This week I drove the new and completely insane Mercedes C 63 Black Series. It is a car designed and built specifically to eat its own tyres. One set lasted just 25 minutes. I absolutely loved the madness of the thing. It’s a hoot. But for life in the real world? No. I’d rather have a Range Rover.
I’m not alone, either. Just recently I was at the home of a leading light of what the Daily Mail calls the Chipping Norton set. Fourteen couples were present, and every single one of them had turned up in a Range Rover. We have a little secret on Top Gear. Well, Hammond and I do. We know that, no matter what car we review, it’s not as good as a diesel Range Rover. We daren’t ever say this out loud, though, because it would render the whole show pointless.
Hammond has about 700 cars, several thousand motorcycles and a helicopter. And you may think he spends many hours in the day wondering what to drive next. He doesn’t, though. He always uses his Range Rover. I always use mine. Because whatever we’re doing, it’s the answer. That said, Land Rover has been trying to spoil it with a chintzy Wilmslowfication programme of adding completely unnecessary bling. The company has it in its mind that a Range Rover does not need to look good everywhere. Only behind the electrically operated golden gates of a brick and plastic many-pillared mansion on the Prestbury Road. And there’s an issue with the battery on new models, too. They go flat for no reason.
There have been other mistakes as well, chief among which is the Range Rover Sport. It’s no such thing. Underneath, it’s a Land Rover Discovery, which means it weighs more than Dorset. So it’s not a Range Rover. And it’s not sporty, either. And it doesn’t have a split, folding tailgate, which means there’s nowhere to sit at a point-to-point. It’s a silly car.
But not half as silly as the Evoque seemed to be when I first heard of it. It would be a Ford Mondeo chassis on stilts, with a four-cylinder engine and an interior designed by Victoria Beckham. It sounded as if Land Rover had taken leave of its senses. This tanning salon with windscreen wipers would ruin the whole brand. For sure, it looked stunning. The three-door especially. But I knew that behind its uplifted breasts and flat stomach it would be the sort of car that thought pheasants had fur and that there was a place called East Angular.
I was wrong, though, because the Evoque is brilliant. It’s one of those cars in which I had to spend hours trying to find something — anything — about which I could complain. And all I could come up with is the dip switch, which requires a bit more effort to operate than is strictly necessary. Some say that the plastics you can’t see are a bit flimsy. But who cares about that? The plastics you can see look great and are mostly covered in nicely stitched leather. The interior is fabulous and, in the five-door model I tried, spacious, too.
Oh, and some have been saying it’s too expensive. But if that were true, Land Rover wouldn’t have already taken 30,000 orders. You mark my words on this. Soon you will not be able to move for Evoques. It will overtake hydrogen to become the most abundant element in the universe.
The car I tested had a 2.2-litre diesel engine, which was smooth, returned 44.1mpg and provided enough oomph to get from 0 to 60 faster than an original Golf GTI. The handling was good, too; and the ride. But only in Normal mode. If you engage the Sport setting, the whole car starts immediately to pogo. This, however, is the mode you should select, because when you push the button the dials change from a silvery blue to a vivid scarlet. You can also change the cabin lighting from a cool vodka-bar blue to a burlesque red. And this is just the tip of a techno iceberg, which must mean there is more wiring behind the scenes in this car than in an Airbus A380.
Take the television for example. It sits in the middle of the dash and it’s capable of showing two things at the same time. This means my wife was able to watch the French beat the Welsh while I looked at the sat nav. How’s that possible? Even James May is stumped. Or I could choose to look at the live feed coming from one of the five cameras mounted on the outside of the car. Or the trip computer. The central command unit in an Evoque is the best in the world. You spend so much time playing with it that journeys pass in a flash. And, because you are rarely looking where you’re going, a bang and a wallop as well.
Of course, Land Rover wasn’t content to put this excellent car on sale and revel in the plaudits and the profit. So a big cheese said at its launch that off-road capability wasn’t really important any more. It’s a silly thing to say when you are running Land Rover. And doubly silly because it’s so obviously not true. That’s why the Evoque rides farther from the ground than even the Freelander, with which it shares many components. It’s why the angles of attack are so good, allowing you to climb and depart from steep inclines without biffing the front and the rear. And the Evoque is fitted with the same off-road electronics program as you find in the big Range Rover. What we have here, then, is a proper Range Rover that is also an Audi TT, a hot hatch, an off-roader and a branch of Dixons all rolled into one tiny, easy-to-park package.
If I had a job selling BMW X3s or Ford Kugas or any other high-riding semi-off-road car, I’d be on the lavatory, whimpering. Because anyone who wants such a car and doesn’t choose the Evoque is so mad, they will have had their driving licence taken away. Actually, it’s like an iPad. The truth is that if you have a smartphone and a laptop — which you do — you don’t need one. But I bet that didn’t stop you splashing out, did it?
I have the same problem with the Evoque. I have a seven-seat Volvo and a big Range Rover and a fast Mercedes. I have absolutely no need in my life for an Evoque, but I want one. And you will, too. Especially when I tell you that there’s talk of a hot version with the engine from the Ford Focus RS. I may have to invent a new star rating for that. Because this morning’s plain Jane diesel — despite the wonky dip switch — is an easy five-star car. It may even be more than that. It may be the new 42.