First Drive: 2012 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque

And maybe I'm easily impressed, but I found the dual-view dash screen to be an endless source of golly-gee wonder. I was riding shotgun when I pushed a button and inadvertently engaged dual-view mode. Then I hit another button, and the navigation display vanished, replaced by static from the Euro-market TV tuner. I apologized to Micah for screwing up the dearly needed navi system, and he replied, "What? I'm looking at the navi system." Call me Unfrozen Caveman Writer, but what dark magic is this, that my side is TV, his displays a map, and yet there is but one screen? Burn it! Burn the demon in-car entertainment system!

The luxe pretentions extend to the powertrain as well -- to a point. Given that the Land Rover LR2 packs a six-cylinder under the hood, I'm sure there was some debate over installing a four-banger in a Range Rover. But the direct-injected turbo four was the right call. Objectively, you can't argue with its performance. The all-wheel-drive Evoque does 0 to 60 mph in a credible 7.1 seconds, can tow 4400 pounds, and manages a CAFE-friendly 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway EPA rating.

Subjectively, turbo engines are well suited to upscale vehicles because most of the time you don't have to work them very hard. With the six-speed automatic transmission in its standard drive mode, upshifts come early and the 2.0-liter relies on low-rpm boost to serve up easy torque. Drop the transmission into sport mode, though, or attempt a full-throttle merge, and the sound at higher revs immediately reminds you that there are but four angry pistons spurring you down the highway. That's fine for a Focus ST (another future home for this engine), but for a Range Rover, it's better to leave it in higher gear and drive it like a diesel.

After blitzing the backroads of Wales -- where the Evoque felt nimble and tidy but still sometimes required a wordless treaty with oncoming traffic to decide who would back up, so narrow were the roads -- and sightseeing underground, the Land Rover people has one more surprise in Liverpool. Down near the Mersey River, there's a canal where they've sunk a bridge -- not across the canal, but right down the middle of it, a couple feet deep. We're to drive down into the water and keep right on going, possibly while singing "That's Amore" like the world's laziest gondolier.

At the top of the ramp, a Land Rover person peeks in the window to make sure I engage Hill Descent Control, just as they've done every time we've confronted a grade bigger than the backside of a speed bump. I've had enough. "How about I just use my foot on the brake pedal?" I ask. Land Rover Guy does not like this idea. I contend that maybe you don't always want to go the same speed all the way down a hill, or maybe you want to be ready to completely stop, and in any case you've got antilock brakes and stability control, so what exactly is Hill Descent bringing to the party, other than another off-roady-looking button on the console? He tries to explain how Hill Descent is somehow superior to the brake pedal, but in the meantime traffic is backing up behind us, so I activate it to appease him. Then I roll up the window and turn it right back off again, and somehow don't slide to my death immediately thereafter. In conclusion, and in case you've missed my point, Hill Descent Control is silly.

But the Evoque isn't. This was a fraught exercise, building this car, because luxury brands reach downmarket at their peril. Ask Mercedes how the C230 Coupe fared. But the Evoque pulls off the trick of being less expensive than other Range Rovers without seeming like it. The Evoque is its own thing, a car you might buy instead of a standard Range Rover, but not just because of the price.

And yes, I imagine the Evoque will cannibalize a few Range Rover Sport sales. But it will also seduce sedan owners who dig the styling, the 28-mpg fuel economy, and the badge. In fact, in the Evoque press kit, the section touting the Meridian audio systems includes a photo of the dashboard screen in audio mode. A Snow Patrol song is playing. The song: "Chasing Cars." Get it? Because the Evoque is actually a car. Personally, I would've gone with something from the Spice Girls.

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Wow, I like it much better with a body-colored roof. The white roof looks like a me-too Mini knockoff and is distracting from an otherwise good looking ute.

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