What’s the story?
Neat stacks of factory-reject tyres race across the windscreen and then strobe past the passenger window as the Evoque glides balletically around the rapdily uncoiling test track. Behind the wheel, nine-times class-winning British Tarmac Championship rally driver Richard Clews is clearly enjoying himself. So am I.
I've come to Prodrive's exclusive and tightly secured private test track, near Lemington Spa, to find out just how good JE Engineering's tuned and lowered Dakar Evoque really is - without jeopardising my driving licence.
The sparkling white Evoque left Land Rover's Halewood factory as a very oridnary SD4 Pure three-door. That means no satnav and no Dynamic suspension, though it does have the optional panoramic glass roof and parking sensors. As you can see, though, its looks have been transformed by a full Startech body kit - front bumper, rear bumper, rear roof spoiler - together with 20-inch wheels and Startech's 30mm lowering springs.
The new bumpers, wheels and lower springs give the Evoque a much sportier stance than the standard version but, as a true Land Rover nut, I'm more interested in how the vehicle performs rather than just how cool it looks.
JE Engineering must think the same way as me, because the company has developed a worldwide reputation for radically improving the way that Land Rover products perform. The Dakar Evoque is no exception, as David O'Connor explains.
'We put our standard Stage 1 Evoque tune on it. This one's an SD4, so our remap has raised power from 188bhp (190ps) to 233bhp (236ps). It's a full ECU remap, not just a stuck-on or piggy-back chip.'
The increase in power is very useful but what makes the biggest difference is the additional torque that JE has released, lifting the peak from 310 to 365lb ft (495Nm). That extra 55lb ft (75Nm) means that the autobox doesn't need to change down quite so frequently in real-world conditions.
Our favourite bit?
The 30mm lowered springs, 20-inch wheels and Yokohama tyres combined with the standard Evoque's fantastic chassis make an awesome package. The average driver like me may never fully explore the limits of adhesion and grip like Richard - well, not on purpose anyway! - but the fact that the Dakar Evoque is so capable and forgiving means that mere mortals have an even greater safety margin.
And the verdict from LRO writer Mark Saville?
Tearing around a test track like a hooligan in a stolen car is really good fun, but what's it got to do with real-world driving? Not much, but it does highlight the enormous capability of the vehicle and the reserves of performance and grip available if and when you find yourself on a bumpy B-road.
Having an extra 45bhp at your disposal is always going to make a useful difference in a vehicle as relatively light as an Evoque, but for me the big advantage with the Dakar is the extra torque. The extra 55lb ft means that, on a moderate throttle, the Dakar Evoque picks up nicely, without always going for a downchange. Fuel economy is also better.
Releasing this extra torque has the immediate effect of making the Evoque feel more powerful and flexible. It's a useful improvement, and one that I'd definitely want if I had one of these.
The handling, always very good, is now even better. And, crucially, it hasn't messed up the comfortable ride.
Where can I read more?
The full story is in the July 2013 issue of LRO. Download a digital issue, or order a back issue by calling 01858 438884.