The Derek Zoolander of CUV’s? We consider the Evoque.
In product marketing terms, the concept of a compact luxury car, while appealing on paper, has largely proven a tough sell on the field of play. Buyers had an annoying habit of equating luxury with scale and visual heft, the perception being that smaller cars were cheaper cars. For strategic planners in the early years of the current century, such nostrums were increasingly being challenged in the face of evolving regulation and buying habits, but a nagging uncertainty remained – carmakers never having made a fortune by asking customers to pay more for less.
It would be something of a stretch however, to suggest that the 2011 Range Rover Evoque was directly or solely responsible for altering this time-honoured principle. What can be acknowledged however is that it was a highly significant car both in commercial and product-strategy terms. A vehicle which not only transformed JLR’s business at the time, but also helped shift perception, not just of what a Range Rover-branded product could be, but of what luxury car buyers might be prepared to accept in size, format and appeal.
The conceptual lightning rod which sired the Evoque came to be, not as a piece of marketing-led automotive white space, but as a styling study for an entirely new kind of Land Rover. The 2008 Land Rover LRX concept was conceived to address the belief that many prospective LR customers, while averse to traditional SUVs, might be swayed by a more car-like experience, billing LRX as a cross-coupé.
JLR’s Advanced Design Studio at Whitley had began life as the definitive legacy of former Jaguar Design Director, Geoff Lawson, becoming operational shortly after his premature death in 1999. Headed at the time by Julian Thomson, under JLR management, the studio would carry out advanced conceptual work for both Jaguar and Land Rover marques, working in conjunction with respective JLR Design Directors, Ian Callum and Gerry Mc Govern. Having selected Jeremy Waterman’s LRX scheme from a number of rival proposals, Thomson pitched it to Mc Govern and Land Rover management. Allegedly, Land Rover’s mercurial design chief detested LRX, opposing further development, but JLR management it seems were sufficiently enamoured to take a punt.
“LRX is in every respect a Land Rover, but it’s a very different Land Rover,” Phil Popham, Land Rover’s managing director stated at Geneva in March 2008. Buoyed by the overwhelmingly positive reception to LRX in February at Detroit’s NAIAS, the concept’s European debut was equally well received, lending the programme serious traction. For any model line however, viability rests primarily with the business case. The greater the margins, the better its chances. Badged as a Land Rover, the production LRX had little chance of a return. However, with the Range Rover name appended, the case was altered. LRX was go for launch.
Necessity however mandated a version of the Freelander 2’s already modified Ford-sourced EUCD platform and drivetrains being further adopted to suit, allowing L538 (as it was designated internally) to come to market in a prompt and cost effective fashion. It would be built alongside at X-Type’s home of Halewood, Merseyside, plunging the coup de grâce through the flatlining junior-Jaguar’s heart.
L538 was not only the first all-new production design overseen by Gerry Mc Govern in this his second Land Rover stint, but also the first stand-alone model line developed by JLR without Ford’s direct input and funding. Clearly inspired by LRX (especially in coupé form), the transition from concept to production vehicle was very well handled.
Characterised by a prominent and sharply rising reverse fold beltline and converging canopy, the Evoque retained a rather exaggerated variation of the classic Range Rover floating roof and read-it-as-one-entity glasshouse motif. Elsewhere, LRX’s styling features were retained largely intact, despite the vehicle being taller and narrower than the concept – a function of its inherited technical package. While the (more expensive) coupé model’s roofline was somewhat extreme, leading to a rather compromised rear compartment and very poor visibility, the five-door model not only gained two extra doors, but a less-dramatically slammed roofline and a far greater impression of space inside.
A luxury car must also offer a luxury interior, and the Evoque’s cabin was for the time, a well-crafted and tastefully finished environment in the somewhat spare Range Rover idiom. Leather and fine-feeling soft-touch plastics abounded; certainly, downsizing RR owners were unlikely to feel dramatically short changed.
Positions were quickly taken – divisions largely taking place along either pro/anti off-road or gender lines – in the latter case, the Evoque being casually dismissed by those of a more unreconstructed bent as a style-over-substance offering aimed primarily at fashionistas. A lazy slur, the car having more substance than casual appearance might have suggested.
Something of a unique proposition within its sector and price point at the time of launch, the Evoque would become (like the Audi TT or R50 MINI a decade earlier) the ‘it’ vehicle of the new decade. Touted as offering a sportier, more carlike driving experience to that of the contemporary upmarket crossover CUV, the Evoque was set-up to provide a responsive, nimble dynamic package, even if this was to be somewhat at the detriment of ultimate ride comfort. To compensate for the slightly firmer chassis set-up, the car came equipped with optional MagneRide™ (magnetorheological) dampers, but how successfully they aided suppleness was debatable.
Powertrains however were to be Evoque’s primary weakness. While the Ford/ PSA 2.2 litre twin-turbo diesel was lusty, parsimonious and fairly durable, it was not a cultured companion nor one necessarily concomitant with either a premium experience or the Evoque’s rather adventurous pricing. Nor was Ford’s Ecoboost petrol turbo a power unit to play tunes with, but lacking much by way of alternative, JLR simply had to make do.
Making its global public debut at the 2010 Paris Motor Show, the Evoque went on sale the following Autumn. Sales would surpass expectations, by 2014 one in three Land Rovers sold carried an Evoque nameplate. That same year brought a 9-speed ZF autobox replacing the earlier 6-speed unit, along with a new GKN-sourced four wheel drive system (replacing a Haldex system), aiding efficiency. 2015 saw fitment of JLR’s own more parsimonious (if not particularly more refined) 2.0 litre diesel engines.
Already hanging by a thread amid some quarters, the Evoque’s street credibility took a further knock with the advent of a convertible version, first shown in concept form in 2012. The production version made its show debut at Los Angeles in November 2015, with deliveries taking place the following Spring. Never a big seller, the drophead sold primarily in the US sunshine states – largely to fashionistas. Meanwhile, the slow-selling coupé model was quietly discontinued in 2017, the convertible largely fulfilling its brief.
A total of over 800,000 first generation Evoques in all three bodystyles were believed to have been sold – the second-generation model, introduced in the autumn of 2018, going on sale the following year.
The significance of the L538 Evoque to the evolution of JLR as a viable stand-alone business is beyond question. Not only did its profitability significantly bolster the carmaker’s bottom line, it was instrumental in achieving sales volumes which for a time at least, gave CEO, Sir Ralph Speth the confidence to believe he could transition JLR to being a 1 million car a year company.
Evoque succeeded, not simply because it looked right, but because (durability issues notwithstanding) it was a thoroughly realised product – one which lent customers a sense of occasion and indulgent well-being. In this sense at least, it lived up to the brand. Evoque also blew the doors off the notion that the customer wouldn’t be prepared to pay more for less car. Execution was the key element – that and most importantly still, the right badge – after all, Range Rover’s remains one of the most desired in the business. Other carmakers would follow suit.
There were downsides too of course. The success of the Evoque, it could be argued, led Speth and his management team to believe they had the Midas touch – that a similarly ambitious pricing policy would bring forth similar results, notwithstanding the quality of execution. It was to be applied elsewhere amid the JLR empire, but with decidedly patchy results. The success of the Evoque was not replicated.
But success is somewhat akin to alchemy, for within the Evoque story there rests a curious irony. Had LR management chosen the purist, uncompromised approach and produced a car which had cleaved faithfully to the LRX concept (3-door only) it would probably be remembered as simply an interesting, if failed piece of product-hubris, akin to that of MINI’s unloved and short-lived Paceman. For in bald commercial terms, the Evoque coupé was an abject failure – the vast majority of buyers opting for the more usable, more accommodating and frankly, more visually balanced 5-door version.
Expediency is not necessarily a word which springs to mind in cars such as the Evoque, but in this instance, it is one which served JLR well. It may even have saved its skin.
 Some observers have suggested that conceptually speaking, the Evoque represented a BMW X6 in miniature, albeit if so, a somewhat better executed facsimile.
 Julian Thomson graduated from the RCA in London, working for Lotus and the VW group, before joining Jaguar under Ian Callum in 1999. Advanced Design Director for JLR, becoming Jaguar Design Director in 2019. He left the company in 2021.
 Currently Land Rover’s Chief Exterior Designer, reporting to Massimo Frascella – (LR Design Director).
 The task of productionising the car would rest primarily with senior JLR engineering manager, John Edwards, who is believed to have been instrumental in pushing for and driving the programme on to its successful completion. Subsequently head of JLR’s Special Vehicle Operations and Classic facility at Ryton, he left the business in 2018 after 27 years.
 Having previously served within the Land Rover design team, Gerry McGovern returned to Gaydon from Detroit in 2004 where he had headed Ford’s Lincoln studio under its brief tenure within the Premier Automotive Group (PAG) to lead Land Rover design. As Chief Creative Officer, he currently oversees both LR and Jaguar design.
 There was about 30% hardware commonality with Freelander 2. Extensive use was made of aluminium and composites in body and suspension. The Evoque was shorter in length than a VW Golf.
 JLR’s marketers created an early association with high fashion, garnering the attention not only of the motoring press, but fashion magazines and the news media – publicity that would otherwise have cost £millions.
 This technology works to adapt shock absorber firmness by magnetising iron particles inside the suspension fluid
 Roll-over bars hidden in the rear bodywork would deploy in the event of an accident.
 Aside from the expected European rivals, the Chinese market Landwind X7 of 2014 was a carbon copy of the Evoque. JLR successfully sued.