What if I told you that there was a car that could turn heads like a supercar, but was actually a relatively affordable and practical compact family SUV? Is that something you might be interested in?
It's been five years already since Land Rover unveiled the LRX concept way back in 2007. Back then there were no plans to put it into production but the trend toward smaller, more fuel efficient cars and the overwhelming response to its design spurred Land Rover's new owners to put it into production.
The result is the Range Rover Evoque, a stunning compact SUV placed under Land Rover's luxury badge which remains refreshingly true to the concept from which it was derived.
Its rakish wedge profile and coupe body style isn't typical of the compact SUV category which is usually more in favour of interior space and practicality, but what you have with the Evoque is something rarely attempted in the automotive world this side of a Ferrari or Pagani.
For Land Rover, it would have been all too easy to scrap the coupe body shape, raise the roofline and increase the front and rear overhang of the concept to create another boring yet practical family SUV but instead they threw the rule book out the window and have conceived something simply epic.
Having seemingly taken a leaf from Apple's book, Land Rover has made style just as important - if not more so - than function. But the brilliance of the Evoque lies in the fact that it has achieved this with few compromises. For example, to retain the slim A- and B-pillars of the concept, Land Rover opted to use ultra-high-strength Boron steel in their construction to achieve the aesthetic quality they needed without compromising strength or safety.
Now clearly if you have a family, the flagship Range Rover Evoque Si4 Coupe probably isn't for you. With only two seats in the rear, a lack of rear doors coupled with the slow to adjust electric front seats means entry and egress for frequent rear seat passengers is somewhat inconvenient. But once seated, even in the Coupe there is plenty of rear leg room and surprisingly ample head room for adult passengers despite what the raked exterior would suggest thanks largely to a low-profile fuel tank.
Aside from the rear seat access, the only other noticeable compromises to speak of from the Evoque Coupe is the wayward position of the front seat belts thanks to the extra large door opening which will leave you grasping at air the first few times you reach behind to put it on.
The other is visibility, with the view through the rear window roughly on par with a Lamborghini Murcielago and the enormous side mirrors obscuring lateral and downward vision. Thankfully Land Rover has offered up a plethora of optional extras to solve every little quirk and niggle you might have.
The test car provided by Land Rover was fitted with the camera package, which at a very reasonable $900 provides you with no less than five extra viewpoints of the Evoque and its surroundings. Two cameras up front peek right and left to spot oncoming traffic at an intersection, another two underneath the side mirrors keep tabs on the wheels to make sure you don't scratch the shiny alloys and the final camera at the rear helps overcome the letter-box sized view through the rear window and includes a tow assist feature.
Tick enough boxes and the Evoque can even reverse parallel park itself, which it does very well might I add. It may offer up a few nail biting moments at first with your near $100,000 car manoeuvring itself worryingly close to the kerb or the car in front, but so precise are its tolerances that it parks perfectly every time - making you look like a professional in the process.
Land Rover certainly doesn't hide the fact that the Evoque shares its platform and much of the drivetrain components with the Freelander2, highlighted by the familiar off-road terrain response options at your fingertips. While I wasn't game enough to actually take the Evoque off-road, if it is even half as good as the Freelander2 in that respect - which it would be - then that still makes it twice as good as anything else on the market.
In this respect the Evoque is a bit like a Rolex watch - they might be built to withstand the vacuum of space or the enormous pressure of the deepest oceans but few Rolex wearers would need to put up with anything more tortuous than being splashed with a bit of Cristal. So while it's nice to know Land Rover hasn't skimped on the off-road prowess of the Evoque - it isn't like to venture far from the urban jungle.
The interior of the Evoque is every bit as luxurious as you would expect for a car which was designed with help from Posh Spice herself, Victoria Beckham. Supple leather covers most of the beautifully appointed cabin in shades which I'm sure would get the tick of approval from Emporio Armani himself, accented by deep piano blacks and brushed metals. The layout of the centre console still follows surprisingly closely to the LRX concept with the Evoque even maintaining the completely unnecessary tunnel compartment behind the centre stack which has been fitted with customisable coloured LEDs for good measure.
Where the Freelander2 falls short with its outdated interior technology the Evoque makes up for it in spades with an assortment of gadgets to keep any technophile satisfied. The test car was equipped with keyless entry (which unfortunately adds $1,495 to the price tag) and push button start, Bluetooth handsfree with audio streaming, satellite turn-by-turn navigation, cruise control, front and rear park assist and that's just the start.
The highlight for me was the digital television and a nifty dual-view screen touch screen ($1,450 and $1,270 options respectively), meaning - when coupled with a set of wireless infrared headphones - your passenger can be enjoying an episode My Kitchen Rules while from the driver's perspective the sat nav is directing you to the nearest 24 hour McDonald's. Clever.
Best of all, the entire touch screen entertainment system is incredibly easy to use with only three main screens to choose from - media, nav and phone - with each boasting only a few layers of menus. Take the time to play around with the settings and you can also program several menu shortcuts from the home screen. The only gripe I have is that the steering wheel buttons can't be used to control the entertainment system menu beyond changing the station or volume. Instead, a keypad on the right side of the steering wheel is used exclusively for the trip computer which is admittedly lacking in features such as distance to empty or average fuel consumption.
This would be particularly helpful as the 2.0-litre turbocharged Si4 petrol engine borrowed from Ford's EcoBoost line-up can be thirstier than you might expect. With 177kW on tap and a very smooth torque curve, the Evoque Si4 performs admirably - while I wouldn't label it a sports car it will definitely exceed your expectations if you give it a bootful.
The six-speed automatic transmission controlled via the Jaguar-like turn knob is a perfect match, offering smooth and seamless shifts with an excellent Sports function which always has the right gear selected to keep the Si4 engine on song.
Just don't try and use the steering wheel mounted shift paddles which are often slow to respond, for me it would be best if they were scrapped altogether as they interfered with a proper 9-3 grip on the steering wheel which instead forces you to adopt the senior citizen's 10-2 hand placement for a firm grasp.
Overall, for potential owners who would seldom use the back seats, the Evoque Coupe is still a very worthwhile proposition. Of course you could still play it safe, go for the five-door and save yourself $1,500 but before you do ask yourself this - what would Steve Jobs do? Then get the Coupe.
If you can exert some self-control and not tick too many option boxes then the Evoque is also a surprisingly affordable proposition too with prices starting from a little over $50,000 for the base model. All things considered, the Evoque may not just be the best Compact SUV on the market but could easily vie for the title of best car on the market - full stop.