The 2012 North American Truck of the Year is named the Evoque.
It’s meant to appeal to women.
Deal with it.
The herd new of body on frame, transfer case-equipped monsters out there is experiencing shrinkage on a level not seen since George Costanza visited The Hamptons. Aside from pickups (and not even all of them -- see: Honda Ridgeline) and a small collection of hardcore SUVs, the traditional idea of a truck to the average consumer no longer applies, and with good reason.
Many of today’s crossovers offer more than enough towing and off-road capability for the majority of people who actually go out and buy them. So it’s far from blasphemy that the high-heeled hiking boot that is the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque took the title this year. In fact, its looks are a big part of how the compact cutie pie won over the judges.
The Evoque has the haute couture style of a flashy auto show concept car, which is exactly what it was back in 2008 when it was known as the LRX. Surprisingly little has changed since then. The production version -- a raked, radiused and chop-topped take on classic Range Rover themes – rolls down the street with the presence of a runway model lost in a crowd of Appalachian big game hunters, and a two-tone, two-door Evoque is the closest thing off-roading has to Lady Gaga.
But while you might hear something about how mega fashionista Victoria “Posh Spice” Beckham is lending her celebrity to the Evoque as a brand ambassador and design consultant, it’s got the kind of kick butt chops better suited to someone like zombie-killing action doll incarnate Milla Jovovitch.
E-ZPass? No, multipass!
Although based on a front-wheel-drive platform (just like last year’s Truck of the Year, the Ford Explorer) the $43,995 Evoque comes standard in the U.S. with all-wheel-drive, and can be outfitted with an optional terrain response system that isn’t exactly a set of locking differentials, but does a good job of faking it on snow, gravel and sand.
Water? She’ll handle 19.7 inches of it better than a pair of aubergine-colored Hunters.
Granted, you might be hesitant to get the Evoque dirty, let alone risk scratching its ready-for-the-camera face. While its futuristic adventure clothes definitely look the part, there’s a lot of glossy plastic in places that steel skidplates or unadorned bits would prove to be more functional, despite the healthy amount of suspension travel and ground clearance under foot.
The Evoque’s interior design is on par with the exterior and features the same clean, contemporary look found across the Range Rover line with an extra dose of swank. The Meridian audio system is excellent, even if the infotainment interface that controls it and other functions is a little slow. There’s the requisite ambient lighting and one of the best steering wheels in the business, but the standout feature on the Dynamic model tested here is the perforated, matte leather trim.
Of course, the same might be said of the full glass roof that all Evoques are equipped with. It doesn’t open, but for those petite enough to enjoy the legroom challenged back seats, it makes you feel almost naked to the elements. In fact, on the coldest days it lets in quite a bit more chill than a nice thick insulated hardtop would.
Visibility is remarkably good all around given the gun-slit look of the Evoque’s greenhouse. Those windows may not be tall, but the roof pillars are thin and what’s between them offers more than a peek outside and compensates somewhat for the lack of a blind spot warning system.
A heated windshield is available, and certainly welcome in colder climes, but at night the electric elements embedded in it have a noticeable star filter effect on head and street lights that can be distracting and makes driving through Times Square like living in a music video, especially if you engage the five video cameras that surround the car, ostensibly there get you into tight spaces, but that can be left on at high speed.
Under the shapely hood you’ll find a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Based on the much-vaunted Ford EcoBoost line of powerful but fuel efficient motors, it delivers 240 hp, which is usually more than adequate for what is the lightest Range Rover ever (is that really an accomplishment?)
With the six-speed transmission set to Sport mode, the Evoque is quick, responsive and has a highway fuel economy rating of 28 mpg. But while the engineers have done their best to make it sound as good as the car looks, at times its plebian roots make themselves known. Occasionally it will also dog in the mountains when set to Drive as it tries to please the EPA. Sport should be your default setting if only because it turns the lights in the instrument cluster red to get you in the mood.
Fitting of their name, Dynamic models also have an adaptive suspension system that continually adjusts its damping to keep the Evoque as comfy on the cobbled streets of chic neighborhoods as it is sure footed on twisty roads. And while it excels at both, it’s happiest on the highway, where it moves in relative silence and its punchy engine is always ready to dig deep and make quick work of the passing lane, treating other drivers to a view of its nicely-detailed rear.
Nevertheless, the Evoque will thrive mainly -- and thrive it will -- as an urbane bauble. The latest must-have accessory at a price that keeps it within reach of those looking for a taste of the good life while delivering enough goods not to disappoint those who already live it. It’ll turn heads with cars costing many times as much while providing more function than luxury coupes that cost the same.
No, you’re not likely to see this Truck of the Year traipsing across the rocks of Moab, but you might want to dress better next time you go there, just in case.
Prada does make hiking boots, after all.
2012 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
Base Price: $43,995
As Tested: $57,870
Type: 2-door, 4-passenger SUV
Engine: 2.0L turbocharged inline-4-cylinder
Power: 240 hp, 250 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic