by Tod Mesirow

There’s not a deep reserve of demand for an SUV convertible – as far as anyone knows.  In fact, convertibles in general make up less than 1 percent of all registered cars in America.  (Hawaii leads the way with almost 4 percent but Florida is beating California with 2.12 to 1.59 percent.)  As we all know, though, there is a growing demand for SUVs.   Even while overall sedan sales slowly decline, sales of SUVs continue to rise.  And the compact luxury crossover SUV class is especially crowded.  So maybe – just maybe – someone at Land Rover looked at the Range Rover Evoque and asked the question: “How do we get some extra attention?”  A young upstart in the back of the room timidly raised his or her hand and said, “Turn it in to a convertible.” The suggestion was no doubt greeted with uproarious laughter heavily tinged with derision.  But then, someone in authority chimed in: “Great idea!”

Looking at the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque convertible, however, I’m not so sure about how brilliant an idea it really is.  Already a distinctive looking SUV, making it a convertible is like doubling down on the odd lines, the raked rear roof and chopped look.  While driving it around a guy in a 911 convertible asked at a stoplight if it was a custom car – not an odd question, especially in Los Angeles.  When I told him “no,” he gave a thumbs-up and an appreciative head bob before blasting off.

With an aluminum turbocharged four-cylinder engine putting out 240 hp, we weren’t going to be able to keep up with the 911.  And yet the Evoque manages to feel sure-footed and capable of effective highway speeds.  It’s also able to pull its way up one of the steepest streets in California, Baxter Street, where limousines have been known to become teeter totters, and grown drivers pull over part of the way up to stop and cry.

When I was growing up, my parents each had their own convertible.  Our two family cars were a 1970 Ford LTD convertible – yellow – and a 1970 Mustang convertible – orange. I knew those cars pretty well. One of my weekly chores was to wash each of them. Driving them was fun for a teenager, sometimes, but the Washington, D.C. weather didn’t do me many favors. Instead of becoming a life-long lover of open air cars, I have in fact never owned one, and have never considered owning one. I find them too windy at speed and too hot sitting at a stoplight.  Maybe 17 percent of the time there’s a great feeling of whisking along with a 360-degree unobstructed view – if in fact it was possible to be owl-like with one’s head and swivel the whole way around.

Getting into the Evoque is easy – it’s not a giant climb up like some full-sized SUVs.  And the mechanism for putting the top down – and up – has been amazingly well-crafted. There’s just one button that needs to be engaged throughout the brief process. It causes the windows to go down, and the top to unlatch and fold its way back behind the rear seats.  Simple.  Putting it up works just as easily. Unlike my parents’ old cars, there’s nothing to be done beyond engaging the button. No seating of pins, placing of latches, matching sure things are aligned. The mechanism works smoothly and easily.

With the top down, it’s off we go. The Evoque has the full complement of modern systems available, including proximity warnings while parking and driving, rear-view camera, guiding stripes placed on screen, full touchscreen access to the temperature controls, navigation, seat adjustments, entertainment systems and cell phone connections. It’s becoming standard to feel like settling in to the cockpit of some modern space age vehicle when getting in to a new car, and there’s something reassuring about all of that technology.

Out on the road, the Evoque handles the basic tasks as it should – cornering, accelerating, braking.  It’s not a giant SUV, so there’s no ungainly feeling to driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, which is where convertibles belong.  Looking to the left while driving north, the ocean glimmers with its perpetual motion.  To the right, the hills are pregnant with houses.  It’s easy to imagine a small surfboard or boogie board stuck into the foot wells of the back seat. Okay maybe not a boogie board – the wind would whip it up and away. But a surfboard – that image works. And the trunk, while not very large because of the space necessary to stow the convertible top, is plenty big enough for a few boogie boards.

The back seat, as well, is not as big as it would otherwise be, again because of the top.  It has to go somewhere.  Which makes the Evoque convertible a three-person car for adults, or four if the two in the back are smaller children.

Comparing the Evoque convertible is difficult – because since the demise of the Nissan Murano Convertible, there are no other SUV convertibles. But it might be instructive to look at two others in the same compact luxury crossover class – the BMW X3 and the Audi Q5 and compare things like horsepower, size, MPG, and price.

The X3 with a turbo four-cylinder produces 240 hp, the same as the Evoque convertible.  The Audi Q5 also with a turbo four-cylinder produces 220 hp, the lower of the three, with an eight-speed automatic transmission and AWD.   MPG is 20 city/28 highway and has a $42,750 price tag.  The Q5 is 182.6 inches long.  The Evoque is 172 inches long.   The X3 is 183.4 inches long, also with AWD and eight-speed transmission.  MPG is 21 city/28 highway, and carries a $40,950 ticket.  The hardtop version of the Evoque five door model for a straight comparison is $51,470 msrp, with a nine-speed transmission and 4WD.  The convertible version is only slightly more – $52,095, which is a departure from cars like the Mustang and the Camaro, where convertible versions incur a $5,000 and $7,000 premium over their hardtop siblings. The Evoque convertible is rated a similar 20 MPG city/ 28 highway – though one has to imagine that with the top down highway mileage would be lower due to the reduction in the streamlined shape cruising up the California coastline.

Regardless of the details, for most drivers the big questions come down how does it feel to drive, and how do I feel driving it?  The 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque Convertible feels like a luxury vehicle while driving it, but I feel like I’m in an oddball when I think about how it looks. Almost as if it came from an alternate bubble universe, where things were familiar, but somehow just off that little bit. For the right person, the Evoque convertible is a dream car. For everyone else, it’s a bit of a curiosity, an ugly duckling that looks like a swan to those who fall for it. And for Land Rover/Tata, their new model may just be the thing that calls attention to the rest of their flock, which can’t help but be a good thing.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

 

Photos (c) Tod Mesirow.