Testdrive Range Rover Evoque has the looks, the drive and the space. Ouseph Chacko checks out the SUV at picturesque Wales

T he Evoque, in the words of Range Rover CEO Ralf Speth, is a new car in a new class aimed at a new kind of customer. And to find out how far it is true I get into the driver's seat of a five-door Evoque SD4. I chose the SD4 because it is the one that will be the popular choice when it is launched in India before the end of this year. I drive over some of the most spectacular roads in North Wales and off-road through some of the most spectacular scenery the place has to offer.

The Evoque is quite a compact SUV. It is suspended at the front by MacPherson struts and a multi-link rear. The extensive use of aluminium in its body panels and suspensions and also plastics in the body make it up to 100kg lighter than the Freelander.

Step into the Evoque and you'll notice one intrinsic Range Rover characteristic that's missing — the commanding view out. Full-size RRs have high seats and a very low window line but in the Evoque, you sit a lot lower and as a result it feels a lot sportier.

You'll love the interiors, especially the soft-touch surfaces on the dashboard, and the way everything feels expensive. Automatic Evoques get Jaguar's rotary gear lever that rises from the centre console and, further down, switches for Land Rover's Terrain Response off-road system that reconfigures the car's software and hardware depending on the surface you're driving on. With the Magneride adjustable dampers you'll get one more setting — Dynamic — which when selected, turns the dials red and stiffens up the dampers.

The cabin is a comfortable place as the seats are widely adjustable and so is the steering. There's more headroom than the roof-line would suggest.

If there is a gripe, it's with the elephant ear-like wing mirrors that obstruct forward view. And, if you can discount the short squab of the rear seats, it's a lot more accommodating than you would think.

Spacewise

There's loads of legroom, good headroom and it's nowhere near as claustrophobic as the tapering window-line would have you believe.

Indian cars will get the massive panoramic sunroof as standard. Even the 550-litre boot is useably big.

That said Range Rover has omitted a spare wheel which, in an SUV, is quite unacceptable. Part of the problem is that in its quest for style, it is designed to run everything from 18-20-inch wheels. Attempting to accommodate such a big spare wheel must have been an instant hair-greying experience for the engineers.

Push the engine start button and you'll be surprised by the lack of clatter from the 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel.

In fact, the engine remains impressively refined even near its red-line. Range Rover's spec sheet points to an engine that makes 187bhp and 42.8kgm of torque and the motor delivers this power in a nice, linear manner. Curiously though, it doesn't feel very quick when you put your foot down and on narrow Welsh roads, overtaking did need some waiting and planning.

The six-speed auto isn't the best around either, sometimes refusing to upshift or downshift despite repeatedly pulling the steering-mounted paddles.

Still, over these winding roads, the Evoque shows remarkable composure and tight body control.

There's not a squeal from the 18-inch tyres on the car and it even changes direction eagerly. It's just that the electric steering is a bit of a letdown — it's too light and inconsistent off-centre. Despite its sporty looks, the Evoque feels best when you're not pushing on and with Dynamic mode switched off. It's here that you'll discover a ride that deals with most surfaces authoritatively with only the sharper bumps kicking through. I can't help but think how well it will ride over Indian roads.

Luckily the Evoque is far more adept off-road than I am at pronouncing Welsh village names.

As we make our way to the off-road section marked on our map as ‘The Pipeline,' the rain comes down. Select mud and ruts on the Terrain Response system and you can feel the dulled throttle response, essential for driving on slippery surfaces. You can even feel its traction control system monitor wheelspin as the Evoque claws its way up the slope. The thing is, the Evoque feels so capable over these non-existent sections of road that all it demands of you is to select the right off-road setting, steer and feed in throttle. Even on steep, slippery descents, the hill-descent control system is adept at keeping 1715kg from sliding off the precipice.

Indian version

Indian version of the Evoque will be slightly different from the one driven here. The biggest change is with the air-intake for the engine, which will be higher. Engineers are also working on re-tuning the suspension to work with smaller wheels and higher profile tyres, a move that will be appreciated well. What this will do to the styling is yet to be seen.

When launched, prices will start from an estimated Rs. 49 lakh, and this is probably where the Evoque might get stuck. It is expensive, whichever way you look at it. What you will get for the extra money though is a truly high-quality, stunning-looking and entirely desirable small SUV.

The cabin is a comfortable place as the seats are widely adjustable and so is the steering. There's more headroom than the roof-line would suggest

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