I take back all the snarky quips I made when I first saw the Land Rover Evoque convertible at its L.A. auto show debut last year. It looked high-sided, bricklike and awkward. “Who would take this luxury trinket off road?” I muttered, while eyeballing its tall back end. It seemed like a piece of pricey jewelry surely headed to extinction in the wake of the Nissan Murano convertible, another concept brought to life that seemed like a good idea at the time.
I also voiced the opinion — that it was a misguided mission — to my Land Rover contacts. But they had enough faith in their uncommon car to hand me the keys for a week.
As un-Land Rover as this convertible may seem — and even early Landies have removable roofs — it demonstrates the brand’s ability to create a vehicle that is both niche and specialty. The company doesn’t expect to sell many, but it shows a nimbleness to bring a concept to life, if only for the 1 percent.
Sold in SE and HSE trim levels, starting prices are $52,995 and $58,270, including the $995 freight charge from Halewood, England. The HSE tester was $69,685 and had options most buyers would desire. Among the tester’s extras were the $2,700 Lux package, which added perpendicular and parallel parking assist, traffic-sign recognition, autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, ski passthrough with center armrest and the 660-watt Meridian surround sound audio system.
As a soft top, the airflow is completely manageable at all speeds. The lined and insulated fabric top powers back in 18 seconds and closes in 21, on the move and at slow speeds. The top snaps flush to the beltline in a Z-fold that forms a tidy tonneau. A manual wind deflector can be pushed into place, but I did not feel it was necessary.
Seat heaters and a heated steering wheel are enablers for cool mornings. And the off-road Terrain Response four-wheel drive system will be as effective on-road as off in snow or inclement weather. There is almost 9 cubic feet of usable trunk space, top up or down. And there is an optional ski passthrough for the intrepid user.
There is one powertrain of a 240-horsepower, turbocharged and direct-injection 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a nine-speed automatic transmission. The engine torque peaks at a fairly low 1,750 rpm, which helps get the reinforced mass moving. With some underbody bolstering for rigidity, the curb weight is 4,268 pounds.
Acceleration can be brisk, but when calling for immediate passing or evasive power, the transmission can take too long to get the message to grab a few gears. I often drove in Sport and manually flicked downshifts to stay in the power band. The fuel economy ratings are 20 mpg city, 28 highway and 23 combined on the recommended premium fuel. I was averaging just 20.3 mpg.
The driver area is from the hardtop Evoque and has an easy layout to access controls. There are knobs and buttons for fan, temp and audio volume, and there’s a touchscreen for other functions, such as navigation, audio-media sources, phone and other infotaiment. The leather upgrade in the Lux package includes perforated seat centers to help breathability; vented seats would be appreciated, but they’re not available.
Visibility is an issue at all corners with the top in place. The windshield pillars and large side mirrors interfere with front cornering views. Over-the-shoulder views are constricted by the high sides and wrap of the top, and the rear window is slim and cluttered by headrests. But such sightline complications can be issues in any sporty four-seat convertible.
The Evoque benefits from luxury-class engineering and attention to detail. It is fire-plug tough but with a very comfortable ride. It’s a good four-seat convertible and likely competent off road, which I did not try; it’s just too pretty. It will compare it to any other four-seat luxury drop top, but the restaurant valet will park this one in front.
Mark Maynard is online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage