The premise of chopping the top off of the popular Evoque crossover took a certain amount of audacity on Land Rover’s part — and the impacts of its efforts are delightfully polarizing, as I learned when I saw it up close ahead of the LA Auto Show this week. The Evoque Convertible is not for everyone, but that notion is what gives it legs. It’s a plucky, rolling contradiction that somehow avoids coming across as gauche. (Sorry, but we have to throw a wee bit of shade at the late Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet.)
Land Rover makes off-road vehicles that are designed for getting messy in the muck but still polish up as proper show cars to parade at the valet. (Think of, say, the timeless Defender versus something like the Range Rover SVAutobiography.) It’s a fine product lineup that separates Land Rover’s refined yet rugged aesthetic from Jeep’s rough-and-tumble ride. There are plenty of memorable examples of bohemian, off-road-friendly convertibles like the first generation Chevy Blazer, the Ford Bronco, the Toyota Land Cruiser, and the iconic Jeep Wrangler, but Land Rover’s boxy silhouette has always maintained a more stately persona. The compact proportions of the Evoque seem to have brought some playfulness into the equation.
In the flesh, the Evoque Convertible looks much smaller than photos suggest. It lives up to its “compact” claim. Some trunk space is lost from the standard Evoque, but Land Rover says there are still room for a set of golf clubs in the trunk compartment (a key metric for luxury buyers) and a slot that extends from the trunk to the back seat, which is suited for a pair of skis. The trucklet will be available in two configurations with different levels of equipment — SE and HSE Dynamic — and both will feature a 240-horsepower engine, nine-speed transmission, and standard all-wheel drive. In the event of a nasty tangle, aluminium bars will deploy to protect passengers in a rollover accident.
From the outside looking in, its cloth top and high waistline pull the eye toward the thicker, more robust middle, which gives it a strong stance. You can brave the elements thanks to its quick cabriolet mechanics — the convertible top only takes 18 seconds to drop at speeds up to 30 miles per hour. (Land Rover design director Gerry McGovern told me that when he owned his first convertible, a Triumph TR6, he left the top down at all time, even in the rain.)
"Design is the glue that brings all of that together."
McGovern seems to take design conceptualization seriously. "What I’ve been trying to advocate is, don’t think of design as something you apply. Design has to be there right from the start," he says. "Design is the glue that brings all of that together." That might be an odd way to think of a convertible version of an existing hardtop model, but it somehow works here.
Not surprisingly, he also tells me that the design language of the Evoque Convertible is meant to be fun. In celebration of its West Coast arrival, Land Rover has released photos of the topless crossover enjoying a day at the beach, accompanied by Spectre star Naomie Harris (Miss Moneypenny) clad in a red swimsuit. The car is British and it’s definitely beach-friendly, so it all makes sense. For his part, McGovern says he daydreamed about taking it out for a day trip to Palm Springs this week.
Land Rover is only showing one example of the Evoque Convertible at this week’s show — an exterior cast in a white patina, blacked-out wheels, and red and black Oxford leather interior, which gives it a racy Steve Mcqueen look. There’ll be plenty more colors and options by the time it reaches dealerships, of course, but that’s going to be a little while: the Convertible will be on the road in May.