Review: Range Rover Evoque convertible

Robert Duffer Chicago Tribune

Ugly can be alluring. Pugs. Clogs. Tom Petty. But ugly is in the eye of the beholder. The Range Rover Evoque convertible, with its sterile white body, bricklike lower half, and lopped-off black top, caught people’s eyes.

It looks like a beach shoe for Stormtroopers.

Women liked it. The boy didn’t.

“How is this an SUV?” the 10-year old asked, always intent on proving someone or something wrong. “There’s no room in the back.”

“It’s a convertible,” his sister said, with the kind of reverence reserved for any vehicle open to the sky.

“It’s stupid.”

It’s different, son. And Range Rover should be applauded for trying something different, something more evolved than Nissan’s brief experiment known as the Murano CrossCabriolet crossover convertible.

The smallest crossover in the Rover family, the Evoque convertible is offering everything a consumer might want in one package. It has all-wheel drive with genuine off-road capability; it seats four shortish people; it is marginally sporty; it is a convertible. It can go to town and country, over dale and dune.

Around town, the 19-inch wheels and boxy crossover body make it appear bottom heavy, though the black fabric top mostly retains the low roofline of the Evoque coupe.

Visibility suffers, as it does in any convertible, but the forward visibility is even more cramped due to the tall ride with a narrow, raked windshield held in place by thick pillars. Once accustomed to that limitation, it’s stylish in the British/Indian way.

Climate dials are large and easy to use, the buttons clear and the massive steering wheel pad is branded as Range Rover. The gear dial in the center console appears more impressive than its flimsy feel.

The 240-horsepower turbo four-cylinder is punchy enough when this heavy 4,525-pound clog is already going, though there is noticeable lag from a stop. The fuel-saving nine-speed transmission can be more exploratory than direct, with sometimes tentative shifts forward, as if it’s questioning the engine. With the top up in typical commutes, we averaged about 24 mpg. Sport mode, accessed by pushing down the plasticy gear selector dial, is more responsive.

Handling is pretty good for a high-riding, topless thing, so the driver can have confidence dipping into the corners on that long and winding road down to the coast. (Apologies, we had the Evoque during late-season snow in Chicagoland, and have been fantasizing about beaches ever since. We were able to nip and tuck in enough suburban trials to justify the fantasy.)

There are four seats, and if four occupants hover under the 5-foot-10-inch range, there’s plenty of room. But if the driver is any taller, there will be no seat behind her. Rear passengers praised the middle elbow room, but could have used a bit more side elbow room than the plastic nook.

At highway speeds with the top up, it’s surprisingly quiet for a convertible. Not enough for us to get the voice commands to work, but that’s because voice commands only work with the phone and we had trouble consistently pairing either of two phones. On one commute, the system read nothing; on the way home it was fine.

The system is glitchy. Sometimes the radio signal went out; toggling the modes between XM and FM would return functionality. Maybe it was the test model. Maybe it was the historical glitchiness of JLR vehicles. The 10.2-inch-wide display is clear, with a wide screen, but the menu button options on the bottom of the screen are as small as a fingernail — not so easy to push at 70 mph.

It all comes down to the top down, however. Put down the black cloth roof in just 13 seconds (with windows already down) at speeds up to 29 mph and the crossconvertible starts to justify its $58,000 price tag. Crosswind is minimal and there’s no denying the key feature of a successful convertible: fun. And it succeeds in making you feel special. Around town there was no shortage of princess waves coming from the back seat. We felt that special glow up front too, especially in the audience of the sun.

Interestingly, there is the same amount of trunk space with top up or down, and the deep boxish space fit two roller bags or one hockey bag sans stick. Golf clubs won’t fit, but at 9 cubic feet, it has depth that makes it easy to slide in gear. The liftgate is like a half door since there’s no roof to hinge it on; it would make a good dog door on any other SUV.

But an off-road capable, urban-chic compact crossover convertible might be trying too hard to throw everything into one package. Some people liked that distinction (and that Range Rover badge). Like a clog, it never felt right.

Range Rover Evoque Convertible HSE

Vehicle type: crossover convertible

Base price: $57,275

As tested: $57,275 (excluding $995)

Mpg: 20 city, 28 highway

Engine: 2-liter turbo four cylinder

Transmission: 9-speed automatic