When I looked out of my apartment window the day I left for Courchevel, France, I was beyond annoyed. That particular morning there was incessant honking on my normally serene neighborhood street. A line of cars was stuck behind a man unloading his Range Rover directly across from my apartment. All his doors were open, boxes were piled in the narrow street, people were pissed. He’d made a dumb choice that morning, but this guy clearly had a good head on his shoulders, as evidenced by his 20-odd-year-old Range Rover. Already an absurd vehicle to pilot on the streets of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, his was even weirder: clad entirely in a grass camouflage print, it stuck out like an ironic sore thumb, a strange vehicle all the more strange for it being so out of place. How poetic, then, that later that day I would fly to L’Apogée Courchevel, a five-star hotel at the top of a sprawling, snow-covered luxury ski resort high in the French Alps where I would be testing Land Rover’s latest and strangest: the Range Rover Evoque Convertible.
I first learned of the Evoque Convertible years ago (a concept that debuted at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show), and it made me laugh. The Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, a vehicle similar in essence to the Evoque Convertible, was a bulging, ugly turd of an automobile, something that answered a question no one ever asked. Beyond the Nissan embarrassment, the only other “convertible” SUV-type auto that really matters anymore is the Jeep Wrangler. It’s just the only off-road-capable convertible truck that matters. Or so I thought.
Before spending time in Courchevel, host to multiple events during the 1992 Winter Olympic Games, other thoughts I had were: no one will want a compact convertible luxury SUV; it’s going to be very uncomfortable; it can’t possibly be very Land Rover-y; and, how many turtlenecks can I reasonably pack? All three opinions were incorrect, and I brought two turtlenecks, which was a number nearly adequate enough to make me feel as close to a ski-ready James Bond as I could hope to be. After the fact, I can easily see 007 piloting this oddity around similar environs — partially because anything beats that Jaguar-in-an-ice-hotel whiff, partially because the Altiport in Courchevel was featured in the Goldeneye opening sequence. But largely because the Evoque Convertible is extremely competent off-road, more than comfortable on-road and laden with enough handsome materials inside and striking enough outside that Q Branch may have already taken a swing at the thing.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four
Transmission: 9-speed automatic; permanent all-wheel-drive
Torque: 250 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 8.6 seconds
MPG: 22/30, city/highway
MSRP: $50,000 (base, est.)
I thought that the convertible roof would be awful to operate, a drag to live with, and couldn’t possibly look at all decent. In fact, it’s as quiet a convertible roof as any I have ever experienced (and the longest and widest currently on any production vehicle), and its up/down operation takes about 20 silent seconds. Notably, there’s actually as much headroom in the backseat as there is in the five-door Evoque (see sidebar, below). Styling-wise the non-convertible’s sexy rising waistline is more than alive in the topless iteration. During a lunch stop at Maison de la Vigne et du Vin in the vineyards of the Savoy region I hyperbolized to anyone who’d listen that if you squinted, this newcomer actually resembles a vertically-stretched version of the now-iconic BMW E46 M3 convertible, which is a very good thing (albeit probably not what Land Rover was aiming for). Suffice it to say, its striking appearance is a net positive in the looks department.
The Evoque Convertible’s performance can be broken down into two types: practical and off-road. Practically, any convertible version of any non-convertible vehicle will, without modification, experience relative structural weakness due to there being, you know, no roof. But whatever rigidity wizards Land Rover has on retainer are worth their weight in high-strength steel, because there’s just no detectable torsional flex whatsoever in this uncapped car. In the middle of an off-road obstacle course I had a wheel a couple feet off the ground and was encouraged to open and close all the doors and the rear hatch, and fully operate the droptop — which the Evoque did with zero error or misalignment. Secondly, off-road the Evoque may seem misplaced: due to its size and stylish shape, many consider it more of a delicate grocery-getter than a serious trail contender. But even in convertible form, this is a truck that can tackle serious terrain challenges. Ascents and descents on mud or snow are mitigated by impressive departure angles, thick skid plates, Land Rover’s hill descent control and the ability to wade through almost 20 inches of water. The Evoque Convertible’s body and frame are so stiff it can articulate through major obstacles, improbably pivoting on its front-to-back axis while soaking up massive bumps and shocks to off-road stardom.
Aside its more risqué, topless Evoque twin, the top-of-the-line Autobiography edition seems plain prudish. But where you’d definitely have a blast with the convertible, exposing yourself to the elements and to a more flamboyant side of life, this five-door version is the one you take home to mom. She’d love it, and so would you.
Luxury compacts SUVs, thy name is Autobiography: from leather-covered everything to that same planted, solid feeling on- and off-road, this small ute is everything I loved about the droptop without 98 percent of the flair. You’ll blend in more and you won’t be as sun-kissed, but with an in-tact roof and sumptuous coddling abounding, it’d be hard to deny this is a great ride too.
Indeed, the vehicle looks smaller and more delicate than it actually is; in fact, it feels as substantially burly as a full-size SUV. This doesn’t mean it drives big, mind you, but whether you’re on a four-lane highway or backwoods two-track it’s very obvious that this is no namby-pamby car-based crossover. This — a convertible — handles like a beefy car and feels as planted as a no-fuss truck. Place the shift knob into Sport mode, and the thing is even fun to toss around switchbacks and kinky mountain roads, of which there were plenty in Courchevel. Among the other snow-tire-clad ski-vacation vehicles in the resort, all plodding around on their very sticky-sounding rubber shoes, the Evoque fits right in. Sure, people thought it odd that a gaggle of American idiots with stupefied grins on their faces and turtlenecks on their torsos were gallivanting around in a droptop anything while temperatures remained a steadfast zero degrees. But the Evoque Convertible’s ostentatiousness and capability made it right at home, even in those extreme surroundings.
The Evoque Convertible’s body and frame are so stiff it can articulate through major obstacles, improbably pivoting on its front-to-back axis while soaking up massive bumps and shocks to off-road stardom.
And it will be at home in any other surroundings too. As a boulevard cruiser, city runabout or suburban attack vehicle, the Evoque Convertible simply makes far more sense than I thought it would because it’s so capable, comfortable and fun. Typical Land Rover luxury abounds, and new tech is rampant: this is the first Land Rover to feature touchscreen infotainment tech in the center stack, for example. Most importantly, the seat massagers and heaters (or air conditioners in balmier weather) will probably be put to use more frequently when the top is down. Which, as proved by our time in France, could be literally all the time. The aerodynamics are such that the cabin is supremely comfortable, even at 80+ mph on a frigid highway, and quiet enough to have a very normal, inside-voice conversation.
Laughable? Hardly. Strange? No, not really. The Evoque Convertible is an elegant conglomeration of all the best parts that so many vehicles aspire to: it moves about nimbly, off-roads adeptly, cruises in the sun, is surefooted in the slippery, plasters smiles on faces, protects and coddles in comfort and luxury. It’s tempting to wave it off as a “third car” — but it needn’t be so. This could be your one car. It’s that smart. It makes that much sense once you dismiss all your cynical questions. Just don’t park it on my street and hold up traffic. Then it’ll be just another weird vehicle in the wrong setting.