TRENDY flared trousers and platform shoes were so hot in the 1970s that blokes in straightleg pants were openly ridiculed. How could we be so blind? The cringeworthy fashion deviations taken 40 years ago swept back in a flood of embarrassment when I parked the Evoque alongside a new Mitsubishi Pajero. The Pajero, large 4WD with nice proportions, suddenly looked 40 years old. Such is fashion. But there's much more to the latest Range Rover than style.
I've seen American clothing stores hang thousand-dollar price tags from bizarrely coloured mens suits that I wouldn't let my cat sleep on. Whacky stuff tends to command a price premium. The Evoque is very different, definitely not whacky, but isn't cheap. Yes, you can buy a 2WD version from $49,990 but the Prestige here costs $75,375 and that's without the excellent panoramic sunroof ($1035), rear camera ($670) and electric tailgate ($1020). Value? Nup.
Now you're talking. This is the best looking thing on the streets. Doesn't matter if it's three or five-door, it makes everything else look old hat. And it all works. The five-door is sufficiently roomy for four adults, has a very attractive and comfortable cabin, and has the necessary perceived quality level to suit its price tag. But there are problems. The huge side mirrors block all vision to the curb below and things like unattended shopping trolleys while the rear window is only slightly bigger than a letter-box slit.
The all-wheel drive version gets a four-mode Terrain Response from the Freelander II, plus hill descent, which really helps it in the dirt. The 140kW/420Nm 2.2-litre turbo-diesel (now also in the Jaguar XF sedan) is perfect in its role and better than the 2-litre turbo-petrol option. There's a six-speed auto with paddle shifters on the steering column, top-end audio and sat-nav with a touchscreen, and electric steering. There's a sensible approach to the engineering in this thing which should auger well for durability.
There's not many new vehicles on the market that lack premium safety gear. From 2012, ESC must be standard fit, for example, though the safety standards will soon become far more stringent. The Evoque is a five-star crash-rated wagon with chassis electronics including corner stability, rollover stability, trailer sway control and hill descent and ascent control. Oh, and seven airbags.
It's not as small as I expected and at 1810kg dry, not as light. But it is exceptionally agile and the diesel engine kicks hard. You can throw this through corners and it's an absolute joy. I punted it across 1km of soft beach sand - without the tyres deflated - with the Terrain Response set to the "sand'' setting and it failed to sink. We took the family out to an eatery at night, shopped till the Visa card dropped, went visiting and generally ran this through everything from a pre-Christmas shopping complex to a quiet country road. Good though it was at all there tasks, every time I stopped for a break I just turned around and stared at it. Beautiful.
Style with practicality. Yes it's expensive and visibility is rubbish but it is the car for 2011. Probably 2012 and 2013 too.
RANGE ROVER EVOQUE
Warranty: 3 years, 100,000km, roadside assist
Service interval: 15,000km or 12 months
Economy: 6.5 l/100km; 174g/km CO2
Safety equipment: seven airbags, ESC, ABS, EBD, EBA, TC.
Crash rating: 5 star
Engine: 140kW/420Nm 2.2-litre 4-cyl turbo-diesel
Transmission: Six-speed sequential auto, AWD
Body: 5-door, 5 seats
Dimensions: 4365 (L); 1965mm (W); 1635mm (H); 2660mm (WB)
Tyre size: 235/55R19
Spare tyre: space-saver.