Range Rover Evoque

The three most striking British cars of the past sixty years were the original Alec Issigonis-designed Morris Mini-Minor/Austin Seven twins, the Jaguar E-type, and the 1970 Range Rover. In many ways, the Range Rover was the best of the three: it was the most original and the most influential, in that it helped touch off the worldwide SUV boom by making a rugged, all-wheel-drive utility vehicle socially acceptable everywhere. The Mini was important, but it was Fiat's Autobianchi Primula, not the Mini, that ultimately turned almost every family car in the world -- including today's BMW Mini -- into a transverse-engine, front-wheel-drive derivative of the offset-engine, in-line-gearbox layout developed by Dante Giacosa. The XK-E remains a fabulous design icon, attracting as much attention today as it did fifty years ago, but it really did not inspire other manufacturers to explore radical structural solutions or to make equally inexpensive high-performance cars.

The original two-door Range Rover, on the other hand, did far more than give British farmers a nice ride into town after they'd finished (metaphorically) plowing the fields with their handsome all-purpose luxury car. It quickly became a status symbol in its domestic market and caused nearly every carmaker in the world to propose something similar -- including, in a certain sense, Ferrari with the new FF. SUVs from Maserati, Jaguar, and Alfa Romeo are constantly postulated, and BMW, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche have already succumbed to the lure of a big-buck big box. And they sell them in huge numbers at high prices, just like the original.

I'd seen the Evoque in auto shows and thought it a nice piece of work, but it was seeing the production version rushing up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed this year that really brought home the sense of what a good design it is. It is close in concept and execution to the first Range Rover, thereby justifying its name, and it really does evoke memories of Spencer King, Gordon Bashford, and David Bache's brilliant original. The two-door body is part of it, but above all it is the short overhang, the high ramp angle in front, and the uncluttered body form that complete the effect.

They're not really similar-looking, given the solid rectangularity of the original Range Rover and the swooping wedge shapes of the Evoque, but a similarity of purpose comes through clearly. The Evoque is surprisingly aerodynamic, as befits this carbon-conscious era, and its chopped-top, tapering side glazing is the antithesis of the tall, open upper of the Bache design, but there is a discernible purity of purpose in both designs. They're family -- essentially the sort of thing one can see in looking at pictures of an old man's younger self and then those of his great-grandson. Not the same but indissolubly linked. It's a very good bloodline. There are details to discuss and disagree about, perhaps, but altogether this is a superior design for a compact, agreeable SUV.

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