They won’t miss you

The cabrio adds pre­mi­ums for style and op­tions but there’s not much prac­ti­cal­ity

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Prestige - RICHARD BLACK­BURN CARS­GUIDE ED­I­TOR

LIKE to be no­ticed? Range Rover has the car for you.

The new Evoque con­vert­ible is un­like any­thing else on the road — half-SUV, half open-top boule­vard cruiser.

In blood or­ange with 20inch black rims, it is de­signed to turn heads, es­pe­cially with the roof down.

Land Rover boss Matthew Wies­ner says the ex­tro­vert Evoque is aimed at con­vert­ible buy­ers rather than those look­ing for SUV prac­ti­cal­ity. Ri­vals in­clude four-seat Audi and Mercedes-Benz cabri­o­lets.

Wies­ner doesn’t ex­pect it to be a vol­ume seller but thinks it will have a halo ef­fect on the rest of the Range Rover brand, the Evoque in par­tic­u­lar.

“If we do 150 to 300 over the year we’ll be pretty happy with that,” he says.

“From a mar­ket­ing point of view it’s a great ad­di­tion. It’s a bit of fun and it’s unique.”

With a start­ing price of $84,835 — al­most $30,000 more than the cheap­est Evoque avail­able — the drop-top is aimed at peo­ple who are pre­pared to pay a size­able premium for style.

And those who don’t put a premium on space and prac­ti­cal­ity.

The boot is de­signed for Ibiza rather than Ikea, It’ll fit a cou­ple of overnight bags and tow­els, but the rest of the space has been sac­ri­ficed to store the world’s widest and long­est fold­ing fab­ric roof.

The rear seats are cosy and legroom is tight when there’s an av­er­age-sized per­son in the driv­ers’ seat. With the roof in place, head­room is tight for taller peo­ple.

The roof stows au­to­mat­i­cally in 18 sec­onds and can be raised in 21 sec­onds at up to 50km/h.

Land Rover says the roof mech­a­nism weighs just 68kg but the ex­tra struc­tural work to sup­port the roof adds al­most 300kg to the over­all weight.

It also doesn’t look as svelte and stylish as the Evoque wagon, as the fab­ric roof can’t recre­ate the clamshell pro­file of the orig­i­nal. With the roof down it looks like an over­grown Mini con­vert­ible.

Two four-cylin­der en­gines are avail­able, matched to a nine-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. The 2.0-litre turbo diesel is a new-gen­er­a­tion job, while the 2.0-litre turbo petrol is a ver­sion of Ford’s EcoBoost, as used in the Fo­cus, Mus­tang and Fal­con.

The con­vert­ible has a lower ride height than the reg­u­lar Evoque but Land Rover says it re­mains a ca­pa­ble off-roader, with 500mm wad­ing depth and de­cent ap­proach and de­par­ture an­gles. It also has the com­pany’s ter­rain re­sponse and wade sens­ing tech­nol­ogy.

Wies­ner says very few are ex­pected to ven­ture into hard­core off-road ter­ri­tory.

“We see a highly ur­banised own­er­ship,” he says.

In­side, the Evoque con­vert­ible de­buts Jaguar-Land Rover’s larger 10.2-inch touch­screen and new in­fo­tain­ment tech­nol­ogy. The ex­tra weight and big wheels should spell a bumpy ride but Land Rover has done a great job of cush­ion­ing the drop-top Evoque’s oc­cu­pants from road im­per­fec­tions.

With­out the ex­tra struc­ture of a hard roof, there’s in­evitably more jig­gling over pock­marked roads but over­all the bal­ance be­tween com­fort and com­po­sure over bumps is im­pres­sive.

The same ap­plies to noise sup­pres­sion in the cabin — with the roof up it’s al­most as quiet as the wagon; with it down, there’s lit­tle buf­fet­ing for the driver.

The en­gine also feels sur­pris­ingly perky given the ex­tra weight it has to shift. The nine-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion helps per­for­mance by keep­ing the turbo on the boil, es­pe­cially with the sports set­ting se­lected — it also sharp­ens up the steer­ing.

There’s an oc­ca­sional hes­i­ta­tion when it’s asked to kick down a cog in a hurry but over­all changes are smooth and swift. It has a sweet ex­haust note, too, adding to the en­joy­ment when the top is down.

Don’t ex­pect great fuel econ­omy, though. The of­fi­cial com­bined fig­ure is 8.6L/100km, but we only bet­tered that on a long free­way stretch. More spir­ited coun­try driv­ing re­turned 12.0L and in the city that rose to 15.0L.

Through the bends, the Evoque is one of the more as­sured SUVs in the busi­ness. When asked to shift di­rec­tion, it man­ages to dis­guise its weight and height well, sit­ting flat through cor­ners. Sharp, com­mu­nica­tive steer­ing adds to the driv­ing en­joy­ment.

We dis­cover one flaw dur­ing our night-time drive: the au­to­matic high-beam some­times switches it­self off when there’s noth­ing com­ing the other way, usu­ally as you ap­proach a cor­ner.

In­side, the cabin of our test car looked suit­ably up-mar­ket, if a lit­tle dark and for­mal. The Evoque con­vert­ible is an im­pres­sive piece of en­gi­neer­ing, with strik­ing looks, clever tech­nol­ogy and great road man­ners.

But it all comes at a price, as Land Rover doesn’t miss with the op­tions list. Safety equip­ment that’s stan­dard on much cheaper cars is op­tional, while the or­ange paint is $3750.

Our test car, the top-spec HSE Dy­namic, started at $92,800 and wound up at $122,300. That’s a lot of money for a mid-sized SUV.

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