First Look: 2012 Range Rover Evoque

Much has changed since Land Rover unwrapped the LRX show car in 2008. Markets have shifted, fuel costs are uncertain, and Land Rover’s own corporate stewardship was transferred halfway around the world. Despite those radical breaks in continuity, the production-ready LRX — now known as the 2011 Range Rover Evoque — remains remarkably true to the original concept.

Land Rover first uncovered the LRX at the 2008 Detroit auto show, marking the first Land Rover concept to emerge under the design direction of Gerry McGovern and a new direction for the Range Rover brand. Although its stout shape harkened back to the larger, more expensive Range Rover flagship, the concept rode upon a modified version of Ford’s corporate C-segment front-wheel-drive platform, which also underpins the Land Rover LR2. The LRX, with blacked-out B-pillars, low stance, and more road-friendly characteristics, suggested a new path for the brand: stylish sustainability.

Indeed, that futurist vision played a significant role in the LRX’s journey towards reality. Months after the LRX made its way across the auto show circuit, Ford completed the sale of both Land Rover and Jaguar to Indian automaker Tata, agreeing to supply select components, platforms, and technology for each brand. Tata’s management agreed with the vision of the LRX, and quickly signed off on a production version.

Despite adapting the vehicle for the regulations and realities of production, the Evoque’s exterior is virtually a carbon copy of the original concept. The ambitious side panel strakes, vents, fog lamps, and wheel patterns carry through, as does the two-door form (a four-door model is on the way). At just 171 inches long, the Evoque is nearly two feet shorter than the Range Rover Sport, and nearly seven inches lower. LEDs illuminate both the daytime running lamps and the taillight assemblies, while a panoramic sunroof — reportedly Range Rover’s first — provides passengers an expansive view of the heavens above.

We imagine, however, they’ll be engrossed with the luxurious amenities provided within. A five-inch LCD display in the instrument cluster allows the driver to keep tabs on fuel consumption, gear selection, and information tied to Land Rover’s Terrain Response control system, while the center stack houses an eight-inch high-definition screen for infotainment controls. The Evoque will offer luxury touches like a surround camera system, a hard drive-based navigation system, a choice of two Meridian audio systems, and a rear-seat entertainment system. Designers spent countless hours blessing the Evoque with the premium hides, fine stitching, and upscale trim materials typically associated with modern Range Rovers, all while keeping an eye on sustainability. Land Rover says a number of interior fabrics are made from recycled plastics, while the metal trim accents are mostly recycled aluminum.

North American Evoque models receive a 2.0-lite, turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine, sourced from Ford. In this application, the engine will produce roughly 240 horsepower, and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel-drive is standard, and the system can distribute power between the front and rear axles through the electronically-controlled Haldex center differential. Land Rover promises the Evoque will be the most fuel-efficient vehicle in its lineup, although that claim may be usurped if a long-rumored Evoque Hybrid model joints the portfolio.

The improvement in fuel economy largely stems from stripping unnecessary weight. Engineers were able to whittle the Evoque’s curb weight down to a svelte 3582 pounds by adopting a number of lightweight materials. Both front fenders and the tailgate are fashioned from plastic, while the hood, roof, and numerous suspension components are fashioned from aluminum. Other tricks, including the use of electric power steering, fitting low rolling resistance tires, reducing internal engine friction, and fine-tuning the exterior design to cut drag, also help cut both fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

Unlike other Range Rovers, the Evoque ditches air suspension in favor of a traditional coil-sprung setup at both ends of the vehicle. To enhance both on- and off-road ride performance, an optional Adaptive Dynamics system adds magnetorheologicaly-adjustable dampers — similar to those fitted in high-performance Ferrari and GM vehicles — to the mix. Drivers looking for the sportiest setting will likely dial the system to the so-called Dynamic mode, which stiffens the dampers, sharpens the steering, and elicits an ominous red glow from the cabin’s mood lighting. A variety of off-road and safety-focused electronic controls are standard, including a new Corner Brake Control function, which distributes braking forces to maximize the vehicle’s stability while cornering.

Land Rover hasn’t released any price points for its latest model, but when the Evoque arrives in the United States next fall, it’s going to be priced at around $45,000. We’re more interested to see how consumers around the world take to the new Evoque. Presently, the vehicle is in its own niche, although a four-door model may compete with BMW’s new X1 or Audi’s rumored Q3. If Land Rover can convince shoppers in a market rife with crossovers that it can produce a small, luxurious, and efficient Range Rover, with the capability to go off-road, the Evoque will be regarded as a turning point for the brand, and a success story for its new owner.