Road test: 2016 Range Rover Evoque

The latest off-roader is the best all-rounder in class.

All-LED adaptive headlamps are among several subtle improvements made to the updated Range Rover Evoque. Courtesy Land Rover
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Envy: among the more unpleasant emotions, but one that, when discussing the Range Rover ­Evoque, is entirely understandable. Not your neighbour’s occasional glances of admiration at the Evoque’s still-concept-car-like styling (welcome as they are), but among rival manufacturers. Since the Evoque arrived in 2011, everything else in the class has looked, well, more than a bit ­ordinary.

The looks meant the ­Evoque was always going to be a hit; that it drives so well was a bonus. A big one. That combination has translated into sales that keep Land Rover’s production lines busy enough that the Evoque achieves sales comparable to Land Rover’s sister firm Jaguar’s entire annual production. That’s created something of a problem for Land Rover, though. How do you follow it?

Progress is inevitable, so instead of just sitting tight and counting them out of the factory doors ad infinitum, Land Rover has busied itself updating the Evoque. Not that you’ll notice immediately, the styling revisions are slight, its lines barely changing for 2016 and beyond. Look very, very closely and you’ll spot bigger air intakes in the bumpers, while there’s a slightly redesigned grille and revisions to the front and rear lighting, the ­Evoque being the first Land ­Rover to be fitted with all-LED adaptive headlights.

You’ll be hard pushed to spot any changes inside, either, unless you’re a card-carrying member of the Evoque owner’s club. Even then you might have difficulty spotting the updates – when the press material mentions door casings and arm rests, you know the design department’s not been working too late.

Still, you’ll welcome the revised InControl infotainment system, which largely consigns Land Rover’s traditionally hopeless, multi-menu touchscreen and sub-Spectrum graphics to ­history. Better then, and now with all manner of connectivity and app functions that you didn’t know you needed, but still not as polished as you’ll find in its German rivals.

The satnav might not be as sharp as its competition, but with the Evoque, you’ll not need a map. If it ever were to manifest itself in human form, the Evoque would be an unusual amalgam of ultra marathon runner, mountaineer, supermodel, sprinter and farmer. Few, if any, cars offer the breadth of ability of the Evoque. Porsche’s Macan now betters it on the road, but the Range Rover will romp away cheekily cocking a wheel off-road at the Stuttgart pretender. Audis and BMWs don’t trouble it, on- or off-road – the Evoque’s ability to provide roll-free handling on the tight and twisty tarmac, then clamber effortlessly when the topography is more goat than racetrack, is nothing short of extraordinary.

Doing so couldn’t be simpler either – the days of off-roading being a physical, demanding pursuit are long gone. Just select the icon on Land Rover’s Terrain Response that best represents the view out of the window, then drive over it. You’ll run out of bravery before the Evoque runs out of ability; 2016 model year changes making things even easier with All-­Terrain Progress ­Control, which will drive forwards or backwards at a pre­determined speed between 1.6kph and 30.5kph across any terrain.

More relevant to most users is the inclusion of safety equipment that’s become the norm in its competition. The Evoque now comes with Lane-Keeping Assist and Autonomous Emergency Braking – handy if you’re too busy playing with the InControl system to be paying attention to the road.

With the Evoque, there’s less likelihood of that than in the majority of its rivals because it’s interesting enough to drive without resorting to fiddling with the ­superfluous. The steering is light and accurate; it’s genuinely difficult to comprehend how something so tall can corner with such enthusiasm. That it achieves this control while delivering fine ride quality is genuinely impressive.

The engine, a 2.0L, turbocharged four-cylinder producing 240hp, makes light work of shifting it, too. Its 340Nm helps here, as does the fact the ­gearbox has nine – yes nine – ratios to pick from. You might think that would add up to a constant-­shifting nightmare, but if you can perceive the plentiful changes you’ll be doing well – the gearbox is a paragon of smoothness, suiting the Evoque’s well-­mannered refinement with effortless ease.

There’s fun to be had everywhere, though if you want the sharpest SUV road drive, the ­Porsche Macan is the better choice. Even so, the Evoque is still, by a not insignificant margin, the best all-rounder you can buy. Land Rover’s had it relatively easy making it better for 2016 – it’s a case of finessing a winning package, rather than sweeping changes to play catch-up.

Land Rover’s toughest task will be in about four years’ time, when it’ll be due more than just a series of revisions. I certainly don’t envy whoever is responsible for that, as the Evoque’s a tough act to beat. Its biggest competition is itself.

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