Tackling Jordan’s toughest terrain in a Range Rover Evoque

There’s a new version of the loveliest SUV available, so it only seemed appropriate to dirty it up on the back roads around the Dead Sea

The Range Rover Evoque was always prettier than its sturdier brothers and sisters, but since its launch in 2011, that seems to have been the point. The brand was clearly aimed at a ­customer keen on a workable SUV with pedigree, but less interested in a car that looked a bit too much like it was designed to take on the planet’s toughest terrain and deliver a dismissive roar from the exhaust at the ease with which it conquered the humps and bumps.

That said, the new Evoque is being sold with the tagline “Live for the City”, which might lead you to think it has evolved into yet another off-roader that looks the part but wouldn’t be able to deliver when the going gets gnarly. If you’re thinking of buying one, and you have off-roading in mind, this is a legitimate concern. So what better way to find out whether the new version still has its edge than to join a convoy of the latest models in the range and take on the spectacular (yet harsh) terrain surrounding the Dead Sea in Jordan?

The area, with its crags and rocky peaks, is beloved by sci-fi filmmakers in need of otherworldly backdrops – Oscar-nominated movie The Martian featured scenes shot in and around the Wadi Rum zone to the west of the super-salty waters, as did Star Wars: Rogue One and Alien prequel Prometheus. And there are plenty more less venerable cinematic offerings that could be added to that list.

The country’s main drag that hugs the Dead Sea from north to south is Highway 65, or the Dead Sea Highway. It’s a well-maintained piece of tarmac, but you only have to take a short trek inland to encounter a landscape that would seriously rattle the cabin of any off-road fan.

As part of a convoy tackling the terrain, you can’t help but be impressed by how the models in the Evoque range look. Other SUVs in the same class are often accused of being a little boxy, snub-nosed or large at the rear, but the Evoque continues to mimic years of Range Rover styling. It’s a definite relation and it isn’t ashamed of that.

As part of a convoy tackling the terrain, you can't help but be impressed by how the models in the Evoque range look.

The first thing you notice as the cars hit rough surfaces is how smooth the ride is. Lesser bumps don’t bother any of them. Even on the really uneven and rutted ground, the judder is surprisingly diminished for a compact SUV.

There’s some roll when you take corners, and you don’t feel as cushioned as you do in a full-sized Range Rover, but the traction in the Evoque is solid and its engine and tyre noise is unobtrusive, even when you put your foot down to counter a steep incline. Depending on how rough you like your off-road experience to be, the quiet ride could be a positive or a negative. But over the course of the drive, the cars didn’t feel as though they had taken too much out of the drivers.

The thing is, the manufacturers have given the new Evoque range a couple of add-ons, not least of which is what the company is calling ClearSight Ground View technology. This is a system that uses front-facing cameras to give the driver a way to see under the car.

On a practical level, it’s enough to stop you scraping the front underside of the vehicle against a kerb, but in off-roading terms, it’ll let you see the bit of terrain underneath the front of the car that you’re about to drive on to. That is likely to prove very useful if there happens to be a chasm coming up that you can’t see because the bonnet is in the way.

This feature hasn’t been introduced into any other vehicle in the Jaguar Land Rover range yet, which is an indication that the powers-that-be want the Evoque to retain its off-road credentials.

Salman Sultan, Jaguar Land Rover Mena’s PR manager, is in no doubt about how effective the Evoque is on rough terrain, citing the shiny new stuff on the cars. “For all its poise and grace on-road, the new Range Rover Evoque is superbly sure-footed off it,” he says. “This is a vehicle that raises the bar for all-terrain capability in the compact luxury SUV space, helped by intelligent technologies, such as Terrain Response 2, All-Terrain Progress Control and Hill Descent Control.”

The Evoque can still be used as a town car with a bit of panache as well as power. You may want a Land Rover or full-sized Range Rover if you travel through challenging areas regularly, but as a day-to-day car with off-road capabilities you couldn’t fault the smaller model.

You wouldn’t look out of place in one when you simply want something smart to zip around in, either, which is always a bonus. We said it was pretty, and we meant it.