Ever since Land Rover showed the Evoque convertible concept at the 2012 Geneva auto show, it has been compared with one thing—the ill-conceived, overwrought 2011–2014 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet. Given the Evoque’s high-altitude seating for four, all-wheel drive, true crossover stance, and the same questionable raison d’être (exactly what is the point of a convertible crossover?), comparisons with the Nissan droptop are understandable. But that doesn’t destine the Evoque convertible—now finally available, five full years after we first saw the concept—to the same fate. Indeed, after this test of the 2017 Evoque convertible, the convertible-crossover idea is one that we think could catch on—if only as a niche within a niche—provided it’s done right.
We picked up the Evoque convertible during the posh Monterey Car Week, where our Yulong White HSE Dynamic test car shuttled us from hotels to racetracks to grassy fairways covered in gleaming cars. This fancy cruise-in appears to be the sort of venue for which the Evoque convertible was conceived. The Monterey Peninsula’s rustic, winding two-lane roads and parade-pace speed limits allow motorists plenty of time to sightsee. With its high seating position and 360-degree sightlines, the Evoque convertible provides unparalleled views for gawking at soaring redwood trees or a convoy of Ferrari barchettas. The high perch and open top, however, also make occupants accessible to chatty passersby, who seemed to be either confused at the sight of a convertible SUV that’s not a Jeep or thrilled to see the Evoque convertible on the street. Anecdotally, most folks we spoke with were impressed with the execution even if they weren’t universally on board with the idea.
Clean, cohesive styling is arguably the Evoque convertible’s greatest strength. Top up or down, the Evoque ragtop looks as dapper as the two-door coupe variant. The raised top fabric stretches from windshield to liftgate, retaining the fixed-roof model’s two-box profile. At speeds up to 29 mph, one console-mounted button and 13 seconds (or 18 seconds if you haven’t already lowered the windows) are all it takes to banish the roof into a shallow well behind the rear seats, flush with the Evoque’s signature rising shoulder line. (Raising the roof takes two seconds longer.) Nearly all of the standard Evoque’s styling elements from the shoulder down were carried over; the list of discreet additions includes pyrotechnic roll bars behind the rear seats and windshield frame and structural stiffeners.
Not Much Sport; Even Less Utility
The only major packaging casualty involves the cargo area or, more accurately, the near elimination of it. Despite Land Rover’s efforts to minimize the top well’s intrusion on cargo space, the trunk is undeniably small—nine cubic feet, barely enough for two standard carry-on suitcases. The space is accessed via an abbreviated liftgate that’s as vertical as the cliffs of Yosemite and swings up awkwardly at chest level, making loading and unloading of items more like shoveling coal into a steam locomotive. For something ostensibly based on a “utility” vehicle, this one’s laughably low on practicality.
Its “sport” quotient is somewhat higher, although not by much. First, it’s sloooooow, which didn’t really bother us during our leisurely jaunts around Monterey but became quite frustrating on the 300-plus-mile hustle back to Los Angeles to perform our instrumented tests. We didn’t need our equipment to tell us the Evoque would make a poor showing; the unceasing turbo lag of the Evoque’s 240-hp turbo four-cylinder, the slurry nine-speed automatic transmission, and the massive 4525-pound curb weight—408 pounds more (!) than the standard four-door Evoque we tested in 2013 and 140 pounds more than our long-term BMW 7-series—all had a hand in killing its acceleration, particularly during passing. The track test provided confirmation: a zero-to-60-mph run takes 8.1 seconds, 1.2 seconds longer than the four-door. Our 5-to-60-mph rolling-start figure of 9.3 seconds is perhaps more illustrative of the time turbo lag adds to a typical acceleration event.
This all put some lead in our feet while we cajoled the beast up to speed. That, along with some haste-making on the freeway to meet our testing schedule, explains our abysmal 15-mpg observed fuel economy, far short of the EPA’s city/highway figures of 20/28 mpg (which are themselves down 1 mpg compared with the fixed-roof version).
Considering its tall ground clearance, off-road hardware, and 0.39 drag coefficient, the Evoque convertible’s directional stability, steering feel, and taut ride were impressive, always keeping us informed about what was happening beneath us; in that respect, it’s comparable to an Audi A5 cabriolet. Certainly, we were traveling at speeds we never would have attempted in the far-from-rigid Murano CrossCab. The Evoque’s well-sorted chassis also helped the softtop edition circle the skidpad at 0.82 g, down but 0.01 g from our test of a standard model, and our track driver noted how secure it felt at its maximum cornering limit.
So if it took a while to attain high velocities, the Evoque convertible was enjoyable once it got there. And when time came to simmer down—say, when the highway patrol was spotted in the distance—the brakes proved up to snuff, with strong stopping power and brilliant pedal feel. Despite the considerable weight gain, the ragtop’s 70-mph-to-zero braking distance of 176 feet was just three longer than the hard-roof model.
And, yes, we kept the top down most of the time. The clarity of the Meridian speakers and the effectiveness of the Bluetooth microphone allowed us to have clear phone conversations even at 80 mph (with all windows up and the wind deflector in place). With the top up, cabin calmness approached that of closed vehicles, registering a quiet (for a softtop) 71 decibels at 70 mph.
Leisure Craft for the Leisure Set
As we drove around in the city, the convertible attributes again became our primary focus. Other than a global window switch that allows the driver to open or close all side windows at once, little has been added to the cabin that isn’t present in other Evoques. Rear-seat legroom is about the same as in the standard four-door model, although it’s not as easy to get back there due to the absence of rear doors. In our well-optioned example, some $1300 worth of padded and stitched leather swathed the cabin with richness befitting the Range Rover brand. This test vehicle also came with JLR’s newly available infotainment system, which, with its quick-reacting 10.2-inch touchscreen interface, is the best we’ve used in a Land Rover product to date. If we had a bone to pick, it would involve the rotary shifter, which still feels chintzy, somewhat loose in its mount, and awkward to operate in haste, as when maneuvering into a parallel parking spot on a busy street.
All this cush is costly, too. Our top-trim HSE Dynamic model started at a heady $58,695, and in addition to the aforementioned leather bits, also featured the $3400 Driver Assistance package (head-up display, self-leveling headlamps, adaptive cruise control, and high-speed automatic braking), a $2700 Lux package (parking assistance, surround-view cameras, road-sign recognition, automated emergency braking, a 660-watt Meridian speaker system, and a folding rear-seat armrest with ski pass-through), a $750 HD radio and satellite radio upgrade, a $1500 set of sparkling 20-inch wheels, and a cool-toned $595 Yulong White paint job. Bottom line: $69,440. Yikes.
It’s hard to characterize the Evoque convertible as an SUV in any literal sense of the term. It’s perhaps more apt to call it a leisure craft for the road, the kind of ride that’s best suited to loping along a waterfront on a balmy weekend afternoon. That’s the same environment where the Murano CrossCabriolet was happiest. But unlike the Murano CrossCab, the Evoque convertible can turn and stop with confidence, too. Time will tell whether the Range Rover Evoque convertible will succeed where the Murano CrossCabriolet failed. What we know already is that the Evoque convertible makes a much more convincing pitch, albeit at more than twice the price.
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