The launch of the Evoque was a defining moment for Land Rover, because it proved the company could do style and desirability as well as go-anywhere ability. Its success has also given Land Rover the confidence to recognise that outlandish ideas aren't just plausible, they're desirable.
It's this bullishness that has allowed the Evoque to lose its roof, and become what Land Rover calls the world’s first luxury compact SUV convertible. Whether the world is ready for such a thing remains to be seen, but there's certainly nothing else quite like it: the rugged Jeep Wrangler has always been available with a soft top, and several luxury convertibles come with all-wheel drive – but neither option could claim to rival the Range Rover directly. We drove it with the 177bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine, in range-topping HSE Dynamic Lux trim.
What’s the 2016 Range Rover Evoque Convertible like to drive?
With the roof retracted the Evoque is a touch blustery, but it’s impressively refined underneath. The TD4 diesel unit is subdued enough and has plenty of low-rev enthusiasm. However, even with nine ratios in the automatic gearbox, performance is more businesslike than fast – the Evoque Convertible takes 10.3 to hit 62mph from rest.
The blame for that is less under the bonnet than it is under the body. The Evoque’s platform has required a good deal of strengthening to cope with the structural trauma of losing the roof, and the penalty for doing so is some substantial weight gain. With the convertible now pushing two tonnes, it’s little wonder that not only has performance been blunted, but also that the car feels ponderous under braking and in sharp turns. Its average economy of 49.6mpg is significantly lower than the coupe manages, too.
On the upside, the reinforcement reduces the unwanted cabin vibrations typically associated with convertibles. The telltale wobble of the rear-view mirror is occasionally noticeable, but more serious juddering through the seatbacks or steering wheel is unusual. Much more common instead is the unwelcome thump of the suspension, which has been also been stiffened to aid body control.
Factor in 20in alloy wheels and the Evoque’s considerable heft, and it comes as little surprise to discover the model is a less-than-settled prospect around town. Beyond, it gets better without becoming particularly rewarding. Only by leaving the Tarmac entirely does the convertible truly distinguish itself: offering its alfresco driver all the off-road amenability traditionally associated with the brand.
What’s the 2016 Range Rover Evoque Convertible like inside?
The convertible isn’t offered in SE trim, so leather upholstery, electric memory seats and the new 10.2in infotainment touchscreen are all included. The last of these is particularly welcome, the screen eliminates the requirement for shortcut buttons and is far more responsive and intuitive than the one it replaces. Otherwise, the Evoque’s handsome interior stays as it was; save for the roof button, which nestles next to the cupholders.
Behind the driver, the convertible is reminiscent of the three-door model on which it’s based – meaning that with the roof up there’s the same squeeze to access the two back seats. Although its claim to seat four adults is justified, taller passengers might quarrel with the description: as with the coupe, there's little sense of spaciousness.
That assessment is underlined by the boot that, owing to the stowage requirements of the fabric hood above, has effectively halved in size. There’s the option of a ski hatch; but otherwise four occupants have to share 251 litres of load space that's accessed through a Mini-style flap below the spoiler. Fortunately, compensation for the sacrifice in practicality comes in the form of a decent fabric hood. It takes 18 seconds to fold away and 21 seconds to go back up again, and works at up to 30mph.
Should I buy one?
So established are the Range Rover values of luxury, comfort, refinement and 4x4 prowess, that the idea of taking the top off could almost be seen as perverse. It isn’t. There’s enough style and head-turning novelty here to make the Evoque Convertible genuinely alluring, especially to SUV devotees.
Less attractive are the sacrifices made to get the product over the finish line. Not only is it heavier, thirstier and more expensive than the coupe version, but it is also less comfortable, less enjoyable to drive and even more impractical, all of which limits its appeal. Nevertheless, we can expect the new niche within a niche to flourish regardless.
What Car? says...
Range Rover Evoque Convertible 2.0 TD4 180 HSE Dynamic Lux Engine size 2.0-litre diesel Price from £51,700 Power 177bhp Torque 317lb ft 0-62mph 10.3 seconds Top speed 121mph Fuel economy 49.6mpg CO2 149g/km