The darkness was thick, almost metallic. Even though I had the brights on, their normally powerful light seemed to be completely swallowed up by the shadows on either side of the car. I was driving the Range Rover Evoque Convertible, I could barely see anything, and that’s exactly how it was supposed to be.
I was headed to a corner of Pennsylvania that most people had never heard of, much less been to, which was entirely the point. The final destination was Cherry Springs State Park, one of the most isolated spots in the entire United States east of the Mississippi. While every other spot in the eastern U.S. has a sky blotted with the hideous light pollution of a thousand suns each night, Cherry Springs State Park is shrouded completely in inky darkness.
It’s the perfect place to see the stars on a moonless night, as I had planned for, and it would be the perfect place – with its abundance of muddy dirt roads – to take an SUV with all sorts of whiz-bang off-road settings and no roof.
Or so I thought. Because all of the advance planning in the world couldn’t control the weather, and the entire time I was there it was either raining or just plain cloudy. So there weren’t any stars to see at all.
That didn’t seem to matter in the long run. Because the roads were still pretty damn perfect.
(Full Disclosure: Land Rover wanted me to drive the Evoque Convertible so bad that I begged and pleaded for one for months and then they finally acquiesced, probably just to get me to shut up, and dropped one off with a full tank of gas.)
It’s A Land Rover Evoque But This Time With No Roof
Hello. Have you heard of the Range Rover Evoque? You know it, we all know it, it’s good and fine and actually not bad at all.
The big leather buckets up front are comfy and supportive enough for driving at long stretches, everything looks and feels very nice, the infotainment and navigation system are garbage, and the two back seats are there. Right there. In the back. Maybe they’re useful for small children and/or medium-sized pets.
For the certain someone who either has small kids, no kids, kids who have their own cars, or just a bunch of amputee friends, it makes perfect sense.
The Evoque convertible is based off of the three-door hatchback/coupe version of the original Evoque, except this time it’s wearing a silly hat.
And you know what? I like the silly hat. Alright, so it doesn’t look as solid as the hardtop, and it doesn’t look like it necessarily belongs on the thing the way a cloth roof appears on something like a Miata, but it’s trying and goddammit, it’s working.
Alright, so there are some compromises made to get this whole convertible thing going. It’s not like it feels all floppy and flobbery like an old Saab – really, it feels rather tight for what it is – but while the soft-top doesn’t intrude on the trunk space, that’s probably because there isn’t a lot of trunk space to begin with in the Evoque Convertible.
But really who the hell cares? This is a return to a long-abandoned market segment – that of the convertible cruiser – except now you need to look for practicality in other ways. Does it have a ton of trunk space? Nope.
Could I put the roof down in a scant 18 seconds at speeds of up to 30 miles an hour, brave temperatures in the mid-40s with the help of a heater, heated seats, and nothing but the frosty Northeast wind and the beautiful fall foliage to comfort me? Hell yeah.
So what if it was too cloudy to see any stars.
The Road Much, Much Less Traveled
It’s legally forbidden, I’m pretty sure, to say anything about the Range Rover Evoque Convertible without mentioning the Nissan Murano Cross Cabriolet. The Murano Cross Cab seem to be a joke around a lot of parts as the sort of “soccer-parent-mobile for people who are too weird to have actually procreated.”
It was a mid-size crossover convertible thing that seemed to make no sense to people who wanted crossovers nor to people who wanted convertibles, and consequently nobody seemed to have actually bought them.
But where the Murano Cross Cab left a lot of people scratching their heads, the Evoque Convertible actually sorta works. It’s still got the short overhangs of a car wearing its badge, and it’s still got all of the computer gadgets that enable any Land Rover to go off road nowadays. It’s got all sorts of displays to show you approach and departure angles, which way your wheels are pointing at any one time, and programable traction systems enabling you to splash through everything from mud ruts to desert sand.
Few Evoque Convertibles are ever going to use any of those settings, but if you’re going to try to deflect criticism that it’s just a weirdo car for weirdo people, it helps to have those things.
That being said, I was able to test out that Mud Ruts option a bit thanks to the muddy back roads that surround the Cherry Springs area. Even with tires that definitely look like they were never intended to even look at a bit of dirt, let alone drive upon it, it all actually worked. See a bit of a ditch? You’ll get through it no problem. See what looks like a yawning chasm of gnarled roots and boggy pits? You’ll drive right through it. Even with the top down. Even with mud coming perilously to one’s own face from a bit of exuberance.
For anything more than a bit of light-off-roading you’ll probably want the big Rangie on big tires, but for anything one of these will ever encounter, it’s pretty damn good.
Get it on the paved roads again, and it was actually wildly better than I was expecting. Not that it was like experiencing some dumb cliche about “handling on rails,” but it’s not overly squishy from all the roof-cutting and all the off-roadability, and it’s not crazy stiff either. Eventually I got to realizing that even if it was drizzly, and there were clouds, and there were no stars, and it was freezing cold, and driving six hours each way to Pennsylvania and back was almost definitely a terrible idea that I’m going to repeat at some point anyway, the Evoque actually made it not so bad.
It’s not going to light anyone’s hair on fire with its 240-horse four-cylinder pushing about 4,500 pounds, but that’s beyond the point. It’s a cruiser like your parents always wanted. It’s got the airs of actual soft-roading capability if you actually want it.
It’s a great little car. I just hope that, unlike the Murano, someone actually buys it.
Engine: 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, turbocharged
Power: 240 HP
Torque: 250 LB-FT
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
0-60 Time: 8.6 seconds (claimed)
Top Speed: 130 MPH (claimed)
Drivetrain: Front-engine, 4WD
Curb Weight: 4,525 pounds
Seating: 4 people
MPG: combined/city/highway driving: 21/28/23 mpg
MSRP: Land Rover Range Rover Evoque Convertible SE Dynamic: $52,000, HSE Dynamic MSRP: $57,700