As controversial as the EU referendum, the world’s foremost luxury 4x4 maker has lopped the top off its compact model in a bid to create a new lifestyle niche; the Cabrio SUV. To some, this is the best of all words. To others, it is a motorised selfie stick.
Soft-top off-roaders aren’t a new concept. The Willys Jeep, which transported the Americans into WWII, was roofless, and there were open-air options for the Series I and II Land Rovers that followed shortly after.
They were far more utilitarian, of course, designed for war and safaris, not the car park outside Virgin Active. But this Evoque, ignoring custom chainsaw jobs that are best not discussed, is the first convertible Range Rover. Hairdressers of Knightsbridge rejoice.
That’s the prejudice many people will have about this car; after years of building mud-pluggers fit for royalty, the marketing people in Coventry have worked some strange magic over the designers and somehow convinced them to build a Range Rover for St Tropez poseurs.
My car matches the colour of their tans; Phoenix Orange, the shade of Donald Trump and just as divisive. Parked outside Tesco, a man came over, shook his head and said, “It’s just... No” then walked off, bewildered. Later, a lady approached me to say how much she loved both the car and its colour. You can’t please everyone, I suppose.
Personally, I rather like the Evoque, ideally with a contrasting black or white roof. It looks as fresh as when the concept was first revealed. It’s one of the few cars that lives up to the visual expectations.
The convertible is the same as the regular version below the shoulder line, and with the roof up it still looks tight and well proportioned. Press a button and 18 seconds later, it’s decapitated.
Viewed from the front, the looks are unspoilt; from the side it looks fun, like a beach buggy; and from the back, it’s a bit like a Tonka truck.
The roof stowage is flush-fitting and svelte, with explosive roll-over hoops behind the rear seats that are programmed not to go off at less than a 35 degree roll, allowing scope for off-roading. However, that large bundle of canvas and metal means the boot is tiny. Honest to God, my post box is bigger.
The rear seats in the convertible are also smaller than in the hard top, with space for three reduced to two, and the rake of the seats is Beefeater upright. Overall, a VW Golf is probably more family-friendly.
It does, however, come with proper four-wheel-drive, packing a sophisticated system that defaults to front-wheel-drive when cruising and snaps back to 4WD when conditions demand it (including Terrain Response electronics that’ll stop it getting stuck or sliding about).
The Tom Ford boutique might be its more likely destination, but should you come across a deep water ford, it will plough through no problem to a depth of up to 500mm. Just bear in mind that if you’re rattling through a forest with the roof down, you might get a poke in the eye.
It’s also reinforced underneath, which not only helps when traversing the rough stuff but keeps the chassis firm and, round corners, this car impresses. It’s not quick but it’s a satisfyingly smooth drive. Zero to 60 takes 9.7 in the 180bhp 2.0L turbodiesel variant I drove, and V-max is 121mph. Plenty of torque and a nine-speed auto gearbox means it’s perfectly attuned to pulling horseboxes and boats, and average fuel consumption of 50mpg means the will flowers continue to grow.
The interior design, familiar from the bigger Range Rovers, is a real delight. Minimalist, stylish, light and ergonomic, Range Rovers have the most handsome innards of any SUV bar the Volvo XC90 and, in the Evoque, you have perfectly balanced high-class utilitarianism. At £47,500 this is not a car for the masses, but nor does it feel like you’re being short-changed. It’s a mobile Swiss Army knife; small, well-designed and able to deal with anything.
So what of the Evoque’s competition? At £14,000 more than the entry level hard top, the convertible hits the wallet pretty hard, and while it might be the only high-sided rag top on the market, there are plenty of four-seat convertibles with more leg room, more boot space, more speed and a much lower price tag. The BMW 420d Convertible is £40,000 and is quicker, more economical and comes with a retractable hard top. The problem is, they’re everywhere.
If you want a car that stands out – and the Phoenix Orange helps – then the Evoque convertible is a brilliant choice, provided you don’t mind people asking you if you borrowed it from Barbie.
If it was me, though, and I wanted an eye-catching 2+2 Cabrio under £50,000 I’d look seriously at the Ford Mustang. You could get the EcoBoost to rival the Evoque’s mpg but, for this money, you could easily go all out and get the convertible 5.0 V8 that’ll blow away anything else in this class.
Just £38,000 buys you 410bhp and 0-60 in a smidge over five seconds, and with £10,000 left over you can still afford to fuel it. And it’s a ‘Stang, so it’ll get just as much attention as the drop-top Evoque. The only thing missing is the off-road capability and the Sloaney cachet. I doubt Kate Middleton would be willing to jump in the back in her sailing get-up.
Speaking of the Duchess of Cambridge, when I drove the Evoque to the British round of the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup, my presence was somewhat overshadowed by the Royal Couple du Jour. I was invited down to Ben Ainslie Racing’s Portsmouth HQ and taken out across the Solent to watch the World Series, where the British team beat the champions from the USA to snatch the title on home water. We were followed by the Duke and Duchess, who kept whizzing past our ferry on a speedboat, keeping pace with the fleet of hydrofoils.
Having left Team Oracle in their wake, Sir Ben and his crew headed back to base for an all-night celebration. The result put them in pole position in the lead up to the America’s Cup proper, which takes place in Barbados next year.
Come to think of it, a soft top Range Rover sounds perfectly suited to the Caribbean, with its relaxed atmosphere; more than anything, the Evoque Convertible just wants to have fun.