Range Rover Evoque Si4
Wherever you take an Evoque, you’re conscious of sitting in a sort of sculpture-on-wheels. It does take getting used to.
The seats, although beautifully handsome things, feel narrow at first, presumably sculpted around the slender waistline of Victoria Beckham. All-round visibility also appears hopeless; the shoulderline is too high and the rear window is too small. But these are first impressions, and they don’t last. Before our Big Test, I drove the Evoque into central Cambridge – a notorious traffic hellhole – and found that it wasn't actually too nail-biting to drive in tight spaces around town. And my bum has settled down quite happily after the run up to Croft racing circuit the day after.
The Si4 engine is a real joy, although the claimed combined fuel economy of 36.2mpg is a bit dishonest. I did exceed it once, but only by experimenting with the cruise control at set at a pedestrian 57mph. Under normal driving, even when the komputermabob gave me a score of 98% for driving efficiency (by measuring braking, acceleration etc.) I was getting about 33mpg. Drive it for fun and you’ll be well below 30mpg.
On the track, the Evoque is hilarious. Torque Vectoring and the Active Driveline give you a continuously shifting pattern of torque between all four wheels, so the car really bites into each bend. On the Queen's highways, magnetic dampers made light work of bumpy country roads, and that Active Driveline comes into its own off-road: dip one side of the car into the mud and the monitor shows how the driveline is re-directing the torque to the opposite side of the car. It’s all very smooth - genius, really. It’s just a shame that the approach, departure and breakover angles are rubbish. You can’t have everything though, and the Evoque has a lot going for it.
Hop from the Evoque to the Freelander, and you're struck by how much more ‘like a Land Rover’ it feels. You sit higher, you wobble a bit more, and you work harder. That said, it’s brisk enough on the road, suitably grunty on the greenlanes, and actually quite fun to drive. It’s certainly got character that many modern vehicles lack.
Visibility is good, and it’s well put-together. Although the interior isn’t as interesting to look at as the chunky exterior, I like the way it feels straight-forward and functional without being ‘smartprice’ – qualities I’d like to see some of that thinking in the next Defender.
Sadly, as Assistant Editor Mark pointed out after spending the weekend with it, it’s not ‘big enough for a big car’: despite being longer and wider than a Range Rover Classic, it doesn’t feel as roomy inside.
Discovery 4 HSE Lux
I quickly fell in love with the Disco. There’s a chunkiness about the interior that suggests durability without being spartan. At all. In fact this HSE Lux pack is seriously plush. It may lack the cool sophistication of its Range Rover-branded cousins, but it’s a lovely thing to be in, and like all its predecessors, its cabin feels airy and spacious. We often used it a camera car, with photographer Lyndon hanging out of the back.
Off-road at Parkwood, it was masterful. Even when I stupidly pointed it up a steep slope with the Terrain Response in the wrong mode, which kept the SDV6 below 1000rpm when it should have been revving higher, it still lugged its way up with no drama.
On the road, I do find the 8-speed auto ’box a bit sluggish on the uptake. Sport mode fixes that, but it’s too aggressive to have on all the time, so you soon learn to switch between D and S pretty frequently. And the brakes could be better, especially considering that our TDV6 Range Rover Sport, which has bigger discs despite weighing less and having less power.
That said, I enjoyed driving the Discovery more than the others seemed to. Considering the vast weight of the vehicle, body roll isn’t too alarming. In fact the combination of power, size and comfort make it a tempting package to chuck around. You’ve got to keep your hair on though; it’s not forgiving if you insist on driving like a loon.
Range Rover Sport TDV6
After our blast around Croft I took the Sport for a fantastic drive over the country lanes of the Yorkshire Dales. It was a beautiful afternoon, the sun was setting, the roads were perfect, and I had one of the best drives I’ve had in ages.
There’s a flightiness to the Sport that none of the others can match. This may only be the TDV6 version (no longer available in the UK), but bury your right foot and it soars. Of course it's not in the same league as the Supercharged version, but its TDV6 has enough oomph to deliver a very rewarding drive. It’s so poised in the bends, and the brakes are so sharp, that you soon forget you’re in a big, big car. Although it shares its bigger brother’s sense of refinement, you sit ‘in’ it a lot more than you do in a Range Rover.
It’s all about the road ahead. Love it!
Defender 110 XS
After our Big Test, I stole - I mean, er, ‘borrowed’ - the Defender for a weekend exploring the Yorkshire Dales. I thought I’d miss the heated steering wheels, massage seats and 8-speed autos that had indulged me during the week, but I really didn’t. Twisting through those narrow lanes, with a big rucksack full of camping gear in the back and an OS map on the passenger seat, there was no other vehicle I’d rather be driving.
One big downside: security - as I found when I drove to a remote hillside above Malham to start a day’s hiking. I loaded my rucksack and set off, but as soon as I reached the horizon, I felt I couldn’t let the Defender out of my sight. It’s just too stealable for a £30k car, and I’d be in serious trouble if I lost it! So I drove back to the village, parked somewhere safer, and started my walk from there.
Anti-stall gives it a neat party trick: if you start the engine in first gear with the clutch up, it just chugs into motion and away you go. I was also really impressed with the TDCi on the motorway journey home. Overtaking lorries in sixth gear is strangely addictive.
Range Rover Hybrid
Surprisingly, the Hybrid Range Rover delivered my most enjoyable greenlaning moment of the Big Test. Running on electric power, creeping over the snow at Rutland Rigg with the window down and the massage seats on full, utterly silent but for the gentle padding of the tyres on the snow… it was beautiful. This is such an impressive machine, I just wish it were perfect.
The monitor-interface-type-thing is too complex. They’ve lowered the button-count on the dash by adding menus and submenus on the screen. That’s not removing complexity, that’s adding it, and it can be dangerous to use on the move.
The digital instrument cluster is beautiful on the eye, but not too clever. You choose between the hybrid display that shows what the electric system is doing, or the standard one showing engine revs. I couldn’t find an option that showed both engine revs and battery charge, which would surely be the most useful display.
But it’s exceptionally comfortable, enough to induce a sort of dream-like reverie. It’s actually quite bizarre. Fortunately the combined might of the SDV6 and electric motor will soon bring you to my senses. Hoofing the throttle unleashes a breathtaking surge of power.