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Brits go for sporty look

Sleek” and “sporty” are terms that don’t usually describe any Land Rover product, but the upcoming Range Rover Evoque constitutes a major change of course for Britain’s storied off-road brand.

Its lack of formality and boxy practicality runs counter to a marque that cuts its teeth tearing through the jungles of Botswana and Borneo, roaming the plains of the Serengeti and traversing the blistering Sahara sands.

But that’s exactly the point. Many of Land Rover’s steeds spend their lives in urban settings and are rarely, if ever, tested anywhere near the limits of their considerable endurance. Although the Evoque arrives this fall in multiterrain-capable condition, high style at a good price is where this Range Rover really shines.

The Evoque appears more like a sports wagon derivative of a compact passenger car, especially in the two-door livery. At 171 inches in length, it’s slightly shorter than a Hyundai Tucson, Ford Escape, or Jeep Patriot and about a foot and a half shorter than a Range Rover Sport. As well, with its steeply raked windshield and tapered roofline, it can also lay claim to being one of the slinkiest, wind-cheating-est rigs around.

When ogling the attractive two- and four-door body styles, it’s difficult to believe that the Evoque is the real deal when tackling the kind of off-road terrain that made its iconic ancestors so desirable. With its short front and rear overhang and ample ground clearance, the odds of becoming hung up on uneven terrain, or stuck in some muddy bog would seem remote.

The sprightly Evoque can easily handle those challenges, but with more youthful exuberance than its stable mates and, Land Rover promises, with significantly better fuel economy.

The fuel-economy issue is crucial since all other Land Rover/Range Rover models are inherently thirsty beasts. For example, the best that either the V-8-powered Range Rover or its Range Rover Sport relation can muster is 13 mpg in the city and 18 on the highway. Although the Evoque’s actual numbers have yet to be published, its 240-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, sourced from Ford, should be a relative gas miser. The all-new powerplant operates through a six-speed automatic transmission.

Land Rover claims that the Evoque will accelerate to 60 mph from zero in 7.1 seconds, no doubt aided by some significant weight-reducing measures that include the use of plastic front fenders and rear liftgate, aluminum hood and roof panels plus various suspension components.

Traction comes from a full-time all-wheel-drive system with an electronically controlled center differential that varies the torque between the front and rear wheels depending on where the grip is greatest.

The Evoque’s underpinnings can be supplemented with an adjustable Adaptive Dynamics option that offers either a soft or firm (sporty) ride. The system’s unique shock absorbers sample the suspension “at least 1,000 times per second,” which, for all intents and purposes, means instant adjustment.

That feature should literally sit well with drivers who now actually do sit within the Evoque, instead of being perched high atop the seats as they would in other Range Rovers. Upon entering the vehicle, a large rotary gearshift knob (an item borrowed from Land Rover’s Jaguar relation) rises from the floor console. It replaces the traditional shifter.

How you dress the interior and some exterior features will depend on the trim level selected. The base Pure will contain all of the basic entry luxury goodies, plus an 8-inch touch-screen display module for operating a variety of standard or optional temperature, audio, hands-free telephone and navigation systems. The Prestige adds a leather-covered interior, its own distinctive 19-, or optional 20-inch wheels, while the “Dynamic” model features its own unique 20-inch wheels plus unique bumpers, grille and perforated-leather seats.

Among the wide range of extra-cost items is a surround camera system (with five cameras), a power liftgate and a heated windshield.

With a starting price in the $45,000 range, the Evoque should provoke fresh patrons to consider a Range Rover to carry them down a decidedly different path.

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