Land Rover's must-have fashion accessory is this Range Rover Evoque Convertible. June Neary tries it
Will It Suit Me?
The Range Rover Evoque Convertible blazes a new trail as the first open-top compact SUV on the market. It's a divisive concept and a pricey package, but it's proving successful in allowing Land Rover to tempt buyers from more conventional cabrios. If you're not convinced by the thinking behind this car, you might ask why anyone would want one and in answering, I could talk of the unique looks, the stylish image and the promise of the kind of impressive off road ability that no other open-topped car can match. It might be easier though, to ask a simple question of my own: why not?
Translating a concept car into a production reality can be fraught with pitfalls and problems - which is why it took Land Rover four years to get this model into the showrooms, following its initial showing at the Paris Motor Show in 2012. I can imagine the head-scratching that must have gone on amongst the engineers. For a start, there would have been the usual issue that affects any cabrio design, that of maintaining torsional rigidity without a roof, a crucial consideration here given the need to retain in this variant the Evoque's trademark sharp handling. On top of that, convertible models aren't usually designed to pitch themselves at extreme angles, yet to maintain a Land Rover's standard of off road prowess, this one needed to be able to tilt to up to 35-degrees, without upsetting the kind of electronic roll-over protection system that any modern open-topped car these days has to have. It's all been achieved though, thanks primarily to a very strong base structure that uses higher-strength steel in the door sills, added chassis bracings and larger-diameter anti-roll bars. Whatever the position of its top, the car has quite a purposeful stance that's embellished by nearly all the things that set any ordinary Evoque apart as a piece of pavement sculpture. Overall, I think it's a shape that works anywhere - on paper, in the showroom, on the Kings Road: wherever. Inside, the at-the-wheel experience is very much as it would be in any other Evoque. Well, in any other very plush Evoque anyway. Befitting their premium status in the line-up, Convertible models come as standard with luxurious 'Oxford' ebony leather upholstery, electrically-adjustable heated seats and top touches like illuminated tread plates and 'Configurable Mood Lighting'. The other key difference over an ordinary Evoque relates to the infotainment system, the 8-inch 'InControl' centre-dash touchscreen you'd normally get replaced here by a wider, more sophisticated-looking standard-fit 10.2-inch 'InControl Touch Pro' set-up. And in the back? Well on the plus side, there's more head, shoulder and legroom than you'd get from a comparably-priced executive cabrio. Which would make it very comfortable in the rear were it not for the fact that to accommodate the rear roof compartment, Land Rover has had to position the backrests at quite a vertical angle. As for the boot, well I'd hoped that, in proper Range Rover style, this car would feature a fold-down boot lid you could sit on. Instead, there's the mild inconvenience of a lift-up one. Inside, instead of the 420-litre luggage area you'd get in an Evoque Coupe, capacity is limited to 251-litres. Still, at least the capacity doesn't alter with the position of the roof.
Behind the Wheel
So, what's it like to drive? Very nice indeed actually. The high-set driving position you get with any proper SUV feels even better when the roof's removed and you're able to enjoy the psychological superiority of peering over hedges and looking down on less fortunate folk who draw up alongside. The downside of this design is the extra 280kgs of weight it has to carry around, courtesy of the additional chassis strengthening necessary to maintain torsional rigidity and of course the Webasto hood mechanism. My partner and I liked the fact that the fabric hood can be lowered in just 18 seconds, then raised again in 21 seconds, all at speeds of up to 30mph. As a result of its extra bulk, this open Evoque doesn't change direction with the eagerness you'd get from a fixed-top model and, in a further bid to reduce chassis flex over the bumps, must ride a lot more firmly. As you might expect, it's a bit slower than a conventional model too, though in the TD4 diesel version I tried - the variant almost everyone will buy - that lethargy is masked to some extent by the willing pulling power of the 2.0-litre 180PS Ingenium engine. This unit can't be as frugal as it is in a conventional Evoque, but it still manages 49.6mpg on the combined cycle and carbon dioxide emissions of 149g/km. These are a lot better than the figures you'll get from the alternative powerplant offered to buyers of this variant - a 240PS 2.0-litre Si4 petrol unit. Both engines come with a nine-speed automatic gearbox as standard and also benefit from Land Rover's superb 'Terrain Response' and 'All-Terrain Progress Control' systems that work with the permanent 4WD set-up to ease you over difficult terrain.
Value For Money
To park an Evoque Convertible on your drive will require around £4,000 more than the sum required to purchase a comparably-specified Evoque Coupe, plus remember that here, you have to have the brand's smooth-shifting 9-speed automatic gearbox. In addition, you'll need to bear in mind that from launch, this soft-top version was only made available with two of the most expensive levels of Evoque trim - 'HSE Dynamic' and 'HSE Dynamic Lux'. It all means the need for asking figures either just below or just above the £50,000 mark. 'HSE Dynamic' trim will bring you in just below that figure, but you'll probably be tempted to push the boat out a little further and find the premium of just over £4,000 more for one of the plusher 'HSE Dynamic Lux' variants. Evoque Convertible buyers were from launch offered two engine options, but only around 10% of them are likely to want to pay the £700 premium to progress from the 180bhp TD4 diesel variant I tried to the 240bhp Si4 petrol model.
Could I Live With One?
This is one of those cars you'll buy simply because you want it. Trendier folk who can't resist this Evoque will sign up for one because it's unique, different and will bring a whole new dimension to the off road adventures they'll almost certainly never take. It'll be a must-have fashionable accessory that'll perfect their lifestyle from Surbiton to the ski slopes. As for me, well I must admit that I never thought Land Rover would ever produce a car like this. I'm rather pleased though, that they have..