Sunday 19 November 2017

Evoking a nice response

RATING 85/100

Now and again people take me by surprise by being nice to me on the road. Mostly it is a hostile enough environment out there. They take a look at that eejit with the sappy head behind the wheel of a big, new shiny motor and decide instantly they do not like him (it happens off road too).

Anyway, they usually manifest their distaste by determining there is no way in the world they are going to let that fellow out of the side road, get into the lane in front of them, or anything that might facilitate his journey.

You'll judge the extent of my surprise, then, over the week I had this Range Rover Evoque when four lads sitting abreast in a big white van gave me the thumbs rather than the fingers.

"Ah! Nice bus, boss," they chorused as they reined in the van to let me into the lane in front of them.

A lovely lady in big Merc M-Class waved me on; another (!) asked me all about the motor and then conspiratorially winked to say her space in the car park would be vacated in 30 seconds.

Such kindness overwhelmed me. But there's no fear of me missing the message: It's the CAR, stupid.

The Evoque, the smallest the marque has made in its history, made a big impression on others. Maybe not quite as big as on me, mind you.

The first thing I had to get my head around was the looks. The 'floating roof' of this radical design has, I must admit, won over most observers. I'll go further: it has them raving. But I'm probably too old fashioned and still have minor reservations. In particular, the ladies liked it, some loved it. No wonder the people at Range Rover expect to attract a bigger proportion of women owners. And with Amy Huberman as the 'ambassador' for it, you can't see the marque or the buyers being disappointed.

I am mindful of the fact that there is a huge demand out there for something that is radically different, especially in this price range.

Look at the success of the Nissan Qashqai (albeit at a lower price level and different market segment).

This is similar in its approach. It just 'goes for it'.

The cabin takes five (four, with two in rear, in Coupe version).

Coincidence determined that at some stage I would park it beside a full-size Range Rover. From the rear you'd hardly guess its heritage but from the front you would. It is the son/daughter of Range Rover.

And it has the driving energy of a young one. The diesel engine is kept relatively quiet despite punching out a fair bit of power and zip. That was translated into a sprightly and reasonably spirited drive. There is a more powerful version but this will do fine.

They got the suspension set up with plenty of sport in it. This was an enjoyable brisk drive over bad roads and around tight bends -- just what the doctor ordered. Helping, of course, with grip and traction was the permanent four-wheel-drive (with several settings for a variety of underfoot conditions).

By the way, there is a front-wheel-drive version due before the end of the year. Sadly there is no spare wheel and I think that is a big black mark against it. Who wants a 4x4 without a fifth wheel? Please reconsider.

Gear-change was okay but I kept finding it difficult to find first for some reason. That happened too many times for it to be comfortable.

The other thing that annoyed me a bit was the small aperture of clear glass on the rear windscreen. Inevitable I suppose given the design of the vehicle but I'm sure they can find a way to wipe more of it clean in wet, muddy conditions.

I liked the seats: nice and strong with decent adjustment. The driving position was excellent and, despite my rear-view reservations, peripheral visibility was good.

There was decent rear-seat and luggage room (not having a spare wheel helps). If I needed more space, the rear seat would have folded 60/40.

Despite the roof appearing to 'dive' into the body, rear-seat headroom was by no means cramped.

Ultimately, I think decisions on whether or not to buy this mould breaker -- that is effectively what it is -- comes down to two elements.

Firstly, it is a Range Rover -- and that still counts for a lot in certain quarters -- with a twist of real effervescence in its design and performance.

Secondly, they've got it pitched at a price segment of the market where those buying have the money (yes, they exist) or easy enough access to it and are genuinely looking for something not so much ostentatious as sufficiently different from the mainstream. And this is different in the best sense of the word.

They expect around 300 people to buy one of these next year. Well for them, isn't it? In the current climate that is a big number for what is a niche product.

It just goes to show you how some of the other half still manage to live.

And there may very well be an added incentive . . .

Far from being derided and sneered at for driving a brand new Range Rover in times likes these, you can expect to be treated with great kindness and consideration on the road if my experiences in the Evoque are anything to go by.

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