Remember the Freelander? No, I’m not talking about some democratic Highlander because really, there can be only one. Instead, I’m referring to the first-generation Land Rover Freelander, which was built from 1997 through 2006. It was the go-to machine for those who wanted to look like they had some money, while silently shouting to the world that they in fact, did not. Nor did they understand what they were buying.
The Land Rover Freelander is to the Ranger Rover, what the Jeep Liberty is to the Wrangler or Grand Cherokee.
Those memories of a rather horid little “baby Range” are still remarkably fresh in my head. It’s those thoughts that are swirling round as I grab the keys to Land Rover’s latest little machine, the 2012 Range Rover Evoque. I’m curious to see if the British have attempted to forgo substance for style, or instead, have they found a way to meld the two in an entirely new fashion.
Spoiler alert: Substance has been introduced to style, and it looks like they’re going to best friends.
There are rare occasions when an automaker will take a leap of faith when it comes to the design of a new vehicle. More often than not, this new machine is quickly panned by various journalists and the car-buying public because we’re not ready for drastic change (read: Acura ZDX, a car I admittedly adore). With the Evoque, Land Rover has let its skilled artisans take a shot at what one of its vehicles might look like 10 years into the future. Once the models and sketches came together, everyone must’ve liked what they saw because the future is, quite clearly, right now.
When it comes to your standard member of the Land Rover family, the eyeball is presented with classic, staid designs that invoke stoic visions of classic legends mixed with modern luxury. Well, they should do that… but the problem is that the average person buys a Land Rover to shuffle the latest haul home from Bloomingdales, or to make your buddies slightly jealous when you pull up to the country club/yacht club/club club.
The Evoque will not fix this issue.
It’s okay though, because this is one Rover that is quite happy to play in the urban sandbox as opposed to the one covered with dirt, mud, and grime. That last sentence sound disappointing as I reread it, but I know in my heart that the Evoque hides a surprise. Sure it looks great when sitting sparkling clean and parked under the not-so-starry evening of the skyscraper-crowded downtown nighttime sky. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get it dirty. In fact, I think it looks its best when a fine layer of trail-induced dust coats its puffed-out fenders, sharply-sloped roofline, and the large RANGE ROVER lettering on its tail end.
I began my Get-the-Evoque-Dirty Mission by starting my day at the coast in Huntington Beach. It was nice and cool, and the Sumatra Black paint looked rather brilliant in the morning sun. Inside, the Ivory and Espresso color scheme provided a sharp contrast to the outside. I was worried that the eventual increasing temps would turn the light colored leather into an ass cookery. Cooled seats would be lovely here, but my (as-tested) $59,670 Range Rover (base price is $41,145) was not equipped with such glorious technology. The heated seats would not be tested on this day.
Venturing away from the coast, I started my trek towards Ortega Highway. This is a stretch of asphalt that should be familiar to all residents of Southern California, and even to regular readers of Hooniverse. I wind up here quite often when I’m spending time with vehicles that I don’t own. Typically, I stick to the hard pack and run back and forth a few times before heading to Hell’s Kitchen for a burger. This time, however, I took an unassuming right turn off the main road. Eventually, the tarmac gives way to hard dirt, and then to a deeply rutted trail that requires a bit of ground clearance and a dash of faith in your running gear.
I had both of these ready to go.
The 2013 Evoque boasts ground clearance figures of 8.4-inches up front and 9.5-inches out back. That’s not too far off of the clearance found with a 2012 Jeep Wrangler… though the approach and departure angles are no where near as impressive. Still, this isn’t a Wrangler, it’s a luxury machine that has no problem getting dirty, and it likes to do so with the aid of a wonderful little powerplant.
Under the hood, the Evoque more than makes do with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. This forced-induction mill produces 240 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque. All of that energy is shuttled out to the wheels by way of a paddle-shiftable six-speed automatic gearbox. The power comes on smoothly and hustles this stylish machine down the tarmac with little effort. Additionally, Land Rover have fitted the Evoque with the Terrain Response System that’s found on the more grown-up members of the fancy family.
Two buttons allow me to sweep back and forth from General, Snow, Mud, and Sand settings. Each press of the Terrain Response arrow button changes the way the throttle responds and where the power is sent. With the system set to Mud (because it’s also built to respond to ruts), I found myself tackling a deeply rutted road with relative ease. I passed just one other vehicle out on the trail, a lightly modified Wrangler whose driver passed along a friendly wave. I’m sure said Wrangler driver was probably thinking he’d wait five minutes until he heard something snap, but he was out of luck. I’d made it to the end of the trail, wound up on a road surrounded by fancy homes in the middle of nowhere, and turned around to run the trail one more time. The Evoque wanted more, and so did I… also, that was my way home.
Back at the coast, I watched the water and soap run off the body of the Evoque. Drops of dirty water dripped down over the body work in twisting runs that mirrored the bent Ortega roadway. This Land Rover had handled those roads expertly as the on-road handling is just as good as the off-road prowess. I didn’t expect to enjoy the Evoque as much as I did both on the road and off of it. The steering is crisp, the brakes perfectly responsive, and the engine is ready to run. It was fun getting this sporty utility vehicle dirty, and now it was even more fun to get it clean again, because it’s that good looking both inside and out.
The 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque now free of any evidence that I put it to good use, I opened up the sunroof and pointed its dazzling eyes towards the Pacific Coast Highway. From the rutted roads of the mountains and now back to the ocean, the Evoque has proven that it’s one of the best looking rides on the road. Normally, I’d spend a few words here trying to compare it to the competition, but I can’t think of anything to compare it to. This is a solid off-roader that makes the current generation Grand Cherokee look like it was designed by ZAZ, which is saying a lot because the current Grand Cherokee is a looker in its own right. You wouldn’t be wrong to choose a fully-loaded Grand Cherokee either, if you were in the market for a premium or luxury ride that can dance in the dirt. The problem is, every time an Evoque came rolling by, you’d realize that you opted for something built in the present.
The driver of the Evoque, however, is operating a machine that was built ten years from now and then brought back to the current time for his driving pleasure. It’s much more than simply a looking-cool-for-the-sake-of-it factor. The 2013 Evoque combines style with substance in a wonderful way, and it should be a sign of even better things to come from the world of Land Rover.
[Disclosure: Land Rover let us hang on to the keys to this 2012 Evoque for a week. They threw in a tank of gas as well. We took their nice clean car out to a dusty trail and forced it to get a little dirty, but we washed it before giving it back.]
Images copyright 2012 Hooniverse/Jeff Glucker