There is, obviously, a good thing about designing a car that steps out of the mainstream and immediately becomes a popular icon.
For the better part of a decade, the PT Cruiser’s retro styling was a head-turner and the vehicle itself appealed to the young as well as the older shopper looking for an inexpensive vehicle with flair.
But with such a distinctive look comes a problem: How far can you take it without losing the appeal that made it attractive to buyers in the first place? If there is one thing about the public, it is fickle. When it comes to automotive styling, we’re a what-else-you-got? country.
Chrysler apparently didn’t come up with the right answer because after initial sales approaching 145,000 in 2001, the PT Cruiser fell off to around 18,000 eight years later.
In July 2010, the last PT Cruiser rolled off the assembly line in Mexico.
This got me to thinking about the Land Rover and its flagship Range Rover. The Range Rover is far from being “an inexpensive vehicle with flair,” but it does share one thing in common with PT Cruiser. If the Range Rover should venture too far from its well-known boxy profile with its bold aggressive grille, it wouldn’t be a Range Rover any more.
I don’t know all the marketing facets of this, but I would suspect that Land Rover’s attempts to deal with that issue in the past led it to venture too far away from its basics and contributed to the relatively short lifespans of products like the Land Rover Defender (1993-97), Discovery Series II (2000-02), Freelander (2002-05), and LR3 (2005-09. By comparison, the Discovery was (1994-2004) was a senior citizen.
Basically, they were trying to offer Land Rover panache to those shopping on a tighter budget.
With the Range Rover Evoque, however, Land Rover may have come up with the solution.
This is a Range Rover, all right, but a sexier one which, with its slanted roof line and sculpted corners, has a racier look and the appearance of being in motion even when it is sitting still.
It is also a very different Land Rover.
Though the Evoque does have some off-road capability because of its four-wheel-drive configuration, it wasn’t a coincidence that the first television ad campaign showed the Evoque maneuvering through the busy streets of Manhattan, not the customary spots featuring the Range Rover in places like Africa’s Serengeti and similar terrains.
Not only is the Evoque targeted for a different automotive environment, it also takes aim at a different kind of consumer as well. At a presentation in South Florida in late 2011, designer Gerry McGovern noted that 80 percent of the people who were buying the Evoque had never bought a Land Rover before, and 70 percent had never bought an SUV.
Land Rover introduced the Evoque for the 2012 model year, wisely keeping Range Rover badging at the front and rear rather than spinning it off as a separate model even though the two are completed unrelated.
At 171 inches long, the Evoque is a full 17 inches shorter than the Range Rover Sport, which, in turn, is eight inches shorter than the full-size base Range Rover.
The Evoque was offered as a two-door coupe or four-door hatchback with a 2.0-liter, turbocharged engine that put out 240 horsepower and 250 pound feet of torque. A six-speed automatic was the only transmission offered. It was economical enough for its class at 18 miles-per-gallon city, 28 highway.
For 2013, the Evoque keeps the same power train but gets a slightly revised grille and a new Park Assist automated parking system. There’s also a new base “Pure” five-door model for 2013 that has an aluminum allow roof in place of the panoramic laminated glass roof that is standard on other Evoque models.
It still is all-wheel drive with Land Rover’s Terrain Response system, which allows the driver to select a different driving mode depending on conditions, a standard feature.
Off-road navigation also has been added to the usual navigation system giving you such information as topographic contour lines, latitude, longitude, altitude, and other information one might find helpful or even vital when wandering off the pavement into unfamiliar areas.
Available features include a camera system that uses five digital cameras to provide 360-degree views of the area surrounding your vehicle, smart key that allows keyless entry and start, a power liftgate, and a navigation system with turn-by-turn directions to selected destinations.
What you have, in other words, is your typical luxury SUV in a somewhat buffer package.
Also a lighter one. With a curb weight of only 3,680 pounds, the Evoque is almost 2,000 lighter than the Range Rover Sport, which checks in at 5,540 pounds.
The result is a far more nimble ride than you get from the RR Sport and even one more lively than many of its competitors but without detracting from the comfort of the passengers. To me, it behaved like a peppy sedan in an SUV's body.
Pricing for the Evoque starts at $41,995, including destination and delivery, which is about $4,700 more than the least expensive Land Rover, LR2 with its more traditional styling. Option packages, however, can quick run that price up to over $50,000.
Even at that cost, however, it is far under the price tag for the Range Rover Sport (starting at $60,895) and the full-size base Range Rover ($83,500).
Only time will tell if the Evoque will outlast the lifespan of some of Land Rover's early dabblings into the compact, luxury SUV segment. But its superior styling and generous list of standard and available features give it a much better chance than its predecessors.