Having sold half a million of them, Land Rover thought it would be a great wheeze to chop the roof off its Evoque. In doing so the old-school British brand sets off into deep, controversial undergrowth – the uncharted realm of the premium convertible SUV.
But this isn’t just a cheesy crossover with off-road pretensions, this is the real deal. This is a go-anywhere 4×4 with some of the most sophisticated equipment in the business. You just happen to be able to take the roof off. The fact they could have got away with so much less but insisted on producing a capable, useable car is testament to their commitment to what Land Rover has always been famous for. They didn’t need to make a car this good, but they did – and that should silence the Evoque Convertible’s many critics.
When you think of Land Rover, what do you see? A pretty little Series I? A handsome early Range Rover? Purists hate the Evoque, and the Convertible is only going to enrage them further.
The look of the thing is certainly divisive, though. It’s a bit tub-like and doesn’t have the sleek appearance of smaller convertibles like the upcoming Mercedes C Class and the venerable Audi A3 Cabriolet. There’s no roll cage – a stowed-away pyrotechnic system keeps the silhouette of the Convertible nice and clean.
If you like the shape, or if you can simply ignore it, you might be put off by the lack of practicality. Boot space drops to around 250 litres, and you lose a whole seat in the back row. Your two rear passengers will thank you for that, though, as the back of the standard Evoque is already cramped.
The fabric roof is true to the original hard top so headroom doesn’t suffer too much when it’s time to put the lid on. In fact, the fabric roof will squish an extra few millimetres, making the back seats less claustrophobic for tall passengers.
While storage compartments in the cabin are on the small side, there are plenty of them. My favourite is a small rubberised tray hidden behind the gear selector knob, and back passengers get cavernous storage bins.
Chopping the roof off the Evoque necessitated adding extra structure. The result is a gargantuan kerb weight and slightly compromised handling. Light steering, soft brakes and a wafty drivetrain (0-62mph in around ten seconds) make the Evoque Convertible a cruiser rather than a roadster. The petrol is marginally better thanks to sportier power delivery and a sweeter engine note, but neither is noticeably athletic.
We drove the Evoque Convertible on chunky winter tyres and still found the ride and refinement to be very reasonable. Wind noise is obviously intrusive with the roof down on the motorway, even with the deflector fitted, but with the roof up the cabin is quiet at all speeds.
Something beautiful happens when you pull off the road, though. That rigidity and over-engineered powertrain manifest themselves in one of the best 4x4s currently in production. The car feels unstoppable in slippery woodland mud, on a taxing off-road circuit, and even driving directly up an icy Alpine piste. And that controversial tub-like shape gives it great approach and departure angles – essential when off-roading.
Power is distributed to all four wheels by a computerised 4x4 system, which analyses grip at each corner and prevents the wheels from spinning. If traction is lost, the computer will methodically apply known techniques in order to regain and maintain momentum.
Few people will use this engineering. It’s almost sad to think of this car as a capable, meaningful utility car, but one that will rarely leave Tarmac. It’s Lassie, trapped in the body of a Pomeranian.
This genuine go-anywhere Land Rover attitude goes a long way to justify the starting price of £47,500. In fact, that and the badge appeal are the only factors that can really persuade most people to pay the best part of £50k on a slowish four-seater with a tiny boot. If you want a premium convertible for less money, look at brilliant alternatives from BMW or Audi. Cheaper still are fun, open-top cars like the Mini, or if you don’t need practicality and want better dynamics, get a (cheaper) Porsche 718 Boxster.
If you want a modern convertible 4×4, this is basically your only option. It has the kind of technical ability that will make a novice look like a competent off-roader, but with the added fun of an open roof. On sunny days and with the top down and the music up, it’s hard to think of a better car for a seaside jaunt or rural ramble. Buy this if you want a serious 4×4 with all the fun of a rag-top.