a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder adapted from Ford's Ecotec 2.0-liter, allied with a 6-speed automatic transmission. The engine is rated for 240 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque. A four-cylinder engine is a first for Range Rover. Even the Land Rover LR2, the entry-level product for the brand, has a six-cylinder engine, as do most of the competing models from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz.
On the other hand, the Evoque's tidy dimensions pay off with low curb weight (by class standards), which adds up to a respectable power-to-weight ratio and respectable fuel economy ratings: 18 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, according to the EPA.
The second area where the Evoque stands out from its Germanic rivals is when the pavement ends and there's no more road. With a sophisticated full-time four-wheel drive system, good ground clearance, and a short wheelbase, the Evoque can tackle some pretty tough off-road terrain.
That sustains Land Rover's tradition of exceptional go-anywhere proficiency, an area of performance that's absent in the pedigrees of its competitors, which have no off-road pretensions whatsoever.
The final distinction reflects the parent company's confidence in the Evoque's unique proposition. It comes to the market with the highest price tag in its class.