According to the legalese, the Range Rover Evoque is still a Land Rover--which implies all sorts of things about low-end torque, extreme fording capability, short overhangs and rock-crawling capability second only to reptiles.
You don't have to scotch all those preconceived notions, but it helps if you picture the Evoque as something closer to a pint-sized Range Rover car, one with sizable off-road prowess. The Evoque not only lowers its profile for more carlike handling, it cuts down its displacement and fashions something quick and nimble around a turbocharged four-cylinder powertrain.
The 2.0-liter "Si4" engine is, in fact, essentially the same one Ford installs in the latest EcoBoost editions of the 2012 Edge and 2012 Explorer. A 2.0-liter four-cylinder with direct injection and turbocharging, the engine spins out 240 horsepower--more than the Ford-derived in-line six fitted to the Land Rover LR2. As it's doing across the Ford lineup, the turbo four provides a little jet-fuel jolt to the Rover identity, trading brawny strength for something more raucous, and surely less refined, but just as quick. There's plenty of whistle and thrum in the Evoque's cabin when the turbo hits full boil, and a measurable bit of lag until it does--fine for on-road merging, not so ideal for delicate off-pavement mudding--and it can launch the Evoque to 60 mph in about 7.0 seconds, Land Rover says, without much doubt.
The six-speed automatic controller rises out of the dash, a la the Jaguar XF or 2001: A Space Odyssey, and does everything to amplify the turbo's joy through its sport mode and paddle shifting. In all, the powertrain's more a positive in the Evoque's column--and Ford's, if you know the backstory.
The carlike feel goes deep into the Evoque's bones, as its electric power steering and independent suspension take it a step further away from mud-plugger than even the LR2 dared to. Light responses are built into the steering, with a fair amount of road feedback translated to the wheel, but almost none of the heft you might want--you know, for street cred. The suspension's a combination of coils and struts on base versions; on the Dynamic models we drove, a magnetically-controlled set of shocks dials up a very well controlled ride that dispels any poor-handling SUV recovered memories you might have. Within a few miles of mixed driving, the Evoque gels, and starts to make sense as a Range Rover, not a Land Rover.
Still, it's the promise of true off-road strength that brings buyers back to the brand when an Audi Q5 or a Volvo XC60 might do just as well. A reinforced, high-strength steel body is underpinned by Land Rover's four-mode, all-conditions Terrain Response system. It puts a Haldex all-wheel-drive system together with electronic software that splits drivetrain behavior into normal, Snow, Mud and Ruts, and Sand modes, which are selected by tapping buttons on the console--no levers to shift. The Evoque has short overhangs, and even a bit more ground clearance than the LR2, and in our trail-riding time in prototype three-doors, the system showed off as much all-weather talent as the Explorers we've driven this year. It'll clamber up or roll haltingly down fairly steep hills, anti-lock sensors dictating bursts of torque and braking to modulate the trip up or down. It's pretty amazing how electronics have changed the art of off-road driving to a few switches, but make no mistake--the Evoque's hardware does a lot of things, but it's not intended to be, and not capable of being, the off-road equal of a "real" Range Rover.