Blue sky thinking with open Evoque

The world’s “most capable all-terrain convertible” will give Kiwis a different view of Land Rover.

LOOK beyond the glam and the certainty that it’ll never take a farmer’s livestock to market and it’s a car that takes Land Rover right back to where it began – insofar that the Wilkes brothers’ very first offer was also open topped.

Apart from that elemental association, the Range Rover Evoque convertible is like nothing else around – not just any Land Rover past or present. The latest edition of the smallest bog-avoiding bauble offered by Landie’s elite division is definitely in a class of one as a convertible luxury sports utility.

Whether a model set to arrive in New Zealand in the second half of 2016 carrying a premium over the existing hardtop editions could inspire others to enter this niche is something that cannot be discounted, according to the man who drove a car first presented as a concept whimsy into production reality.

However Land Rover’s Design Director and Chief Creative Officer, Gerry McGovern reckons it will prove itself in the field – of fashion, that is.

Despite this maker having gone to the trouble of presenting images of the open-topped car bashing around the brand’s daunting Castle Eastnor testing ground during its pre-release programme, there’s no expectation that it’ll be any more likely to be seen on an actual off-road expedition than the hardtop versions it spawns from.

Any owner aversion to mucking in doesn’t concern McGovern, who happily reminds that 80 percent of last year’s 130,000 Evoque buyers are hardly in the mould of traditional Land Rover types as they’ve never considered buying into the brand before the baby Rangie came along.

He sees the convertible acting as a halo edition as Land Rover continues to cement its urban explorer intent. He also sees it as a response to an increasingly evident consumer desire to try out SUVs that step away from the traditional.

“By 2020 there’ll be 20 million SUVs sold globally,” he commented after the car was unveiled recently.

“But that market is fragmenting, so there’ll different niches within that. As a business, we have to get to a critical mass of volume to sustain ourselves and reinvest in our products.

“While we’re obviously continuing to update our existing models, we’re always looking for opportunities to stretch the brand. We have a term for that: ‘white space’, and we’ll have a look at what sort of white spaces there are in the rest of the range.”

Underneath it all, the four-seater fabric-roofed edition is no different to the regular Evoque five-door wagon and three-door coupe range.

It will offer Jaguar Land Rover’s latest 2.0-litre Ingenium petrol and diesel engines – first in 177kW/ 340Nm tune and the other making 132kW/430Nm - driving through a nine-speed automatic transmission and Land Rover’s Terrain Response all-wheel-drive system, with the usual off-road assists in back-up. The open models weight more than the hardtops, and that affects fuel economy, which is up to one litre per 100km worse depending on the model.

Land Rover New Zealand has yet to finalise its specification, however there’s potential it might follow other right-hand-drive markets in taking the model in Dynamic and HSE Dynamic trims.

It is also very likely to carry a relatively hefty margin – perhaps around $14,000 – over existing hardtop options in those specifications.

For that money Kiwis will enjoy all the usual wind-in-the-hair attractions; plus a lot of attention – not that the regular Evoque lacks for that already. Occupants keen to let the sunshine (and adulation) might be interested to know that the folding roof stows in a claimed 18 seconds at speeds up to 50kmh. Raising the roof takes an extra three seconds. 

McGovern is been quick to comment that while it seems best suited to sun and sand rather than skifields, the convertible has been designed to be “a vehicle for all seasons”. 

While the fabric roof is the longest and widest “currently fitted to any vehicle on sale today”, the acoustic insulation is said to ensure interior comfort on a par with the five-door Evoque.

Nonetheless, it is not quite a sky’s-the-limit solution. The Evoque has never allowed practicality to crimp its styling panache and nothing changes here. Land Rover promises space for four adults however, even though the luggage compartment features a ski-port, it’s not that big, with a mere 251 litres’ capacity.

Safety is taken care of by a rollover protection device comprising deployable rollover bars buried in the rear bodywork has also been developed for the vehicle, deploying two aluminium bars within a claimed 90 milliseconds in the event of a crash.

The roof alone doesn’t account for the model’s premium status. It also debuts a new hi-res 10.2-inch touchscreen with JLR’s next-generation infotainment system, the so-called InControl Touch Pro. This is claimed to offer seamless smartphone integration, door-to-door navigation and a premium sound system.