THE Fab Four-by-Four has been transformed into the Billion Dollar Baby – and underpinned the future of Land Rover’s Halewood plant in Liverpool.
The original of the two Land Rover models built at the factory, the Range Rover Evoque went on to become the fastest selling vehicle in the brand’s history.
Now with £1 billion invested in its production, £130m of it at Halewood, a new second generation Evoque is about to hit the streets.
Much of that cash has gone into developing the car’s electrification – so crucial to modern day motor manufacture – and its world first technologies.
Heralded as pioneering the compact SUV scene, some 800,000 Evoques were sold in 116 countries around the world during its eight-year existence, scooping 217 global awards in the process.
Now the latest model aims to continue what has proved a stunning story of success for both Merseyside and Britain given that the lion’s share of cars, 80% to be precise, are exported.
Every 92 seconds a new car, either an Evoque or its stablemate the Land Rover Discovery Sport, drives off the end of the Halewood assembly line.
And such is the attention to detail and meticulous care taken during the overall process that, as an example, the ostrich feathers used to dust the car bodies are only from female birds because the males tend to fight more, which damages their plumage.
The new Evoque doesn’t look radically different from the previous model, which stopped production at the turn of the year, but the truth of the matter is that only the door hinges have been carried over.
What we have is a packaging masterclass. The vehicle is still the same size as a Ford Focus but the wheelbase has been extended by 21mm and if that doesn’t sound very much it does make a difference.
The upshot is more rear passenger space – a criticism of the old model – better boot space and the packaging for electrification.
So every new Evoque bar the entry level two-wheel drive variant now includes an ‘always on’ 48-volt mild hybrid system which recoups energy when the driver lifts off the throttle then uses it to lower emissions and provide better fuel efficiency.
Looking ahead the company says that a plug-in hybrid model will be on stream by the end of this year.
Visually the main difference from the old Evoque is that the newcomer has super-slim Matrix LED headlights, flush door handles and sweeping direction indicators – but some of the new tech on the car is simply mind-blowing.
Topping the list is something called ClearSight Rear View, an interior mirror which when flipped towards you becomes a wide angle screen showing an HD video of what’s going on behind the car –great for when visibility is compromised by passengers or bulky items.
And new Evoque is also the first car in the world to feature ground view technology, which effectively makes the bonnet invisible by projecting camera imagery onto the upper touchscreen to show the driver a 180-degree view under the front of the vehicle.
It’s also the first Land Rover to come with smart settings, which use artificial intelligence algorithms to learn the driver’s preferences.
Range Rover Evoques are up for grabs in a choice of six trim grades and the engines – 2.0-litre Ingenium petrol and diesel units with three different power outputs – are carried over from the previous car.
Classy and comfortable inside, the plastics are all 100 per cent recycled and the seats are either leather or a wool blend called Kvadrat that’s warm in winter and cool in the summer.
Prices are from £31,600 but the high spec HSE model with 240PS diesel engine, all-wheel drive and nine-speed automatic transmission we drove on a launch exercise from Liverpool to North Wales via the spectacular Horseshoe Pass topped out at £47,800.
This is hardly small change, though Land Rover makes the point that its customers largely purchase on PCP finance, so they aren’t looking at a £50k car but a £400 a month one.
What they are getting is a car that represents a seismic shift from its predecessor.
It looks sleeker, it’s cleaner, more capable, unruffled in extreme conditions like those we encountered at the Peckforton Castle off-road experience in Cheshire and according to industry analysts will retain 63-67% of its value after three years.
It’s a compact tour de force – and a tribute to Land Rover and its Halewood staff.