Liverpool is a proud city, steeped in history and tradition. Founded as a borough in 1207, it has grown in leaps and bounds, giving the world two of the biggest football clubs, (Everton, and Everton reserves), one of the most famous pop bands ever, and it held the prestigious title of European Capital of Culture in 2006. I'm here, not to party at the legendary Cavern Club, appreciate the stunning Liverpool Cathedral, or stroll around the Albert Docks by the river Mersey. I've got something even better lined up. And that is being among the first journalists in the world to test drive the audacious looking brand new Range Rover Evoque.
But the journey begins at RAF Valley airport, Anglesey, the spiritual home of Land Rover. This island in the north-west coast of Wales offers breathtaking scenery and miles of winding lanes, and we'll be driving through here first before hitting Merseyside. It's rugged and beautiful, but we haven't brought the Dubai sunshine with us. As the rain gathers pace, I notice a poor old hack slip over as he approaches a Colima Lime, five-door Evoque. For a second, I'm certain it's the 2008 LRX concept for it looks identical to it. The images I'd seen of the production ready Evoque just don't do it justice. The closer I get to it, the better it looks as those cutting edge lines on the smaller body come into focus. Back to front and top to bottom, it is truly eye-catching. I find myself having a staring contest with its squinting, xenon headlamps with LED technology. I'm unable to contend and move on to its two-bar grille, side vents and its dynamic profile with a rising beltline. The bold and handsome design gets top marks.
The sleek baby Rangey is flanked by 10 other Evoques. There are two distinctive body styles; the aforementioned five-door and a three-door. Both can be had with either petrol or diesel engines and 12 exterior colours. And you can choose from three trims; Pure, Prestige and Dynamic.
I'm awoken, abruptly, from my trance-like state. "I hope thees car not slipping like me on roads, yes!" says the hack as he brushes himself off following his fall. "I not drive car in London before." I remind him that we're in Wales. "Wales! Sheeps! Trees! I like!"
I wonder who'll be paired with the strange chap. I find out it's me. Then, ‘Borat' decides he'd like to drive first. He seems confident enough and so we settle into the Evoque's fabulous interior.
I am immediately struck by the high seating position providing superb visibility from the front and sides while the full-size, fixed, panoramic glass roof allows plenty of light to enter the open and airy cabin. But the rear window is small and visibility is practically nonexistent. However, you can certainly rely on the surround view system with no less than five cameras which, unlike others, doesn't just show you a blurry mess on the display. Talking of which, the 8in high-definition touchscreen also has dual-view technology for passengers wishing to watch TV while the driver follows the sat-nav. The crisp graphics and intuitive structure make it simple to master.
The attention to detail that's been put into the cabin is astounding. The intricate double-stitching provides a luxurious finish to the instrument panel, doors and seats. It's classy and refined and it's all been solidly put together. There are some attractive materials making their way in here including handpicked, soft-touch Windsor leather and metal finishes cool to the touch and lovingly crafted. And to its credit, Land Rover has even tried to reduce the car's ecological impact by using recycled materials on sections of the interior and exterior.
It also gains LED ambient lighting, a concert-like 825W 17-speaker Meridian surround sound system and back seat entertainment with 8in screens and wireless headphones. You get all the connectivity you could dream of with Bluetooth hands-free mobile phone use and audio streaming, plus USB and auxiliary inputs for iPods and other portable devices.
There are 16 pre-selected designer interiors to choose from or you can customise it just the way you want. But whatever you opt for, there's no denying it still feels robust and very much like a fully grown Range Rover.
It has a sporty roofline and you might think that head room would be an issue at the back. But there is adequate space while the seats are beautifully padded and comfortable. You get 1,445 litres of boot volume when you fold the rear seats over, but if that isn't enough it even has stowage areas under the load floor. ‘Borat' is equally impressed. "The steering is fat, like pregnant cow!"
He presses the start button, awakening the rotary automatic shifter. It's finished in piano black and it rises, Jaguar-like, from the centre console. He twists it to Drive and we set off with the rest of the convoy, but barely 10 seconds later, disaster strikes. Distracted by a hedge in the distance, he allows the Evoque to dangerously drift towards the left and roll over a kerb while doing 70kph. We've suffered two flat tyres and a badly damaged alloy. I make a call to the Land Rover emergency team and they're at the scene in seconds with a brand new Evoque for us to continue our drive with. This time, I jump into the driver's seat and try to catch up with the group, but they are long gone. Rather than mash the pedal down with my teeth clenched, I slink into the seat and try to drown out my passenger's incessant moaning by listening out for any engine or wind noise. But the build quality is so good that, unfortunately, I can't hear a thing but him.
It feels nice and tight in the narrow lanes and it is wonderfully agile meaning you can really toss it into corners. Body roll is at a minimum while the ride is always smooth and fluid, even on bumpier roads. That's partly thanks to the sophisticated Adaptive Dynamics system which uses MagneRide technology. It reads and responds to inputs a thousand times per second and accordingly adjusts roll, wheel and terrain settings. It also has an all-new fully independent suspension with coil sprung struts front and rear, and newly designed front and rear subframes mounted to a steel monocoque body. It doesn't quite handle like a hot hatch but it's not that far off either, and for a 4x4 weighing 1,670kg, that's incredible. The power assisted rack and pinion steering is sharp and responsive and you feel nicely connected to the road.
I'm driving the smooth 2.0-litre four-pot petrol Si4 engine with 240bhp. It hits 0-100kph in 7.6 seconds and has a top speed of 217kph. If anything, it pulls more like a beefier six cylinder unit. It combines turbocharging, high-pressure direct fuel-injection and twin variable valve timing to provide superb performance across the power band. It even has stop-start technology to help improve the fuel economy which stands at 8.7 litres-per-100km. It's a very quiet motor too, barely audible, in fact, when you're cruising. But step on the loud pedal and 340Nm of torque punch you in the face. The engine's mated to the latest generation AW F-21 six-speed automatic and when in Sport mode, you'd be hard pressed to feel the gear changes while it adopts an angrier tone, not dissimilar to a GTI. It's a pleasure to cruise down the road and toggle the paddle shifters, but it's on the rough where the Evoque really impresses.
And that is where our sat-nav guides us to — Brynteg, a quiet, rural spot ideal for getting yourself badly stuck. I'm bracing myself for a bumpier ride here, but it simply irons out all the head banging and jostling and remains totally composed. The Evoque negotiates muddy trails, splashes through a submerged section and climbs back up a steep hill onto dry land, with consummate ease.
That's because it is blessed with tons of technology. The highlights include intelligent four-wheel drive that uses an electronically-controlled Haldex centre coupling, hill descent, and four different terrain response settings to get you out of a pickle — General Driving, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud and Ruts and last but not least, Sand. That's not all: for the serious off-roader, the roll stability control will be of particular interest. It makes sure you never topple over by applying the brakes to the outer wheels when it detects something bad is about to happen. It absolutely delivers the all-surface capability that we've grown to love with the Land Rover brand. There's no doubt it can handle the rough stuff just like its cousin — the Discovery.
We head through picturesque Snowdonia, have a break with the other hacks whom we've caught up with at the Denbigh moors, and then leave together on the A55 heading towards Liverpool. We reach our destination, Hope Street Hotel, later that evening and though I've been driving all day, I wouldn't mind continuing north until I run out of land.
The Land Rover and Jaguar plant in Halewood is working to capacity readying Evoques to be shipped to 170 countries. Land Rover obviously expects big things from its little crossover, which breaks new ground by being the first Range Rover to offer front-wheel drive for those who don't wish to negotiate boulders or wade in water. Having spent some time with it, I'm sure it'll give Liverpool, home of The Beatles and two of the world's biggest football clubs, one more thing to shout about.
Specs & ratings
- Model Evoque
- Engine 2.0-litre four-cyl
- Transmission Six-speed auto, AWD
- Max power 240bhp @ NA
- Max torque 340Nm @ NA
- Top speed 217kph
- 0-100kph 7.6sec
- Price Dh235,000
- Plus Great looks, neat interior, off-road capability
- Minus Tiny rear window, price