Outdoor Couture

The Derek Zoolander of CUV’s? We consider the Evoque.

Autocar

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.[1]

2008 Land Rover LRX. Carpixel

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,[2] 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[3] 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.[4] 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,[5] but also the first stand-alone model line developed by JLR without Ford’s direct input and funding.[6] Clearly inspired by LRX (especially in coupé form), the transition from concept to production vehicle was very well handled.

auto-abc-eu

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.

Autocar

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.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9]

(c) Land Rover

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.[10]

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.

weilinet

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.

[1] Some observers have suggested that conceptually speaking, the Evoque represented a BMW X6 in miniature, albeit if so, a somewhat better executed facsimile.

[2] 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. 

[3] Currently Land Rover’s Chief Exterior Designer, reporting to Massimo Frascella – (LR Design Director).

[4] 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.

[5] 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.

[6] 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.

[7] 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. 

[8] This technology works to adapt shock absorber firmness by magnetising iron particles inside the suspension fluid

[9] Roll-over bars hidden in the rear bodywork would deploy in the event of an accident.

[10] Aside from the expected European rivals, the Chinese market Landwind X7 of 2014 was a carbon copy of the Evoque. JLR successfully sued.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

22 thoughts on “Outdoor Couture”

  1. This car was indeed a bit of thing when launched in the Netherlands. They were around in the sort of number that would make them recognizable, yet still somewhat exclusive. Now they must be parked in garages or in the dark corners of dealer lots, I hardly see any, or perhaps worse, hardly notice any.

    To these eyes the coupe works best: the styling is (almost) cartoonesque, less practical than it’s five door sibling. Too bad is has a rear seat. With lower proportions it might have been a decent shooting brake. The five door isn’t bad looking, but really just another SUV. The convertible has overdone it in such a way that I imagine only Barbie and Ken would drive it.

  2. I seldom see the 3-door version, but it surely had “halo-car” effect, as it looks as stunning as any small SUV can look in my opinion. But I overall really like Range Rover styling, even if it’s a bit repetitive. With all the bling, they still understand and follow modernist and simple approach to design. Contrary to there competition… Evoque was the first Range Rover that was quite popular here in Poland, no wonder given the previous RR’s prices. Mostly driven by affluent women, It became a fashion statement. Mini for the next decade, you’re right with that

  3. The Evoque, or LRX, seemed to have a massive impact on LR/ RR’s design direction. Every LR/ RR car since (possibly bar the Defender) has the same chunky-wedge look to it. Even the new top of the Range Rover has discernible Evoque/ LRX DNA, at least as much as that of the original RR to which everyone is so keen to make the main connection.

    The 3-door version was remarkable in looking so very similar to the concept – I am not sure if I can recall such a direct translation from a proper concept car to the production version. Certainly, it was much more direct that that between the earlier Range Stormer and the RR Sport which it is said to have inspired.

    I find it interesting that you state that GMcG did not take to the LRX in the beginning. One could make an argument that his undoubted success and reputation of today can be traced back to the segment defining impact that the Evoque had, as well as the financial abundance which it brought for JLR. As I wrote earlier, each of the mostly lauded LR/ RR designs under his watch since then owe much to the design template provided by that car.

  4. Another example of what, for me, lays at the heart of the DTW ethos – the ability to make me re-assess my opinions and confront my prejudices. I now see the Evoque in a different light – for which, thank you Eóin.
    In fact, I realise that there was really only one thing about it which truly offended me, and that was the ridiculous roof line which I hated with a passion. And I admit that to condemn the vehicle for that one feature is unfair and immature; but it offends me still – and ever will…..

    1. I too was initially offended by the LRX, but the manufacturers’ hype about the futuristic power-train it would adopt made me curious. In the event, the Evoque was just a Freelander in drag – and the Freelander had a poor reputation.
      Obviously the 2nd generation Evoque is a far better proposition – my niece bought a very fancy one to replace a s/hand 1st gen example. Probably over-priced, but she can afford it – nice to ride in but not my cup-of-tea…

  5. Good morning Eóin and thank you for a thoughtful analysis of the Evoque, a car that has always left me slightly cold, for some reason. The Zoolander analogy nails the reason for my ambivalence, I think: it’s just a bit too self-regarding (if that’s possible for an inanimate object).

    I wonder if the failure of the coupé was more down to JLR’s ambitious pricing than its limitations in practicality terms? The five-door was equally stylish (or, at least, stylish enough) for most potential buyers, so the coupé simply offered less for more in the eyes of those buyers.

    Is the Mk2 Evoque an example of the ‘difficult second album’ syndrome? It is such a cautious update of the original that, if it weren’t for the hidden door handles, I would struggle to tell them apart. Here it is:

    One line in your excellent piece particularly caught my attention:”Meanwhile, the slow-selling coupé model was quietly discontinued in 2017, the convertible largely fulfilling its brief.” The brief, presumably, was to be a failure in sales terms. Very witty!

  6. To my eyes, the Freelander 2 was a lovely and underappreciated design, especially after the slightly flaccid, round-shouldered original:

    I find it very pleasing, moreso than the Evoque.

    1. I always liked the Freelander 2’s design too. It’s a great modern Land Rover design before that was hijacked by the Evoque-influenced Disco Sport.

      I understand, though, that it was an absolute dog in terms of reliability.

    2. It appears that the Freelander 2’s design has been resurrected in the new Defender:

    3. The Freelander 2 design has aged well, I agree. But this is an aspect of LR design (for the most part) that we see time and again. Mind you, it is (a bit like Evoque 2) a more ‘reduced’ visual take on its predecessor.

      The reliability record of the Freelander 2 is well documented, but having said that, I know two current owners in this locality, neither of whom have any significant complaints – one of whom is a service manager in a car repair outfit – the latter often being loaned out as a courtesy car. I have mentioned this before, but close relatives have been Land Rover/ Range Rover owners. Their experiences were overwhelmingly positive. Another family member’s 2013 Jaguar XF has been metronomically reliable since purchase. JLR’s record on durability is, I sometimes feel, a little like Lancia’s on corrosion. Some truth, but equal amounts hyperbole. (I will add a proviso that even JLR insiders acknowledge that durability took a nose dive a couple of years ago – most likely in the quest for greater volumes.)

      I would agree by the way that initially I thought the second generation Evoque looked a little tentative when compared to its predecessor, but as time has elapsed, I feel they probably made the right call. However, a personal view is there is more ‘richness’ to the original design.

    4. I can add modestly to the positive testimony on Land Rover reliability: our 1997 Discovery TDi, which had a poor reputation in this regard, was absolutely faultless over three years and 30k miles. The two BMW E30 convertibles that preceded the discovery required significant attention. (The first needed a new automatic transmission fitted at its first service(!) thanks to an oil leak, the second needed a new ECU after just two years.) And don’t get me started on our SLK’s (non-)reliability!

      I know these are single examples, but I sometimes wonder if claims of a marque’s reliability or otherwise are exaggerated to suit a particular narrative.

    5. An acquaintance of mine used to own a second-hand, first-generation Range Rover Sport, which proudly wore its ‘Britisch Elend’ Badge of Recognition. He got rid of it once the turbocharger went bust (for the second time, if memory serves), replacing it with a brand new, late first-generation Evoque, which is almost as bad in terms of reliability.

  7. Dear Eóin

    Thank you very much for this stimulating examination.

    It seems likely that the Range Rover Evoque, along with the MINI R50, is the most successful attempt to market a comparatively compact vehicle with the aspirations (and pricing) of a premium product.

    As I already stated on another post, I have been a consistent Range Rover buyer for over 30 years. For me, at the time, the introduction of the Evoque was a rather ambivalent affair. While I found the new design quite exciting and appealing, I was very unsure then to what extent these lines would be able to stand the “test of time”. After all, the timelessness of the design is one of the reasons why, to this day, I don’t waste a thought on alleged competitors.

    Today, I have to admit that my doubts were misplaced. In my eyes, the Evoque’s design has held up amazingly well. In this respect, from my modest point of view, it is also completely appropriate that the second generation has only received some optical fine-tuning.

  8. Given that Land Rover couldn’t make the Evoque convertible profitable at premium prices one wonders why VW think they’ll have more success with the T-Roc convertible (and I had to look up which of their many SUVs they’d taken the angle grinder to).

    1. The Troc Cabriolet is astoundingly successful here in Germany – a success I trace back less to its ‘unique’ looks or any true desirability, but the fact that it’s the only topless car remaining in its class. I’d hazard a guess that a fair few owners would rather have bought a Golf Cabriolet, if it was still on sale.

  9. Excellent piece, Mr Doyle, thank you for the evaluation.

    Autotrader has approaching 5,000 Evoque’s nationally available with a nudge over 200 being the 3 door. The older end command under £10k asking prices but most have over 100,000 on the odometer. I have to agree the three door still carries the stance nicely but when did I last recognise one? They’re a bit like butterflies; pretty but fleeting. The five doors are still everywhere I seem to go. Early white versions have a Star Wars Stormtooper look to their rear.

    Did JLR not utilise the “smaller than a Golf” tag line? Or was that thought unnecessary? It’s bloody amazing!

    And here’s what I found parked next to me at lunchtime at work. I know the Freelander owner but couldn’t find the individual to enquire what on Earth this is all about…

    Other than preventing weight reduction, I believe this car is pretty reliable.

    1. Afternoon Andrew. Maybe the owner is part way through packaging it up prior to sending it somewhere via courier. That is how I start my returns…

    2. That’s a better ratio than here in Australia with about 1:30 being the 3-door. Only slightly more popular than the convertible, but incredibly one was a manual… I don’t know about the Evoque but I think I read that not much more than 100 Mini Pacemans (Pacemen?) were sold here.

      I remember Range Rover making a lot of the off road ability when it was launched, “proper Range Rover” and all that. Would seem better than most other similar crossovers. Wasn’t it tested on Top Gear complete with remarks about brand ambassador posh Spice?

  10. I don’t think it’s a slur to say the Evoque was style over substance. The drivetrains have never been cutting edge, and the off road ability is pointless, because I can’t imagine any owner has ever used it. The Discovery Sport exists for customers who may actually require a vehicle to function off road.

    Still, the Evoque was an astounding success. Interesting that McGovern was initially enamoured… he’s certainly allowed himself to take the credit since, while Julian Thompson has now left the company.

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