For four decades the name Range Rover has conjured up images of a tall, boxy vehicle standing high on chunky tyres outside a stately home, and I do mean stately - it's been the preferred mode of transport of Britain's royal family for most of that time.

That, and its angular, superbly understated styling, have conferred upon it a quintessential Englishness that is one of its strongest selling points worldwide - even, paradoxically, in places where the English are not much liked.

Thus I was sceptical of the LRX concept when I saw it - anything less like a Land Rover would be hard to imagine - and more so when it was announced that it would go into production as a "baby Range Rover".

For the LRX - later to become the Evoque with only two (very minor) styling changes - is none of those things. There's no airy greenhouse, to start with; the roofline tapers sharply rearwards and the waistline slopes steeply up, so the profile is more Sportwagon than SUV.

The front end is rounded, even a little blobby, rather than bluff and workmanlike, and the whole thing lacks that air of purpose that makes the traditional Range Rover seem so much less pretentious than any of its competitors - even parked on a pavement at the airport.

Or that's what I thought until I saw the Evoque "in the flesh" for the first time at the 2010 Paris auto show. I still don't see it as a traditional Range Rover; it's a lot more than that.

The distinctly different styling actually hangs together very nicely, mostly because the Evoque is bigger than you'd think from the pictures.

Sure, it's smaller than a Range Rover (isn't everything?) but it's still a big, quite imposing vehicle, about midway between a BMW X3 and an X5 - so in Bavarian terms its nearest rival is the rather sporty and very muscular X6.

But it has a good deal less outright performance than the X6 and a whole lot more ground clearance; four-wheel drive versions also come with Land Rover's superb terrain response system, which instantly gives it serious campfire cred.

From that point of view it's a "real" off-roader; the company DNA, let's face it, would not permit otherwise. And its larger-than-expected presence gives the styling some strength of purpose.

Then you open the door and prejudices crumble. The Evoque has inherited one quirk of larger Range Rover models in that its interior is a little smaller than its outside dimensions would lead you to expect.

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But that interior is also redolent of luxury to a degree that would do its bigger siblings credit.

The Evoque's cabin is more than spacious enough for five adults (there's none of the self-consciously "Noddy car" feel of the Freelander here) and trimmed with materials that simply ooze quality, to a level of fit and finish that speaks of bespoke tailoring on London's Savile Row.

Quite honestly, it makes the German opposition look a little tacky.

The cabin trim is a little less "county" than earlier Range Rovers, perhaps a little more international, certainly a lot sportier. But the overwhelming impression is one of solidity, of deeply ingrained quality that comes only from meticulous attention to detail.

Will it work? Hell, yes. It's a superbly luxurious, beautifully finished, midsized SUV with unmistakeable, quite sporty looks and genuine off-road capability.

The five-door version, confirmed for the Los Angeles auto show in November, will make it all the more attractive to customers in the US, by far Range Rover's biggest market.

And, behind that slightly blobby front end, there's just enough Englishness to make it special. Can't say fairer than that, now can I?