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Evoque Convertible: Does it have a place?

Road tests

By: Jesse Adams

Johannesburg - It really doesn’t make much sense. Not that the Evoque Convertible exists, but that more cars like it don’t.

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A niche that’s been avoided

The high-riding droptop genre has been vehemently avoided by carmakers since the advent of the crossover (one American-only Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet aside), and we’re not sure why. The Evoque, like so many of its half-car half-SUV brethren, is primarily intended for use in urban areas but comes with some built-in adventuring ability, so why not give it a peeling and sealing soft top to let the sun shine in, whether cruising Sandton Drive or exploring Sabi Sands?

I do admit I wasn’t entirely convinced at first either. When the Evoque Convertible arrived at this publication’s basement parking for a road test, editor Droppa and I both paced around the thing with squinted eyes and poked quizzically at its canvas roof as if it were some alien craft from a galaxy far, far away. The combination of 20-inch mags wrapped in pseudo-knobbly tyres, and a two-door body shell with a coupe-like ragtop standing just over 1.6 metres high was a peculiar mish-mash to digest.

My first few days with the car were wasted. Rain. And lots of it. But it did afford the opportunity to sample the vehicle in closed mode. Besides the fact that the convertible mechanism has all but decimated boot space, and where there was once a proper tailgate is now a flip-up portal the size of a tea tray to access a 251-litre storage hold (that’s less storage space than a Porsche Cayman), this might as well be a hard-roofed three-door Evoque Coupe. The Convertible’s roof is extremely well insulated, with almost no wind or road noise permeating the cabin.

High class cabin

The cabin itself is typical high class Range Rover with intricately stitched leather dash and seats, top notch materials everywhere and a latest generation 10.2-inch InControl Touch Pro infotainment system. This intensely colourful multimedia hub, which is optional in most other JLR models but standard here, sits front and centre like a hi-tech bouquet centrepiece in a five-star lobby. I liked how it communicated with my smartphone, allowing music playlist perusal and displaying album art with vivid resolution, but I wasn’t always friends with its complicated navigation menus and inner climate control workings.

Interior space is fine for front occupants, but it’s best to look at this like most other coupe/convertibles where back seats make better supplementary stowage space than actual sitting places. You could chuck of pair of toddlers back there if need be, but let’s be real - this car is aimed more at the footloose DINK set (dual income no kids) than families.

In South Africa the Evoque Convertible comes in one specification - a high-end HSE Dynamic with a 177kW/340Nm 2-litre turbopetrol driving all four wheels through a nine-speed auto gearbox. Though these outputs are healthy for an engine of this type, performance is rather ho-hum in this nearly two-ton vehicle. It moves along at decent pace, and mingles with fast lane traffic without fuss, but its nine-speeder is a bit lethargic and reluctant to change down for sudden bursts of speed. Sport mode helped, but I feel JLR’s proven eight-speed would be better in here. Are nine gears too many? In my opinion, yes. I’ve yet to drive one I like.

Let’s take it offroad already!

After a week of gloomy weather the skies finally cleared for our last test day, and we did exactly what we suspect not a soul will ever do with this Evoque - some al fresco offroading. Range Rover does indeed quote wading depths and approach/departure angles for this model, and there’s a push button Terrain Response system for dialing in various drive settings to suit different surfaces. So, with Mud & Ruts mode selected and roof retracted (down takes 18 seconds and 21 to go up, by the way) we ventured off into the overgrown yonder where it took but minutes to discover a small hiccup.

On one soggy uphill slope it took a few seconds for the Evoque’s traction-finding computers to kick in, resulting in a some excessive wheelspin, in turn resulting in some bits of muck and mire flung into the air. While most of this airborne slop fell clear of the cockpit, there were a few splatters on the back seats and the the tops of the leather-clad door panels. Perhaps a wet-wipes dispenser could be included in later models, whaddya say Range Rover?

We took the Evoque into far more treacherous territory than it was intended for, and besides some slight scrapage of the front valance it fared well as an offroader. The fact that the sun, outside air, and some mud morsels, were allowed a clear path to the cockpit while crawling through wilderness made the experience all the more visceral. Bird chirping, gravel crunching and twig snapping; you’re right there with it, just like you are on the back of an open-air game viewer. Only a lot more comfortable. With a lot more tech and leather. And with only two people.

VERDICT

Barbie meets Bear Grylls. Tiffany meets Timberland. Gucci meets Gore-Tex. The Range Rover Evoque Convertible is a crossbreed like no other, and it’s as brilliant as it is bizarre. Pricey though at R1 011 634. But then how do you put a price on one-of-a-kind?

FACTS

Range Rover Evoque Convertible HSE Dynamic Si4

Engine: 2-litre, 4-cylinder turbopetrol

Gearbox: 9-speed automatic

Power: 177kW @ 5500rpm

Torque: 340Nm @ 1750rpm

0-100km/h (claimed): 8.6 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 209km/h

Price: R1 011 634

Warranty: 3-year / 100 000km

Maintenance plan: 5-year / 100 000km

Follow me on Twitter: @PoorBoyLtd

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