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.
FRONT 3/4 VIEW
1. This bland, rounded front is the perimeter of a rather egglike and nicely low-drag front-end volume.
2. The coarse grille texture is presumably meant to convey an impression of toughness. It mostly comes across as unrefined and clumsy.
3. Hot-air outlets on the hood are not a bad idea at all and provide a little visual interest for the driver as well.
4. The disproportionately large sideview mirrors offer a clue to the overall size of the Evoque. It's actually rather small for an SUV.
5. This rising line defines the entire side profile, allowing an impression of a wedge form and providing a sportiness to the ensemble that would be missing without it.
6. Inserting this piece of brightwork into the dark lower-body area that serves as a mass-reduction visual effect is a nice touch.
7. This lumpy-bumpy collection of profile changes is quite surprising, seemingly having no aesthetic or practical function. Looks like a mistake.
8. Having the lower lamp bridge the front-quarter air inlet is as pleasant an effect as the profile above it is goofy.
9. Whether this is a serious brush guard or a piece of lightweight decoration isn't clear, but it does give the impression that the Evoque is ready for serious off-roading.
REAR 3/4 VIEW
10. Extending the roofline with this extremely long shroud is good for aerodynamics and gives the Evoque a look shared with no other SUV.
11. One does wonder, though, how much can be seen through what becomes a letterbox-slot rear window, perhaps explaining the oversize external mirrors.
12. These little joggles in the wheelhouse openings are inexplicable, but they certainly do no harm to the Evoque's character.
13. The magic in the Evoque's design is expressed in the side-window profile, with the sill rising sharply toward the rear while the upper profile descends. A very sporty look, somewhat to the detriment of visibility.
14. Front fender-vent openings seem to be de rigueur in Great Britain these days -- a car without them is nowhere in the U.K. aesthetic.
15. For all their massiveness, these wheels do not look up to the rigors of serious off-road driving. There are multiple options, though.
16. This add-on piece, essentially matching the front, implies protection for the body even in extreme nose-up ramp-angle situations. Is it real or just decor?
17. Inner door panels with highly contrasting colors are unusually attractive in an SUV...or in a sports car, for that matter.
18. The central armrest actually looks comfortable, and the total lack of "styling" is welcome.
19. The dreaded Jaguar erectus mechanicus shifter lives beneath this surface. Ah, for the straightforward gear levers of other Land Rovers and the ur-Range Rover.
20. This soft blue mood lighting is a pleasant idea, well-executed. The entire interior of the Evoque is simple, agreeable, and attractive, a job especially well done.