When the sign before the bridge shows an image of a skull and reads “Keep Off Danger” in Greek and English, maybe it’s time to put the SUV in reverse.
But then again, the route calls for straddling the track on this long-abandoned railway trestle over the Corinth canal. It’s a 200-foot chasm that separates the Greek mainland from our destination on the east coast of the Peloponnese. This, apparently, is the way to get there.
What to do? Go straight and trust the folks at Range Rover who have organized this drive to show off their redesigned Range Rover Evoque compact crossover. Just an hour before we were driving in a creek – not across the creek, but in the middle with water flowing on both sides of the car. That worked. Then there were the various tests on 20 percent dirt grades, putting the Evoque in reverse to back up the hill and then down in a robotic descent mode. How bad could an abandoned rail bridge be? The trestle was easily crossed. The only trick was avoiding slicing the inside of the tires on the rails.
After several hundred miles of driving across Greece on terrain that ranged from highways to challenging obstacles including the trestle, the 2020 Evoque proved ready for a multitude of tasks. Though the styling is similar, the designers and engineers at Range Rover held over only the door hinges from the previous model.
Everything else is new, and better. The Evoque competes in a fledgling segment of small luxury crossovers against the BMW X2, Volvo XC40, Cadillac XT4 and Audi Q3. It brings off-road chops to the table that those vehicles cannot match. But to compete for sales, Range Rover focused its efforts on improved comfort and refinement.
Let’s start with the cabin. It’s quiet. The new all-wheel-drive Evoque is the first vehicle from Range Rover to use the automaker’s Premium Transverse Architecture. It makes the crossover 13 percent stiffer than the previous generation and slashes noise and vibration. Whether on smooth pavement, pothole-pocked country lanes or washboard dirt, wind and road noise is surprisingly muted.
Then there’s the suspension. Five driving modes can be selected to adjust the suspension to the driving surface. The improved McPherson strut front suspension reduces high-speed front wheel vibration to improve ride quality. The Evoque has an optional Adaptive Dynamics intelligent suspension system that uses continuously variable dampers and sensors to monitor road conditions and make adjustments on the fly. Combined, the system makes the Evoque one of the smoothest driving small SUVs available, regardless of the terrain.
Sadly, because of the buyer demographics and some minor shortcomings, few Evoques will venture off-road. But drivers imbued with the adventure spirit will be rewarded. The Terrain Response 2 traction management system confidently adjusts to eat up difficult terrain – including rail road ties, grooved hard pack dirt and softer loam.
There’s a decent 8.3-inch ground clearance, enough for almost all dirt trails but a touch below what’s needed for serious rock crawling. Designers pushed the wheels out toward the corners to maintain a wide track and short front and rear overhangs. The approach angle is 25 degrees and departure angle is 30.6 degrees. The new Evoque has a water-fording depth improved to 23.6 inches, nearly four inches more than the previous model. That proved useful in the creek.
This is all powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged, four-cylinder engine with 246 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated with a nine-speed automatic transmission made by German supplier ZF Friedrichshafen. The 0-to-60 time is 7 seconds.
For those who want more, Range Rover will also offer a second powertrain in the U.S. It combines a 2.0-liter engine with a mild hybrid-electric system, which increases the Evoque’s muscle to 296 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. The 0-to-60 time is 6.3 seconds.
The new Evoque is the least expensive vehicle Range Rover sells. The price starts at $43,645 including the destination fee.
It is also the smallest vehicle in the Range Rover lineup, and that was a problem in the previous model. Rear seat leg room was minimal. There wasn’t enough space for gear in the far back.
Range Rover smartly addressed those shortcomings. The new Evoque still is just a touch over 14 feet long. But the wheelbase is almost 1 inch longer. There’s more knee room for back passengers, and the doors are taller, making it easier to enter and exit the rear row.
Cargo space has grown about 6 percent to 21.5 cubic feet with the rear seats up. But Ranger Rover went backward in providing 50.5 cubic feet with the seats folded, slightly less than the previous model.
The new Evoque has sleeker styling, offering an incremental rather than dramatic improvement. Flush door handles smooth the side panels. Overall the styling has larger surfaces interrupted by fewer lines, conveying a feeling of fluidity.
The SUV comes with a healthy share of technology. The ClearSight rearview mirror doubles as an HD video screen. It provides a view of what’s behind the vehicle even when the line of vision for a conventional mirror is blocked by passengers or gear. It can be toggled back and forth between use as a video display and a regular mirror. It is standard in the highest trim levels and an option otherwise.
There’s also an optional feature called Ground View. It uses cameras from around the Evoque to project a 180-degree view of what is under the front of the vehicle on the upper touchscreen. It’s useful in the dirt and in touchy parking situations.
Other technology is standard. The Evoque comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plug-and-play technology that provides the simplest way to connect a smartphone, access your own music and get a choice of up-to-date traffic and navigation apps.
There’s a minimal standard suite of advanced driver-assistance systems, including adaptive cruise control that maintains a safe distance from the vehicle in front. There’s a lane-keeping system that nudges the vehicle back into the lane. The Evoque has high-speed emergency braking and blind-spot alert.
Higher trim levels get more, such as a rear-traffic monitor and a wider range of emergency braking. Most automakers are packing this equipment into their vehicles as standard or for a small upcharge. Range Rover should do the same.
While the new Evoque excels in most areas, there are some weaknesses, depending on what a buyer plans for the vehicle.
The electronic steering felt a touch soft on the road. This is probably a tuning compromise that pays off when you take the vehicle into the dirt. But most buyers will never do that.
In a sacrifice to styling, Range Rover has compounded the problem by not making the vehicle adventure-ready. It lacks roof rails or even a roof top bolt system to allow for them. Instead, buyers who want to add cargo space with a roof-top cargo box or haul kayaks or bicycles on top must purchase a less desirable clamp-on-style roof rack system.
There’s no factory-available tow hitch receiver. The crossover had a tow rating of 3,968 pounds, so it’s not that owners will be towing large boats or trailers. But there’s a growing selection of micro trailers that would be perfect for the Evoque. And a tow hitch receiver has other uses. It’s better to carry bicycles off the back so there’s no risk of an absent-minded driver smashing them into a garage. That leaves owners with the $1,399 option of getting a dealer-installed hitch.
This highlights a split personality the marketing team at Range Rover has created for the new Evoque. The crossover is a wonderful combination of sleek, elegant styling and performance with a strong dose of off-road capability that honors the heritage of the automaker that produced the Land Rover Defender. But lacking simple features like available integrated roof racks and a factory tow hitch leaves the Evoque a hair short of being the ideal entry-level luxury adventure vehicle.
Editor’s note: To facilitate this report, Trucks.com attended an event at which Jaguar Land Rover hosted travel and lodging.