Is it a Convertible or a Crossover?

By Dan Ilika

What the f–k is that thing?”

That was the question shouted in my general direction as I opened the door to the 2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible, the droptop version of the brand’s smallest offering. After explaining to the gentleman sitting on the park bench eating a slice pizza exactly what the f–k the Evoque I was driving was — a capable sport utility that just so happens to feature a retractable soft top — he hit me with a more-than-fair follow-up. “But is it a crossover or a convertible?”

And that, in a nutshell, is the biggest problem plaguing the Evoque Convertible. Compared to anything else like it — well, there really isn’t anything else like it. So compare it to virtually every other CUV on the market, and it’s clear that this version of the Evoque is suffering from a serious identity crisis.

Practicality Not Part of the Package

The Range Rover Evoque Convertible has quite a few defining qualities, none of which amount to any semblance of practicality. It’s barely usable for anything more than a reason to bring sunscreen on a road trip — that is, of course, if you can fit more than a weekender bag in the tiny trunk. The rear seats are little more than a pair of leather-wrapped parcel shelves and aren’t comfortable enough to accommodate those who are tall enough to ride the average rollercoaster.

Now that we’ve got that out in the open, none of it really matters. Sure, a trunk with more space than what’s in a mini fridge would be nice, but it’s not really necessary. Because the Evoque Convertible isn’t really a crossover. Well, it is. But rather than a rival to the BMW X1 or Audi Q3, which the regular Evoque competes with, this thing is probably best cross-shopped against the likes of the drop-top versions of the BMW 2 Series or Audi A3.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Infiniti QX30 Sport Review

And while its on-road manners are more closely tied to those aforementioned crossovers than the cars, the Evoque Convertible offers a surprisingly car-like ride when out and about. With a standard torque-vectoring system coupled with the wheels sitting about as closely to the corners as possible, the smallest vehicle in the Jaguar Land Rover portfolio is surprisingly nimble, responding to turn-in smoothly and quickly. Ride comfort could be cranked up a notch, though the stiffness is more a byproduct of our tester’s optional 20-inch wheels than the suspension that underpins the Evoque.

Under the hood lies a 2.0-liter turbocharged motor that, while not one of the automaker’s latest Ingenium offerings, is plenty powerful. With 240 horsepower to go along with 250 lb-ft of torque, the four-cylinder provides more than enough muscle to motivate the compact cross-vertible. Better still, all the engine’s torque comes online at just 1,750 rpm, combining with a low first gear ratio to leave little room for turbo lag.

A Car-Load of Capability

No matter how car-like the Evoque Convertible is, it’s still a crossover. And it’s an impressively capable one when the pavement ends and the trail begins. Bear in mind that this thing wears a Land Rover badge, and that carries some weight when it comes to off-road ability. To find out whether the droptop Evoque was worthy of that heritage, I spent a day chasing around a Jeep Wrangler, where I came away pleasantly surprised.

With the Terrain Response system, which tailors the engine, transmission and four-wheel drive to different conditions, set to handle the rutted trail we were traversing, there was very little the Evoque Convertible couldn’t do. With a reasonable 25-degree approach angle and an impressive 33-degree departure angle, as well as 8.5 inches (215 millimeters) of ground clearance, the uneven and rock-filled surfaces posed few problems throughout the day. In fact, even with the 20-inch all-season tires limiting its capability somewhat, there was plenty of traction on tap.

ALSO SEE: The Road Travelled: History of the Jeep Wrangler

The only major issue I encountered off the beaten path that day came courtesy of a small water crossing, which shouldn’t have been an issue given the Evoque’s advertised ability to wade water as deep as 19.6 inches (500 mm). Instead, the force of the water broke the clips that were supposed to secure the valance to the front bumper, as well as the passenger side front fender cladding. Hindsight being 20/20, the front bumper can and perhaps should’ve been removed, though doing so is a complicated procedure that few owners are likely to attempt.

Whether on the road or off it, the Evoque Convertible’s cabin, while not particularly roomy, does offer plenty of the creature comforts you’d expect from a Land Rover. The design is clean and free of clutter, while most of the materials as nice on the eye as they are to the touch. It also features a standard 10.2-inch touchscreen infotainment system that, while lacking Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone interfacing, is responsive and easy to use. Add the optional massaging seat functionality, and the Evoque Convertible was a comfortable affair wherever it roamed.

The Verdict: 2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible

While every automaker needs a compact crossover these days, it’s hard to imagine the Range Rover Evoque Convertible is anything more than a case study for how far the definition of a CUV can be stretched. But then again, it’s not really a crossover anyway. Think of it instead as a competitor to convertibles like the Audi A3 and BMW 2 Series with the added bonus of being able to tackle a trail.

FAST FACTS

Engine: 2.0L turbo 4-cylinder
Output: 240 hp, 250 lb-ft
Transmission: 9-speed auto
US Fuel Economy (MPG): 21 city, 28 hwy
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 12 city, 8.5 hwy
US Price: $64,840 as-tested
CAN Price: $72,690 as-tested (all prices include destination)

LOVE IT
Off-road ability
Torquey turbo engine
Interior aesthetics

LEAVE IT
Tiny trunk
Big blind spots

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