First Bentley build an SUV, then Land Rover lops the top off one of theirs. Has the world gone quite mad? Brands behaving badly is becoming a theme; nothing is off-limits these days.
So what on earth is Land Rover doing building a mud-plugger with no roof? Well, you’re all to blame; the UK is going to be the biggest global market for this car. It occupies “white space” territory, i.e. there’s nothing quite like it out there. We Brits love our convertibles and we love our compact SUVs, ergo now we have the Evoque Convertible.
In hardtop form, this car looks like doing for Land Rover what baked beans did for Heinz. Helped or hindered (whichever way you look at it) by Victoria Beckham, the Evoque has become Land Rover‘s fastest selling model of all time, and has just hit 506,000 sales – not bad for a model that launched in 2011.
And now, according to Gerry McGovern, Design Director at Land Rover, ‘the Evoque just got more desirable’. Well, I’ll leave you to be the judge of that – but I have to say, I think he might just be right.
Impressively, chopping one side off this metal box has barely touched the car’s torsional rigidity. Various bits of the architecture have been strengthened to cope with the change – steel sills, underbody bracing and stronger pillar bases – and the engineers have done a magnificent job.
Goodwood Road and Racing took the car to Courcheval, as you do, and set about storming it over a snowy off-road course. We inclined it along a steep ramp, took it over offset metal bridges and down a rocky waterfall. We had front offside and rear nearside wheels simultaneously in the air, we thumped it over a ramp and accidentally accelerated too fast off a bridge, hitting the snowy bank with a thud. And there was no scuttle and no shake. It felt as solid as its coupe sibling, with the same class-leading hill descent control (and ascent control, which deploys power to each wheel at speeds as slow a 1mph to climb steep hills with loose surfaces. The driver takes feet off pedals and just steers; it feels very weird).
In the event of roll-over, the A-pillars contain Boron and two aluminium bars deploy in 90 milliseconds from behind the rear seats.
And what about that enormous fabric roof, the longest and widest fitted to a production vehicle? Made up of five layers of material, the acoustic and thermal gains are impressive, and the cabin is very quiet at motorway speeds. It furls into a gap between rear seats and boot in 18 seconds, at a car speed of up to 30mph. Panels then cover the mechanism to create a flush line. The result is a roof that’s 30 per cent lighter than the hardtop version, but with the same amount of headspace (boot space is just enough for two hand-luggage-sized suitcases).
It’s very strange to climb aboard a convertible with such a high waistline, but oddly satisfying, and you feel protected from any splattering mud. It’s still an attractive car, with the addition of a rear spoiler to improve handling, which houses an LED brake-light.
Inside, the convertible gets Land Rover’s new, wider touchscreen which reacts to swipes and pinches. The new satnav can be set up via your phone before you get in the car, and offers a photographic view of your destination. Connectivity via 3G enables a wifi hotspot which will take up to 8 devices.
The TD4 2.0-litre diesel engine (178bhp, 49mpg), mated to JLR’s ZF nine-speed auto, is smooth on the go, although gruff when you push on. We didn’t like the brakes much; the initial pedal travel felt too spongey, but everything else about the driving characteristics was crisp and precise and, more to the point, it was an absolute hoot driving a convertible SUV.
So much, then, for the naysayers. Because, one has to ask of this car, not “why”, but “why not?”
Price of our test car: £51,700