Situated high in the French Alps, the fairytale town of Courchevel is where the financially gifted come to play. It’s the Alpine equivalent of Monaco, with exclusive boutique’s lining the high street and more top-end cars than you’d care to count. But this creates a problem on the annual ski trip: what does one drive in such a place?
The vehicle of choice must be practical, stylish, and fun. So a Range Rover’s an ideal candidate, surely? Well, no, not quite – I’d hazard a guess there are more of these burly beasts in the Alps at any one time than on the production line at Solihull, so nil points for originality there. But how about a Range Rover with a difference? A vehicle with all the creature comforts, off-road ability and performance, but with one rather key component missing – the roof.
You can’t deny you’re not curious, even just a little. The automotive graveyard is littered with failed attempts from other manufacturers. There was the dreadful Toyota Rav4 Convertible, the offensive-looking Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, and the iconic but brutally simple Suzuki Jimny. At first glance, it seems Land Rover’s wandered off-piste in a blizzard with this risky venture.
I’m skeptical as I step on the plane but less so when I see it in the metal, neatly parked outside Lyon airport. But even with the roof firmly attached, the Evoque divides opinion. As the baby of the Range Rover family, it’s essentially a cosmetically enhanced and less practical compromise between the Discovery Sport and Range Rover Sport. With all this in mind, the convertible adaptation has a tough job convincing people it’s more than just a Ken and Barbie beach buggy, especially with a price tag over £50,000 (as tested).
But the topless Evoque is well received. ‘C’est magnifique!’ declares a portly French man as he plods over to the car clasping his forefinger and thumb together in the universal sign of excellence. Perhaps it’s the optional Phoenix Orange colour, but had he not been clutching a baguette in his other hand, I think he’d have tried to hug it. So the people in a small service station in the foothills of the Alps approve, but it’s onwards and upwards for the real judgment.
On the twisty tarmac road up to Courchevel 1850, the Evoque’s 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine provides a smooth and lazy ride to the top. It’s got plenty of torque – 430Nn of it for the Top Trump statisticians out there – but it’s certainly no sports car. The 2.0-litre petrol engine is a more spritely beast producing 240hp – 60hp more than the diesel – and will even kick out a raspy burble on the overrun at a push.
But, like all Land Rover’s, it’s off the tarmac that the Evoque convertible reveals its breeding. On soft, deep snow, trick electronic systems work overtime, such as Active Driveline, which varies the flow of torque to get the car through with minimal driver input. “Just floor it!” echoed the voice of the off-road driving instructor as I drifted, rally driver style through the marker flags on the closed off piste. The Evoque Convertible’s manicured looks, including the Range Rover SVR-esqe front bumper, suggest this car is nothing more than high-riding city convertible, but it’s capable of a lot more.
After a day of piste bashing both behind the wheel and on skis, it’s back to L’Apogée in Courchevel for après-ski and a comfortable overnight stay. Built at the top of a former Olympic ski jump, this five-star hotel is an exquisitely appointed bastion of five-star French hospitality, as has become the norm in Courchevel.
Driving down the mountain the following morning, the backdrop of the stark, snowless lowlands allows for some perspective. The Evoque Convertible conjures up more conflicting emotions than a drunk, jilted teenager on prom night. It’s a car gents will love to hate, yet secretly want, but never openly admit it. Moreover, it’s a fun and daring move into unchartered territory for a manufacturer that’s shaped a brand through decades of hard graft. While the Evoque Convertible represents the more tongue-in-cheek side of Land Rover, society stalwarts like the Range Rover Vogue and, until recently, the Defender keep the brand firmly routed. Think of it what you will, but the Evoque Convertible is an accomplished car, even just in engineering terms.
Nonetheless, it’s a sight you’d best get used to, gentlemen – the Evoque Convertible is going to be commonplace on our streets. In Kensington and Chelsea, they’ll sell like Christian Louboutins at a closing down sale and elsewhere they’ll be a weekend treat for the four-car garage fanatic. Up against the likes of the Audi A5 Quattro convertible and BMW 4 Series xDrive convertible, it’s an extremely worthy competitor, especially considering it’s superior off-road capabilities. The question is, while it looks stunning in Courchevel, against crisp, snow-capped mountains, what are the chances it’ll look as good in rainy Croydon? We’ll soon find out.