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Soft-top luxe SUV built to break ground

John McCormick
Special to The Detroit News

Rational, mainstream new vehicles come to market all the time. But if you looking for something off the beaten track, Land Rover has an answer.

On sale late this summer, the 2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible answers a call for a soft-top, luxury off-road capable SUV, a tiny niche that few if any other automakers have even considered.

Probably only the ungainly, short-lived and best forgotten Nissan Murano Crosscabriolet, which billed itself as the world’s first all-wheel-drive convertible crossover, comes close in recent automotive history.

Land Rover hopes for a much better reception for the Evoque convertible, even though U.S. sales of this $50,000-plus model will likely be fewer than 1,000 a year.

The Evoque convertible version, Land Rover admits, is aimed at a small but discerning audience.

“It’s for the buyer who wants the latest thing, something to have fun in,” says Fiona Pargeter, Jaguar Land Rover communications chief. “It’s a bit of a toy, a fashion statement.”

That said, the Evoque convertible is, like its hardtop version, quite capable of fending for itself in tricky off-roads conditions, whether it be snow-covered terrain or slippery, muddy tracks.

My drive of the soft-top Range Rover occurred in the exclusive environs of Courchevel, France, where Europe’s elite ski and party. It’s takes a lot to make these people turn and stare but that’s exactly what they did as I cruised through town.

Chopping the roof off the regular Evoque does have some drawbacks. The vehicle is a lot heavier than the hardtop version because of all the reinforcement needed to stop excessive body flex.

The extra poundage doesn’t help when you’re looking to accelerate hard to merge into highway traffic, or for brisk overtaking exercises. The 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine puts out 240 horsepower and is coupled to a nine-speed automatic. That’s sufficient for a modest 0-60 mph time of 7.8 seconds, but it’s not really the Evoque’s strongest attribute.

The Evoque’s cockpit is comfortable, roomy and well equipped with most of the latest driver aids found in today’s premium cars. Compared to other four-seat convertible cars such as the Audi A5, the Evoque’s rear seats are also fairly spacious, but with the top raised, access is awkward to put it mildly.

Not surprisingly, storage space suffers because of the folding top. You can fit two medium-size roll bags in the trunk and there is a small pass-through hatch for skis. Suffice to say, you need to pack light for a road trip.

Given that the car looks at its sharpest with the top down, you are tempted to keep it that way most of the time. The powered fabric top takes 18 seconds to lower, 21 seconds to put back up. Driving al fresco, the optional wind blocker helps keep wind buffeting to a minimum, although the blocker can’t be used if rear passengers are on board.

The purchase price of the Evoque convertible puts it in contention with a fair number of appealing premium vehicles, although there’s nothing remotely similar when it comes to automotive fashion statements.

John McCormick is a columnist for Autos Consumer and can be reached at