Warning: the comparison test you’re about to read involves a Land Rover. It therefore includes obligatory photographs taken off-road, in a Welsh limestone quarry known well to staffers of this magazine, for which the Autocar road test desk and photography department send their apologies. In this line of work, some visual clichés are simply too well-worn to resist.
This particular cliché should certainly be acknowledged for what it is, though: a bit of artistic licence. Because while the second-generation Range Rover Evoque may be all-new and all-important for its creator, it’s every inch a compact SUV and not an ‘off-roader’. As such cars go, the Evoque is capable, rugged and versatile, but it’s very much an everyday road car. You know this. We know this. Yet while picturing it abandoned on double yellows, astride the kerb and hazards ablaze outside a primary school might have been more appropriate, such a photograph wouldn’t have looked half as pretty or been as much fun in the making.
Our story so far on the new Evoque has brought us through early ride-along and international press launch and, very recently, UK first drive. Now, though, a chance to find out just how good this rather important Evoque is judged against its toughest opponents, two of which we are about to describe and rate it in specific reference to: the second-generation Audi Q3, which – roll up, roll up – is also new this year, and the Volvo XC40, which is Autocar’s incumbent compact SUV class favourite and without which these proceedings would otherwise be largely irrelevant.
But, well, yes, you’re right: as it happens, there are four cars in the photograph you’ve been glancing at for the past minute or so. For reasons of general usefulness, fairness and accuracy, however, what you’re about to read will actually be a slightly truncated three-car comparison with an addendum on an interesting if unconventional new Lexus – the UX 250h – which, as it turns out, isn’t really a compact SUV at all. It might, though, provide welcome cause to wonder whether you need such a car quite as much as you thought you did.
And there’s a reason for at least some of that: it’s because the UX is only partly an Evoque rival and otherwise a replacement for the slow-selling Lexus CT hybrid hatchback, so it needs to be smaller, cheaper and more ‘hatchbacky’ than you might expect it to be.
So if you happen to like the ‘Lamborghini-lite’ styling and you’re not sure you need as much versatility and space as an Evoque gives after all, what else is there to like? Firstly, a cabin every bit as rich and even more solidly hewn than the Land Rover’s and which comes with Lexus’s familiar, hard-to-use infotainment system – but you may very well like it anyway. I certainly did.
It should surprise nobody that the UX is more poised and agile-handling than the rest of our field. It did surprise me that it steered quite so well, though, with fine weight, precision and a bit of feel, and also that its hybrid petrolelectric powertrain performed quite as well as it did.
Part-throttle response is getting much better from both Toyota and Lexus hybrids like this, and real-world economy remains strong when accounting for urban use as well as touring. The UX still seems a bit strained and tortured when giving that last word in acceleration, and the gearbox’s manual mode remains poor – both of which facts inevitably erode the appeal of the car’s driving experience.
Would I have one as an alternative to a Range Rover Evoque? Not a chance. But as a replacement for a CT200h – or any other much plainer, less interesting, mid-range premium-branded hatch? Why not? The UX feels alternative and different – and difference should serve it well.