There’s an old joke about the number of pristine, perfectly clean Land Rovers you see around – looking such because, of course, they’ve never actually been used any place where they might get dirty.
All that 4×4 potency is wasted – aside, of course, from making the driver feel that bit more macho than his pedestrian desk job typically allows. One enterprising company even offered “Sprayonmud”, “to give neighbours the impression you’ve just come back from a day’s shooting or fishing – anything but driving around town all day.
Drivers of Land Rover’s Range Rover Evoque have no need for such fakery, and those of its new Evoque convertible even less so. The latter seems to be a tacit admission by the car maker that outward bound activities are extremely unlikely. Here is a car that is, if you like, the wonderful Defender’s evil twin. While the boxy, go anywhere potential of the Defender is expressed in all of its right angles (here’s a vehicle devised using a set square), the Evoque is all rakish lines, the fabric roof down only emphasising the car’s sweep up to the rear, and its distinctive, love-it-or-loath-it squashed form.
Promotional images of the Evoque convertible climbing snowy mountainsides seem moot – there’s nowhere to put your skis, unless that’s the real purpose of the folding roof. And yet climb mountains it certainly can. For all that the Evoque convertible looks like a city runaround with a fondness for pumping iron; it still has Land Rover’s legendary off-road capability, albeit one set to be ignored more than with any other member of the Land Rover posse. It can happily drive up a 45-degree gradient, which is great for visits to the Himalayan branch of Prada. It can tilt to 35 degrees too and wade through half a metre of water. There’s even a depth gauge, so you know when to wade no further without risking dowsing your Manolos.
Such a skill set requires some impressive engineering, and all the more so in a convertible. “Torsional rigidity” is the term automotive designers use to express how much a car does or doesn’t flex along its axis, physical flexibility in cars generally regarded as a bad thing. Maintaining rigidity is made much easier by having a roof. Impressively then, the Evoque convertible matches the standards set by previous Land Rovers. Should you decide to test that rigidity to extremes – in a desperate dash for the last parking space, for example – a hidden roll-over protection system deploys in 90 milliseconds. And there’s a smart early warning system for driver fatigue. Well, all that retail therapy can be exhausting.
So the Range Rover Evoque convertible has the utilitarian heart, with a nippiness and assuredness to boot. But you’re about as likely to see country folk driving this as you are Kanye West in a 2CV. They just don’t go together.
Land Rover’s hiring of Victoria Beckham to help launch the Evoque suggests as much too, and for all its untapped potential – the same kind of potential that men often like in their diving watches (never wet) and professional cameras (always set to auto) – there is something innately feminine about it, as Land Rover may well have been attempting to plug a gap in its demographic spread. Even the name, Evoque, sounds like a fashion magazine from the 1950s.
Never mind the likes of the satin black alloys or exhaust pipe finish, or the puddle lamps that project from the base of the door mirrors and light up the ground around the front doors, so useful for when you’ve got your heels stuck in a drainage grid. The interior positively shouts as much. Although space is tight (as a family of four away for a few days), we had to cram every door recess, nook and cranny with our stuff to make it work, risking an explosive showering of the motorway with our worldly goods if we opened a window, let alone put the roof down), the Evoque convertible is seriously well-appointed. More Lipizzander than work horse, there’s the all leather seats, the tablet-style swipe-able and pinch-able 10-inch touchscreen, the 3G connected infotainment system, the booming sound system, the ambient lighting – you’ll look so much better preening in the Evoque’s rear mirror – and so on.
So why did Land Rover bother with all the Action Man stuff? Why not just bite the bullet and make a great city car without all of the off-road fancy pants trickery. Well, one answer is that it would be to mess with the Land Rover brand: people expect Land Rovers to forge rivers and go up mountains. But another is that it makes the Evoque, and more so the Evoque convertible, an extremely fun package. That “go everywhere” capability is reassuring. And, after all, there are shops everywhere now. It’s a car with a lot of chutzpah, but one that can back that up with the goods. Come the apocalypse, it will get you out of the mall and into the wilderness with speed and style.
As such it feels like something of a concept car for Land Rover – an experiment in mashing together its two consumer worlds, a shift towards perhaps equally urban cars to come. And this time nobody will expect any mud at all.