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Range Rover Evoque is cool and sophisticated

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If the parking lot were high school, the all-new Range Rover Evoque would throw the best parties, vacation in places we mispronounce and read magazines that are delivered to only the truest of sybarites.

It would be cooler than us.

This is to be expected, given that the Evoque has the looks and the pedigree to make a member of any royal family jealous. Yet anyone who carries themselves with a calculated air of indifference has insecurities lurking within. The Evoque is no different.

This compact sport-utility vehicle is an all-new product for Land Rover, the historically British automaker that's now owned by Indian manufacturer Tata Motors yet which still makes its cars in Britain. The Evoque is available in either coupe or four-door configurations, both of which feature full-time all-wheel drive.

Its target buyer is a young, more urban (or should that be urbane?) set of sophisticates. The kind who appreciate the Evoque's raw style more than they would the sublime comfort of the full-size Range Rover or sippy-cup confines favored by yuppie parents in the company's boxy LR4. Interested parties should prepare themselves to spend as much as $60,000 for a fully loaded version.

Good thing, then, that the Evoque is a very good-looking hunk of metal.

It gets its visual cues from the Range Rover line but distills them into their most concentrated form. Elements such as the mesh grille, headlight layout, side-engine vents and the "floating roof" are all pushed to their extremes.

The belt line (consider it a windowsill) starts high toward the front of the Evoque, then rises with gusto to meet the conversely sloping roofline at the abrupt rear of the vehicle.

The Evoque's large wheels (they were 20-inchers on my tester) have been pushed to the corners, and the front and rear bumpers are artfully integrated into the body, rendering them aesthetic non-starters. The grille is compact and rectangular, flanked by bold and narrow headlamps.

The result is a taut, athletic stance that draws lavish stares and regular second glances.

The interior lives up to the exterior's standard. Everything you see and feel has the substantial look and build quality you'd expect from the Land Rover brand.

The highlight of the interior was the massive panoramic glass roof. This feature, which is fixed and doesn't open, comes standard on all Evoques. It brightens what might otherwise be a dark cabin to such a degree that drivers can expect to be jealous of their back-seat charges; it's from those seats that you can best enjoy its splendor.

Returning to a metal-roofed vehicle feels like you've given up electricity in favor of candles.

Also lovely was the leather on the seats in the loaded Evoque Prestige I tested. Soft enough to be buried in, the leather covers seating for five, though four adults ride best and with plenty of space. My tester also had such uber-premium features as a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, blind-spot monitoring and heated front seats, steering wheel and windshield.

The trunk is the sacrificial lamb to passengers' comfort, among the smallest in the segment. It's big enough for a weekend getaway for four, perhaps, but pack light if a longer road trip is on the agenda.

At the front the cabin, the dashboard is swaddled in leather and features a recessed touch screen controlling the navigation and stereo system. Below, a large round dial rises out of the console when the Evoque is turned on, a trick that will be familiar to owners of current Jaguars. This is your transmission gear shifter.

Unfortunately, the six-speed automatic transmission that the dial controls isn't as slick. It's neither quick to shift nor smooth in doing so. Steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters are standard, as is a sport mode. Using either of the two alleviates the problem to a degree, but the expectation of more refinement isn't unreasonable.

The negligent transmission isn't the only demerit the Evoque earns.

The navigation system is ornery and slow and seems a generation behind those of competitors. Rear visibility is in the neighborhood of scant. Finally, the price tag is high enough to indicate Land Rover knows it has a looker on its hands, and knows its clientele will pay dearly to be seen in it.

A base Evoque model (called Pure) starts at $43,995, while the Coupe is an additional $1,000. Next is a sport-tuned Dynamic model, available in both body styles. The grand pooh-bah Evoque is the Prestige, available only as a four door. It's yours starting at $52,395.

Included on the Prestige is the aforementioned navigation system and leather seats; numerous parking cameras; an impressive 17-speaker, 825-watt Meridian sound system; real wood trim; and 19-inch alloy wheels.

Similar features on competitors such as BMW's X3 and Audi's Q5 will cost you around the same amount, but consider that's only if you choose their larger, six-cylinder engines. The only power plant available on the Evoque is a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder unit that puts out 240 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque.

Although not on par with competitors in terms of power and displacement, this direct-injected engine is a good one. It's never overwhelmed by the Evoque's weight, and it pulls strong and even toward a 7.1-second zero-to-60 time.

The Environmental Protection Agency says the Evoque gets 18 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. In more than 400 miles of driving, I averaged 20.9 mpg.

The engine is also remarkably quiet, a trait shared with the Evoque as a whole. Even above freeway speeds, the entire cabin is free of road and wind noise. Such rapidity also reveals an appreciable sure-footedness; owners can look forward to reducing the travel time during late-night runs to their mountain chalet.

And when the road gets twisty, expect similar competence. The Evoque is a bit of a rapscallion during spirited driving, aided by good grip, little body roll and heavy steering feel that boosts driver confidence.

Yet most conversations about the Evoque begin and end with how it looks. On smart design alone, Land Rover can expect to sell plenty of these even at a relatively high price. Throw in other wow factors like the glass roof and impeccable interior, and buyers will be too distracted to recognize the Evoque's foibles.

Ah, to be cool.

david.undercoffler@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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