Proving to be what could be the most polarising car of 2016, the new Range Rover Evoque Convertible eschews common sense in favour of fashionista-appeasing style and kerbside desirability. Underneath it's still very much a Land Rover though, proving capable of conquering ground few owners will ever encounter.
In the metal
When it comes to soft-top SUVs and crossovers the Range Rover Evoque Convertible finds itself in an enviable position, currently at least, of not having to share the segment with anyone else. Cynics will see that as a case in point; others may see Land Rover as ahead of the curve. Regardless of what side of the argument you find yourself on, this is not a bad looking car.
On the outside, the Convertible has many of the same design features of the regular three- and five-door Evoque models. Even the windscreen and A-pillar geometry is the same, but it has been significantly reinforced with high-strength boron steel. This adds more rigidity to the whole chassis and improves safety in the event of an impact. Hidden from view behind the rear headrests are two roll-over protection bars that are deployed in a split second when a roll-over situation is detected. Further bracing has been put in at the door sills and across the floor.
The fabric roof consists of five layers and is, according to Land Rover, the longest and widest convertible roof fitted to any production car at present. At the touch of a button it unclips itself from the reinforced windscreen frame, lowers all four windows and folds away in 18 seconds. In side profile it gives the Evoque a sleeker image than the three-door model. Once down it is completely out of sight, unlike others such as the MINI Convertible that rests its fabric roof on the rear deck, hindering rearward visibility. Raising the roof takes a smidge longer at 21 seconds, though conveniently, putting the roof up or down can be done on the move at speeds up to 48km/h. Boot space is not affected by the position of the roof either though is a modest 251 litres.
Whether up or down, the view to the road behind you isn't that bad, although the high waistline of the car will leave you quite reliant on the reversing camera mounted on the boot lid. Its picture is displayed on the impressive 10.2-inch InControl Touch infotainment system. This is also much more responsive to inputs thanks to a new Intel QuadCore processor, and it is the first car to use a 60GB Solid State Disk (SSD) hard-drive.
The system can also deliver a Wi-Fi hotspot and mobile connectivity, while satellite navigation can be used by pinch and zoom gestures just like on a smartphone. The rest of the cabin is as per the regular Evoque models and is well laid out with all the functional controls located on a wide and easy to navigate centre console.
Even Range Rover would reluctantly admit that this was never going to be a driver's car, or one that is likely to appeal to real enthusiasts. But it remains a Range Rover, meaning that it is in fact a very capable vehicle in challenging conditions. In keeping with the premium 'halo' image of this model there are no plans to offer it in two-wheel drive guise.
On snow and mud is didn't seem challenged in the slightest with winter tyres fitted. There is an array of different terrain systems on hand to prevent it from getting stuck. This includes All-Terrain Progress Control (ATPC) whereby the car takes over throttle, gear and braking inputs over rough terrain leaving the driver to simply steer. Few are likely to use it, but it is an impressive system when put into action in the right situation. It is even capable of wading in depths of up to 500mm.
Powering the Evoque Convertible is the latest generation of 2.0-litre Ingenium four-cylinder diesel engine. With 180hp on tap it can pull the soft-top Range Rover along at a healthy pace should you be in a hurry. There is less din from the diesel than you would expect too, whether the roof is up or down. Driven normally the nine-speed automatic transmission delivers gears in a near-seamless fashion, but drive it on a bit harder and it can become hesitant and less refined. Switching to its Sport mode or change between the cogs yourself via the steering wheel mounted paddles is advised if you're in a hurry. The optional Active Driveline switches from four- to two-wheel drive at speeds above 35km/h in order to increase fuel efficiency.
The steering doesn't give you any great sense of connection to the front axle, but when you do become accustomed to it, placing the car exactly where you want it in a corner comes easily. However, the additional bracing and strengthening to the chassis results in a circa 250kg weight penalty. That puts it at almost two tonnes and when driving harder you do notice the additional weight, especially in corners and under braking. That said, it feels assuredly planted and flat through corners and is very predictable in its reactions. A firm suspension setup means that the Evoque Convertible doesn't soak up the road's imperfections in a way a premium luxurious vehicle such as this should. Overall it is a surprisingly fun car to drive and is certainly more capable than many might expect.
What you get for your money
Retail pricing has yet to be set for the Irish market, but expect it to come in at a higher price than both three- and five-door Evoques. Land Rover will only be offering the Convertible in higher specification grades, so buyers will be getting a well-equipped car for their money. You will also be buying exclusivity in terms of having the only convertible of its type on the road at the moment. Irish buyers are more than likely only going to have the diesel engine offered, though that is no bad thing.
It is the answer to the question that nobody asked, but, like it or loathe it, the Range Rover Evoque Convertible is here and in certain markets has the potential to be quite a success. Price will of course be a limiting factor, but given the current desirability of the brand, combined with the aesthetic appeal, this is unlikely to be a rare sight, even on our roads.