It took a huge pair of brass ones for Land Rover to release a machine like the Evoque. At first glance, its compact form and way-too-stylish profile don't seem very British. The company made its name building functional, practical cars where styling was largely accidental. Yet the Evoque appears too pretty to get its feet dirty.
You'd be wrong to think that, though. Very wrong to think the baby Land Rover isn't every bit the off-road stud as its larger siblings. We learned this firsthand beneath the streets of Liverpool, slogging through dark, abandoned subway tunnels flooded by 4ft of black water. Sealed tight as an attack sub, the Evoque soldiered forward, never missing its step while we remained snug and warm.
With dexterity like a mountain goat the Evoque climbed a slick, 45? ramp and escaped the hellish confines, finding its way to the city streets. After shaking off 40 lb of mud and gunk, the Evoque found itself slicing through traffic with surprising agility. In truth, this vehicle doesn't perform like a typical Land Rover - it performs better.
"If it's going to wear the Land Rover badge, it's going to behave like a proper Land Rover," said the company's Chief Creative Officer, Gerry McGovern.
If anything, Land Rover instilled the Evoque with more performance than necessary to quell any doubt of its lineage. Yes, it's the smallest and least expensive Range Rover in the arsenal, but it's nonetheless capable and a hoot to drive.
Sadly, few Evoques will ever see the type of punishment its handsome frame was designed to absorb but it's just as capable on pavement, where its 240hp engine and Haldex-based AWD system lend it Audi-like tenacity.
With a growing fan base and such a capable platform, the crew at Hamann Motorsport thought it would make a terrific candidate for even more style, performance and fun. So the German tuner's latest program includes a widebody styling package that lends significantly more muscle.
The fenders are augmented with pronounced flares that widen the body 70mm at the front and 80mm rear. The bold aerodynamic package includes a two-part front spoiler fitted with dual LED daytime running lights. There are also pronounced side sills and the rear features a bumper piece that houses the center-mounted Hamann Sports exhaust.
With several decades of manufacturing experience, Hamann components are constructed to a very high standard, with stress points gusseted and factory hard points retained where possible. Perhaps the most telling accolade is from bodyshops who like the parts because they fit well and feature a paint-ready undercoat.
In addition to the striking aero kit, the running gear nearly steals the show. Hamann's special Anniversary Evo Black Line wheels are designed with elegant spokes radiating from the central hub. Featuring a durable luster-black finish, the wheels measure a generous 22x10.5" and wear 295/30 Pirelli Scorpion Zero Assimetrico tires.
Although wheel styling is in a continuous state of evolution, the Hamann Anniversary is destined to be a classic and it's difficult to imagine the Evoque without them.
Hamann has worked with KW Suspension to develop a coilover system for the Evoque, capable of lowering it as much as 2.5" to provide a markedly firmer ride that was never harsh or unsettling. Coupled with the Evoque's optional AWD it produced an exceptionally agile SUV: perhaps the best in its class.
Land Rover's North American engine choice includes the Ford-based 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo that's a radical departure from Land Rover's mainstay 5.0 V8. But at 240hp and 251 lb-ft, its output betters some six-cylinder competitors without guzzling fuel.
With full torque available from just 1750rpm, the Evoque experiences no discernable turbo lag, chirping its tires on hard launches. But given its nearly two-ton curb weight, more power certainly wouldn't hurt, so Hamann Motorsport offers a tuning program that develops another 20hp and, more importantly, another 41 lb-ft of torque. This extra grunt places the car exactly where it needs to be in terms of performance.
Although the folks at Hamann Motorsport's North American facility wanted to lower the Evoque 1.5", I suggested they wait until after our test drive. I have a habit of removing front spoilers with extreme prejudice. My fears were unwarranted because the chassis remained parallel with the road, even under heavy braking.
Much like the Mini Cooper S, the Hamann Evoque is a fun car to drive, especially with the extra power and tuned suspension. Punching through the gears with steering wheel-mounted paddles revealed a willing engine with just the right amount of noise from that stainless steel exhaust.
The wide Pirelli rubber provided more than enough bite and, despite my best attempts, I was unable to unseat the Evoque. It was both balanced and responsive; more sports car than SUV.
While previous Land Rovers valued function over form, the Hamann Evoque brings a huge serving of style to the mix, yet it's not afraid to get its hands dirty sometimes. That's damn near the perfect car.
2012 Range Rover Evoque
Drivetrain six-speed automatic, Haldex all-wheel drive
Suspension KW Variant 3 coilovers
Wheels & Tires 22x10.5" Hamann Anniversary Evo Black Line wheels, 295/30 R22 Pirelli Scorpion Zero Assimetrico tires
Exterior Hamann fender flares, front spoiler, side skirts, rear bumper section housing Hamann tailpipe
Interior black/red leather seats, Hamann floor mats