2012 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque

The 2012 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque adds chic design to the legendary off-road prowess that has always been an integral part of the Land Rover brand. I discovered just how happy the Evoque is to claw up steep inclines and scrabble over muddy trails during several rainy days spent in the U.K. with this littlest Land Rover.

Land Rover likes to remind everyone that the Evoque is the brand’s smallest and most fuel-efficient vehicle. It’s also worth mentioning, however, that Land Rover has traditionally built very big, very rugged, and primarily V-8-powered sport-utilities. The current 375-hp Range Rover SUV manages 12/18 mpg during city and highway driving.

The 240-hp direct injection, turbocharged, inline-4 cylinder in the Evoque handily beats those figures. Fuel mileage in the Evoque is rated at 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway. Coupled with all-wheel drive and a 6-speed automatic transmission, the Evoque accelerates from 0-60 mph in about 7.0 seconds.

Driving on British highways, the Evoque felt relaxed and comfortable. Power is more than enough for passing slower traffic, though the engine sometimes sounded too raspy for a vehicle with a starting price of $44,000. A bit more purr and little less grumble would be welcome here, but it’s not a deal breaker.

What I love about the Evoque is that the handling lives up to the sporty exterior. This isn’t a crossover to challenge Lotus or Porsche when it comes to corner-carving dynamics. Yet the Evoque could have stumbled badly if the handling failed to offer at last sedan-like levels of control.

Despite some seriously crummy weather along the route, the Evoque deftly got me through narrow and challenging roads in the north of Wales. With only some totally unimpressed and soggy-looking sheep as my witness, I can vouch that the Evoque maintained its composure even when the guy behind the wheel (i.e. me) felt like calling it a day and parking at the nearest pub.

Credit to Land Rover for sticking with the trip’s agenda, including off-road sections that were fast becoming swamps. As the rain poured down, the Evoque picked its way along rocky roads and through gooey mud that would have sucked my (totally inappropriate for the weather) sneakers off my feet — had we gotten stuck, which we didn’t.

Hill descent control is particularly eerie for the uninitiated, but the system kept the Evoque moving steadily downward with no sliding and only a minimum of steering input from yours truly. I was more interested in how the Evoque dealt with paved roads but, in the interest of maintaining the brand’s integrity, it’s nice to know Land Rover instilled the Evoque with off-road cred.

The cabin has all the luxury items you’d expect, including leather seating, a thick-rimmed steering wheel, handsome plastics on the dash, and a cool rotary shift knob on the center console. Of course, driving on the “wrong” side of the road made getting used to the layout a bit more time consuming.

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