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CRITICS' CORNER

Range Rover Evoque: Big luxury in a small package

It's the smallest, lowest priced, most fuel-efficient and sportiest Range Rover. And it has helped propel the British automaker to record-setting sales. The Evoque, introduced in 2012, has been given regular updates, with a nine-speed ZF transmission replacing the original six-speed automatic. There's also a bevy of new electronic safety and creature comfort features, including heated rear seats, and a couple of more upscale models. Here are some snippets from test drives of the 2015 Evoque:

"Land Rover deserves praise for bringing concept-car styling directly to the showroom: whether in two-door or four-door form, the Evoque gives you exterior design that, a few years into its life cycle, still has the ability to stop onlookers in their tracks. As for the utility bit, well, with the exception of the Evoque's surprising off-roading chops, that's generally what the other Land Rovers (e.g., the upcoming Discovery Sport) are meant to deliver.

Yes, there's a price to be paid for the Range Rover Evoque's dramatic roof line and bulldog stance: Interior space is at a premium, even by compact-crossover standards. Front passengers will be just fine, but those in back are left with stingy head- and legroom, as well as awkward ingress and egress in the two-door model. Also, the squashed windows mean it's fairly dark back there. The similarly compromised cargo area is on par with that of the VW Golf hatchback, falling short of most rival crossovers." -- Edmunds.com

"The interior of the 2015 Range Rover Evoque is a visual masterpiece and extremely comfortable. Surprisingly, though, the cabin suffers from more road noise than we'd expect in a luxury-oriented vehicle, especially on the highway. In most small SUVs, this may be acceptable, but at the $42,000 mark, we would hope for more sound insulation. Additionally, at idle, the 4-cylinder makes a slight vibration that finds its way into the cabin through the seats. The vibration makes it feel like the Evoque is fitted with a less-refined diesel instead of a modern gasoline engine." -- AutoTrader.com

"Although it's slower, our new model is also more fuel efficient, presumably helped by the new transmission. In our Real MPG tests, the 2015 Evoque averaged 22.1 mpg in combined city and highway tests, up from the old model's 20.1 mpg. Not bad. But both numbers were slightly below EPA ratings, which come in at 24 mpg for the new model and 22 mpg for the old version. Numbers are only part of the story, but they mirrored our real-world experiences. The nine-speed feels laggy at low speeds, and our tests discovered it was particularly slow between 5 to 10 mph compared to the old model. And once you're on the move, you can definitely feel the transmission jolt a bit too eagerly between gears.

"Along with vague steering at moderate speeds, the jumpy transmission diminished the drive experience, albeit only slightly. Combine this with an overly stiff ride and the noise that permeates through the cabin, and it's apparent that the Range Rover behaves a bit brusquely compared to other crossovers in its class. That said, power delivery is sharp, particularly when zipping down the highway, and Sport mode really makes a difference in the overall drive feel. Sharp corners can be conquered with unparalleled poise, which, along with the supportive seats in the cabin, made us feel safe and secure." -- Motor Trend

"The Evoque is like the BMW X6, Porsche Macan, and Audi Q3 in that it sits high enough off the road that when you drive it, you have a commanding view of every car around you -- but it's also compact enough to park easily. It's fun to drive, like something you'd take with three friends for an afternoon to the beach or on a scouting expedition for a shaded patio and something cold to drink. It looks posh -- as we determined -- and it handles in a particularly sporty manner for its height. The driving style, especially the suspension, is firm all around.

Driving it makes you feel cool and in command. The slightest touch to the steering wheel or the brakes elicits eager awareness; it gathers itself and jumps when you touch the gas. But it doesn't coddle you with overprotective crash-avoidance or mind-numbing drive technology. When you get behind the wheel, it's ready. Don't expect to be babied." -- Bloomberg

"I like the Evoque -- like it a lot. It's different and I thought it was a fun, delightful scooter. Like a go-anywhere hot hatch.

There's plenty of oomph here, even though this is mostly the aging Ford EcoBoost four-cylinder. A new four is in the works, but I got no issues with this one. As we've said before, this car's quickness can trick you -- squeeze the gas pedal and next thing you know, you're going quite a bit faster than you thought.

The interior is gorgeous and looks and feels well built." -- Autoweek

You can reach at autonews@crain.com. -- Follow on Twitter

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