It's remarkable how a single product can redefine a brand.
Consider Apple, which was once a struggling computer manufacturer. Upon Steve Jobs' return to the company he founded, Apple was transformed by the introduction of the iMac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad and iWatch into a glamorous consumer product technology company.
The same can be said of Land Rover. A decade ago, you could count its products on one hand. In case you haven't noticed, that's no longer the case thanks to a flurry of new models that started with the Range Rover Evoque.
"The strategy that we created about nine years ago was the backbone of the original Evoque," said Gerry McGovern, Land Rover's chief design officer.
If any vehicle changed consumer perception of what a Range Rover was, it was the Evoque, a compact luxury SUV built using an old Ford platform. A Range Rover was no longer a large, unobtainable SUV used by royals and private citizens who live in houses tucked behind multi-story hedges. The Evoque made the brand's cachet available on a smaller scale, but it had something more: a uniquely contemporary character that was truly distinctive and special.
"Our point of difference compared with a lot of the competition is our modernist approach to design," McGovern said.
Having sold more than 772,000 worldwide, the company has built the 2020 Evoque on the previous model's design while incorporating styling cues from other Range Rovers, particularly the Velar. But the true transformation is inside, where the new Evoque channels the look of its larger siblings, with astutely curated materials that create a sumptuous yet minimalist digital cabin anchored by twin touchscreens and minimal use of switchgear. The interior design is stunningly modern in the finest Range Rover tradition. Seats are firm, with fairly good bolstering. Legroom is sufficient for four, as long as front seat passengers don't hog all of the space. Cargo space seems generous for its size, which straddles the subcompact and compact SUV segments.
"When it comes to the interior, it is more of a departure from the original. The interior did need to move on," said McGovern. "This demonstrates levels of detail and luxury execution and material specification usually associated with our bigger Range Rovers."
The vehicle's overall footprint is about the same as the outgoing model but rides on Land Rover's new mixed-metal Premium Transverse Architecture. Base P250 models are powered by Land Rover's Ingenium turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four that generates 246 horsepower. The pricier P300 will get the same engine mated to Land Rover's first 48-volt mild-hybrid system. It generates 296 horsepower, but only improves fuel economy by 1 mpg.
The mild hybrid version of the new Ingenium engine furnishes good power, even among the hills of Greece's Peloponnese Peninsula. Turbo lag barley noticeable, except occasionally in off-road situations when you need a bit of thrust and it comes on more forcefully than you'd expect. The eight-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and has a manual shift mode that holds the gear, even when in normal drive mode. It shifts quickly, although not as quickly as a dual clutch. There's a sport mode as well.
If any word defines the Evoque, it's refinement. The new platform delivers a driving experience that's impressively quiet, even over the roughest road surfaces, and returns an incredibly compliant, comfortable ride. Steering feels somewhat light and yet manages to return enough road feel without excess vibration through the steering column. Body lean is minimal, though noticeable in corners. But there are no excess body motions or unexpected commotion. This vehicle brushes off bumps and road shocks as if they didn't exist. Then again, that compliance pays big dividends off road, where truly technical trails fail to transmit the worst ruts, culverts and rock bumps back to the cabin. The all-wheel-drive system performed flawlessly.
That said, the Pirelli tires punctured during the test drive. Yes, this is an urban SUV, but its owners might take it off road occasionally. So why Pirelli tires? It's like wearing Gucci loafers when Red Wing work boots are called for.
Nevertheless, the off-road technology is impressive.
Uniquely, an option called ClearSight Ground View technology that provides a view of the ground under the front end of the vehicle in the upper touchscreen. It also has a rear view mirror that doubles as an HD video screen, providing a wider rear view than a traditional mirror. And it can wade through 23.5 inches of water.
It adds up to an evocative new Evoque, one that builds on the strengths of the model it replaces, with a glamorous new interior that's so enticing, you might just want to live in it.
Base prices: $42,650-$55,800
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Torque: 269 pound-feet
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 20-2 1/2 6-27
Wheelbase: 105.6 inches
Length: 172.1 inches
Cargo capacity: 22 cubic feet