Meet the New “Baby” Range Rover

2012 Range Rover Evoque.

We’re entering an era in cars where small is good, as is fuel efficiency. It’s OK to brag about how you resisted buying the larger, thirstier vehicle and instead chose the one that is more miserly with resources. Bragging about how much you spent or how lousy your car’s gas mileage is has become rather passé in many circles.

May I now present a Range Rover for the future, the Evoque. While the previous mold for the upscale British SUV was one of a hulking monster with a propensity to gulp premium unleaded fuel at an alarming rate, this stylish new take on the brand is fresh, svelte, and even quite striking.

Oh, don’t worry. The full-bore Range Rover is still with us, as is the slightly smaller Range Rover Sport. But this new one is designed to not only bring a new vibe to the brand, but also to help the company achieve better overall corporate fuel economy.

Yes, even a company like Land Rover (that’s the brand – the models are various Range Rovers at the upper end) needs to think about the future and looming government standards for miles per gallon. So behold the Evoque, a vehicle that will help in that regard.

It’s available as a four door or as a two door coupe, both sharing a rakish roofline that looks very much like the LRX concept car that whetted our appetites a few years ago. While the grill is familiar Range Rover stock, moving rearward from there, this is a whole new kind of vehicle. Boxiness is gone, replaced by a wedge shape that’s set off with huge wheels squeezed into the fenders.

Step inside, and you’re treated to a combination of traditional British luxury and high-tech European style. Naturally, the latest touchscreen-that-controls-everything is front and center in the dash, surrounded by gorgeous soft-touch materials that further the concept car vibe.

The Evoque coupe is actually roomier inside than you’d expect from its exterior profile. Plenty of stretch-out room in front, and the rear perches are even somewhat spacious for adults once they make the gymnastic climb back there. A power-operated hatch is standard, and with the rear seats folded you can carry a significant amount of cargo.

So Land Rover’s designers nailed the combination of visual panache and urban practicality. What about driving it? Well, that’s a bit of a mixed bag. Up under the hood is something very un-Range Rover: a four cylinder engine. It’s turbocharged to make 240 horsepower, and the EPA rates its fuel consumption at 18 miles per gallon city and 28 highway. By comparison, the full-size Range Rover is rated at 12 and 18.

The downside to the Evoque’s engine is that it’s a little noisy by Range Rover standards (a four cylinder just isn’t as smooth and quiet as a V8), and there’s just the slightest bit of lag when leaving from rest. The first five or six feet off the line feel like you’re stuck in quicksand, then the turbo kicks in acceleration just fine. I adjusted my throttle technique, and even tried using the transmission selector in S (for “sport” mode), and the lag became less noticeable.

Once underway, the smooth ride becomes apparent, the engine noise subdues, and this little Range Rover starts to feel like a sporty car. That’s kind of the point to it, really. Many people today want the aggressive look and cargo capacity of an SUV, but they’d also like the gas mileage and nimbleness of a car.

The Evoque is less expensive than the other Range Rover models by a wide margin, but it’s certainly not cheap. Base price for the coupe starts at just over $44,000. But once you pile on the many options, the price climbs quite a bit. My test vehicle stickered out at $57,720, which isn’t exactly chump change.

Nevertheless, I expect the Evoque to be a hit. Great looks, lots of luxury features, and reasonable fuel economy. As it turns out, you really can have it all in one vehicle.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz

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