While I still love driving cars which have a sorted chassis and a manual gearbox, in that time I’ve become a father and as every parent will know, your outlook on life changes dramatically at the flick of a switch. That also includes viewing cars differently. I used to scoff at diesel-powered, automatic cars which placed practicality ahead of communicative steering and a sorted chassis, but when a vehicle with those specifications and an ample-sized boot arrives at the Chronicle’s office there’s a sense of relief as I know it’ll cope with anything I throw its way.
An 18-month-old comes with an absurd amount of baggage: if my case a car simply must swallow a pram, all-important toys, a rucksack and still have room for the weekly shop. Handling finesse, steering feel and performance are swapped for comfort, practicality and height - you want your child to be surrounded by a protective chunk of metal and whether we like it or not, SUVs are undeniably the best for that task.
Range Rover Evoques are so popular - there’s rarely a journey that goes by without seeing someone driving theirs - and it’s because they’re seen as something that’s universally popular to anyone who just wants to be seen in a handsome, relatively spacious car. The original car has been a sales hit, of that there’s no doubt, but I still struggle to see why other than the badge factor. Peel back a layer and they’re actually quite poor; the interiors were low rate, the technology was always lacking behind their rivals from Audi, BMW and Volvo and in my experience they always posed the unwanted question as to whether or not the steering rack was actually connected to the front wheels.
If ever a car needed a refresh, it was the Evoque, and the new version is set to be another sales success - this time for all the right reasons - because it’s better in every respect. Its predecessor was always a good-looking thing, but styling touches have been carried over from the Velar and it’s a much cleaner design in 2019 spec. The door handles are integrated, so the smoother lines aren’t broken, and while it’s very much a case of evolution over revolution its designers have got it spot on from every angle.
A major bugbear of mine in the previous Evoque was the shoddiness of its interior. Most cheaper models in a manufacturer’s line-up generally are parts bin specials - using kit from other vehicles in the range - but the older car was a real botch job which felt cheap, unloved and somewhat of an afterthought. Fast forward a few years and the new Evoque has Jaguar Land Rover’s brilliant touchscreen system, a real centrepiece feature of the interior, which works well and looks the part.
Every engine is either a 2.0-litre petrol or a 2.0-litre diesel; they only vary in the amount of power they produce. For reference, the petrols are prefixed with a P, the diesels with a D. This Corris Grey car, which is the 180bhp diesel, has a nine-speed automatic gearbox and has a respectable 0-60mph time of 8.8 seconds and a 127mph top speed. That’s not a typo, by the way, it really does have nine forward gears. A tad excessive perhaps, but it’s something that works extremely well and suits the Evoque’s laid-back character. Handily, it enables regular 350-mile fill-ups and more than 40mpg without too much effort.
It feels lofty when you’re behind the wheel, but the £1,735 optional electronic seats can be altered what seems like a hundred different ways so you can get into a good position behind the wheel. They’re a costly option, though, and the standard seats will do the job almost as well. However, the thing that stands out is its space. The £1,100 panoramic roof helps create a more airy feeling, but even when the sun protector is in position along the roof’s length you can help but be impressed by how much room there is. Rear legroom is more than anyone could need and the 591-litre boot - ten per cent larger than before - swallows a baby’s pushchair and the masses of gubbins a small person somehow needs.
I wasn’t expecting bags of feedback from its steering and that’s correct - it’s not a communicative rack but it has a decent weight and is probably as good as it can be for a car of the Evoque’s type. It’s also a huge improvement on before as you’re in no doubt your inputs are actually being relayed to the front wheels. For a large vehicle, there’s little in the way of roll when you’re driving round a corner and, because it has four-wheel-drive, it has bags of grip but B-road blasts aren’t what the Evoque is about.
Get it on the motorway and it’s hard not to be impressed by how it goes about its job. It’s comfortable, the damping is just right and the impressive gearbox always seems to shift up and down when you want it to. You can take control away from it by selecting to use its steering wheel-mounted paddleshifts, but there’s little point in doing so as it’s great when left to its own devices in automatic mode. It’s not a car you want to grab by the scruff of its neck, so I also wouldn’t bother with its apparently sportier drive modes which aren’t in keeping with its personality.
Through my eyes, Evoques have always been a style over substance sort of car but the new one shatters that perception. It’s better in every aspect and in my opinion even edges the brilliant Volvo XC40. Try one - you won't be disappointed.