Picture: Jason Woosey

Johannesburg - It’s been 12 years since Land Rover wowed the world with its bold LRX concept and then turned even more heads three years later by presenting the Range Rover Evoque production model that looked almost identical.

And now, with time having flown as it does, we have a second-generation Evoque. Land Rover has played it safe here, with evolutionary styling that doesn’t quite have the wow factor of the original, but it has inherited plenty of classy vibes from its bigger brother, the Velar. 

You’ll see that in the smoother exterior lines as well as the almost completely digitised cabin, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Entering the Evoque is quite an experience, especially at night where those puddle lamps with shadows shaped like the car have been inherited from the previous model - but now you also get pop-out door handles, as per the Velar. It’s all very theatrical, and it adds a sense of occasion to the whole experience, as well as potential for showing off if that’s your thing.

But if we’re talking about posh Velar vibes, the real party is inside, where the upper half of the range (SE and HSE spec grades) get the company’s flagship Touch Pro Duo infotainment system. Or, in simpler terms, more screens than your nearest sports bar. In addition to a 31.2cm digital instrument cluster, the system gives you two vertically-stacked central touchscreens that each measure 25.4cm across, although the bottom one stretches deeper and incorporates real rotary switches, which is both an elegant and user-friendly solution. 

The screens are highly configurable too, so if you want to use the top screen for navigation, for instance, you can configure the bottom one to show climate, music or vehicle settings. My wife and I found this useful on a weekend trip to Hazyview in Mpumalanga recently, where she could have the whole bottom screen to DJ on, while I enjoyed having the map up top.

In addition to that, the HSE model that was sampled was also fitted with perforated Windsor leather seats, which are 16-way electrically adjustable up front, as well as a very nice Meridian premium sound system, Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go, powered tailgate, Blindspot Monitor and a R-Dynamic design pack that includes 20-inch alloy wheels.

Yet even if you do go for the base model, you still get things like dual-zone climate control, ambient lighting, front and rear parking aids, a single 25.4cm touchscreen and 18” alloys.

There is plenty of fancy stuff on the options list, including the R8400 360-degree Surround View system which comes with the innovative Ground View system that uses cameras to show you what’s underneath the front of the vehicle. You can also have Matrix LED headlights for R20 000, Head-up Display for R12 000 and Adaptive Suspension for an extra R12 900, among much, much more.

The Evoque is built on a new mixed-material platform that’s said to be 13 percent stiffer than before, and although it’s a similar size to its predecessor, a 21mm longer wheelbase does liberate a bit more cabin room, while the luggage capacity is now listed at 472 litres.

That said, it’s not the most spacious or practical vehicle that you’ll get for the money - in fact a far cheaper Rav4 or CR-V will give you a lot more interior room. Sure, there is a tolerable amount of rear legroom in the Evoque, but there’s not a lot of space to stretch out, and the boot could struggle with larger holiday loads. 

Instead the Evoque provides a tolerable amount of space in a more compact package for those to whom style, elegance and technology are more important.

Speaking of tech, permanent all-wheel-drive is standard across the range, along with Land Rover’s second-generation Terrain Response system, which offers four modes: Comfort, Sand, Grass-Gravel-Snow, and Mud & Ruts. While this is no hard-core off-roader, the Evoque is certainly more capable than it looks, and it will go a lot further off the beaten track than your average ‘pavement hopping’ crossover.

The engine choice is between a 2-litre turbodiesel with 132kW and 430Nm, and a 2-litre turbopetrol that’s good for 182kW and 365Nm - with both engines paired to a ZF nine-speed autobox.

Our test car was fitted with the 2.0T petrol engine, which is reasonably brisk, with JLR claiming a 7.5 second 0-100km/h dash at the coast, but it falls short of feeling like a hot hatch on stilts, both in terms of performance and gearbox responsiveness. 

It is still more rewarding to drive than your average SUV, however, as I found out on the many twisty stretches of asphalt that I encountered in Mpumalanga. It feels sharp and stable through tight corners and generally inspired confidence, while the steering gives you a reasonable idea of what’s going down between the rubber and asphalt.

Fitted with the 20-inch rubber, there is a certain firmness to it, but the ride quality is still reasonably comfortable. Thanks to that and a well-insulated cabin, we felt relatively fresh after the almost five-hour weekend journey.

Fuel consumption was a bit on the high side though, with our trip meter recording 8.7 litres per 100km on the down journey and 9.7 l/100km on the way up.

VERDICT

Although it’s not the most practical choice out there, and it is expensive, with entry models starting at R734 300 and top versions creeping near the million rand mark, the second-generation Evoque is still a highly desirable SUV that oozes style and elegance, while impressing with its cabin technology. If you’d ever wished for a Mini Velar, then look no further than this…

IOL Motoring