Test Drive: Range Rover Evoque handles like a dream

Some car buyers focus on function; others on form. And what of the 1,000 or so Americans who choose a Range Rover Evoque every month? They want something different and the Evoque delivers.

The Evoque's stylish shape, including low roofline, narrow greenhouse, burly front end and blunt stern section, is the grudging recipient of a number of Range Rover styling cues, but it's like nothing else in the British automaker's showrooms...or anywhere else.

Introduced in 2011 as a compact crossover SUV, the Evoque is available in several body styles; four-door, two-door and a cloth-top convertible that arrived this year. That's the one we test-drove.

Three qualities stood out. First, and most significantly, the Evoque convertible – priced at $63,585 with options – handles superbly. The firm yet compliant suspension and electrical power-assisted steering system deliver loads of road feel, and the car allows itself to be flung around corners like a go-kart. The 240-horsepower turbocharged Four, linked to a 9-speed shiftable automatic transmission, provides brisk and reliable acceleration.

One would expect an SUV with the Evoque's road manners to be helpless off the pavement, but one would be wrong. Researching the Evoque's capabilities, we discovered it was capable of wading through water nearly 20 inches deep. Its ground clearance is 8.5 inches, and it comes with settings for optimum performance in mud, snow or sand. It also has an optional feature, priced at $250, called All Terrain Progress Control. This system controls speed, prevents wheel spin and performs braking in tough off-road situations while the driver simply steers the car.

Finally, we were surprised by how well the driver was protected from the wind during top-down driving. At 70 to 80 mph on the highway, there was little more than a mild crosswind.

The base Evoque SE 4-door is priced at $41,800, making it an entry-level Range Rover. The 2-door coupe starts at $45,700; the convertible, $52,000. All three are powered by the 240-horsepower turbocharged Four. The 9-speed shiftable automatic gearbox and 4-wheel drive are standard on all models.

For all its off-road prowess, the convertible is significantly less functional than the coupe and 4-door versions, which can hold 51 cubic feet of cargo. The convertible's oddly shaped, 8.9-cubic-foot trunk – long and wide enough, but just 15.9 inches tall – is awkward in everyday use.

The Evoque's interior is comfortable and roomy in front, but cramped in back. A true luxury SUV, it has leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, navigation system, blind-spot monitor and many other standard features.

Fuel economy is 20 mpg city 28 highway. Premium unleaded gasoline is required.

Major competitors include the Lexus NX, Porsche Macan, BMW X1 and Jaguar F-Pace, a Tata stablemate. But in two respects, the Evoque stands alone: It's available with a convertible top, and it's a compact crossover that loves to play in the dirt...or even in shallow water.

2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible HSE Dynamic

Price: $63,585

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline Four, 240 horsepower, 250 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 9-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: 4WD with terrain settings and all-terrain progress control

Weight: 4,268 lb.

Ground clearance: 8.5 in.

Wading depth: 19.7 in.

Suspension: 4-wheel independent

Wheels: 20x8-in. alloy

Tires: P245/45R20 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 8.9 cu. ft.

Towing capacity: 3,307 lb.

Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons

Fuel economy: 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway

Fuel type: premium unleaded gasoline

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.