Don't let its looks fool you, the Range Rover Evoque -- aka the baby Range Rover -- is a startlingly capable off-road vehicle. It's relatively small for a 4x4, but manages to keep pace with its bigger Freelander 2 and full-size Range Rover brothers off the beaten track. The Evoque puts them both to shame with its sporty, coupe-like road skills.
It'll come as no surprise to you that most drivers will never ask it to perform anywhere near its considerable off-roading limits. Most of the four-wheel drive technology actually hampers rather than helps its progress during ordinary city driving.
Luckily, Land Rover has been busy building a new Evoque designed specifically for the city. In doing so, it's ripped the heavy, complicated off-roading gubbins from under the car and built a two-wheel-drive model that better suits the needs of its hillock-dodging, cappuccino-loving target audience.
Land Rover took us to Austria, where we hopped in a prototype model and pointed it at the nearest mountain to find out if it's worth buying when it hits the streets in early 2012.
Land Rover's first step in creating a 2WD Evoque was to take a metaphorical axe to the thing. The rear half shaft? History. Rear prop shaft and drive units? Tossed aside. The power transfer unit? Forget about it -- it's gone for good. When you bury the go pedal, the only thing that moves are the Evoque's front wheels.
The biggest advantage gained in shedding its 4WD power system is a significant reduction in weight. By omitting the aforementioned components alone, Land Rover has been able to Jenny Craig the Evoque by some 59.5kg, and the weight savings don't end there.
Land Rover has trimmed yet more fat by replacing the old metal bumpers, wheel arches and tailgate with new plastic ones. The bonnet, roof, front bumper beam and parts of the steering are constructed of aluminium; the cross-car beam, which sits behind the dashboard and provides rigidity, is made of magnesium alloy; and the windscreen is a svelte acoustic laminate.
All of this contributes to a total 75kg of weight saving. In total, the 2WD Evoque tips the scales at 1,600kg, which is an impressive 35 per cent lighter than a 2010 Range Rover Sport.
Fuel economy, road tax and emissions
In order to create the most efficient propulsion solution, Land Rover has paired the 2WD Range Rover Evoque with its weediest -- sorry, most efficient -- engine, the eD4 variant of its 150PS (147.9bhp) diesel unit. This 2.2-litre diesel lump, which also powers one of the 4WD models, is paired with a 6-speed manual transmission, as this is inherently lighter than an automatic box.
In all, the Evoque promises a combined fuel economy rating of 57.6mpg and CO2 emissions of 129g/km. That's a respectable 8mpg more and 20g/km less than is possible with a 4WD equivalent. That means its first year of road tax is free, with each subsequent year costing £95. Taxing the equivalent 4WD drive car costs £130 for the first year and £120 every year after that.
The Evoque achieves these numbers due to its use of several fuel-boosting gadgets. It's the first Range Rover to feature electronic power steering, which provides a 2 per cent fuel economy increase over traditional hydraulically-powered steering systems.
The 2WD Evoque also boasts stop-start, which shuts the engine down when the vehicle comes to a standstill, and fires it back into life when the clutch is depressed and the driver is ready to pull away. These systems are usually annoying at best and will make you want to punch a horse at worst, but this particular implementation works quickly and is relatively unobtrusive. Those who persist with it will be rewarded with a 3 per cent improvement in fuel economy.
A further 1.5 per cent gain in fuel economy is achieved through 'smart regenerative charging', which recovers energy when the vehicle decelerates. Sadly, this doesn't rely on a fancy KERS-like battery or flywheel to achieve the effect. Instead, the Evoque's power management system dynamically changes the resistance of the car's alternator -- the bit of the engine that converts mechanical energy to electrical in the form of alternating current.
Under acceleration, the alternator's resistance level is reduced so the engine doesn't have to work quite as hard to pull the car along. Under braking, that resistance is ramped up to harvest as much energy as possible, which is then used to power the vehicle's various electrical systems.
On paper, Mazda's prototype iELOOP regen system is superior as it promises a 10 per cent boost in economy, but every little helps.
Handling and performance
While its weight-saving and efficiency-boosting gadgets provide lower running costs and cleaner driving, the 2WD Evoque doesn't lose much ground in performance terms. It completes the 0-60mph sprint in 10.6 seconds and has a top speed of 112mph. The nearest equivalent 4WD car manages a 10.3 second 0-60mph time and a 112mph terminal velocity.
The loss of 4WD doesn't adversely affect the car's day-to-day handling either. On dry roads, it arguably feels more agile, which might be due to the lightweight aluminium roof and bonnet providing a lower centre of gravity and better balance.
The 2WD car has plenty of grip too. On dry surfaces, it impressed us hugely, following its 4WD sibling up seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Its big brother leaves it for dead in icy or very wet conditions, but with a decent set of winter tyres, we can't imagine the 2WD Evoque getting stuck on tarmac, no matter how brutal the weather.
Land Rover's primary mission in creating a 2WD Evoque was to eliminate inefficiencies. On this evidence, it appears to have succeeded. The 2WD Evoque is lighter, consumes less and is kinder to the environment than the 4WD models that came before it. All of that makes far more sense for the city-dwelling masses who would buy it.
The Evoque still manages to maintain the Range Rover's rough-riding spirit, however, facing up to rough terrain with aplomb when the going gets tough.