CARS.COM — To think of the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque Convertible logically is an exercise in futility. It’s puzzling the first time you see it. You have to accept that it doesn’t really make sense to appreciate it, which made me excited to try it out. But as I was driving it, I couldn’t help but ask: Why does this thing exist?
In recent history, there’s been one previous attempt at a convertible SUV: the awkward, unloved and now defunct Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, which was sold from 2011 to 2014. Land Rover is hoping to avoid that ignominious fate and after driving it, the Evoque Convertible is good enough — and good looking enough — that I think it will.
I’m a big fan of convertibles in general and before this drive, every top-down vehicle I’ve piloted has been low to the ground, so it was a bit weird to be sitting beneath the bright blue sky while up at SUV-level height.
I tested the HSE version, which features extras such as black visual accents, auto-leveling headlights, a more robust navigation system and Oxford leather seats. Cabin materials are up to par for a vehicle wearing the Range Rover moniker as part of its long name, and it has a luxurious cabin.
The star of the dashboard is a large 10.2-inch touchscreen that controls the navigation and multimedia system. One caveat about the screen: If the top is down on a bright day, it will appear washed out in direct sunlight.
Another convertible caveat: You lose one seat — there’s only seating for four instead of five as in other versions of the Evoque. I found the Evoque Convertible to be a real convertible in the sense that the front seats are comfortable but the backseat is not. With the driver’s seat set where I like it (I’m 5-foot-11), I couldn’t physically fit behind it to climb into the back. I was able to get in from the passenger side more easily and, once there, it’s a usable seat for short journeys, but I wouldn’t recommend putting anyone you like back there for more than an hour or so.
There are also compromises to cargo room. A small opening in the rear flips open to reveal 8.9 cubic feet of cargo space, which is enough to carry bags for a weekend getaway or a set of golf clubs but not much else.
On the Road
The real test of the Evoque Convertible is how it drives. The Murano CrossCabriolet was a handling mess and sloppy on the road. Editor Kelsey Mays called it “more noodle-y than a Top Ramen factory.” But that definitely wasn’t the case in the Evoque Convertible, which handled pretty well for an SUV, roof or no roof. The added bracing to the underbody pays dividends when it comes to stability.
Under the hood is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 240 horsepower and 251 pounds-feet of torque; it’s mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive comes standard. Although there’s enough power for both on-road and off-road applications, the convertible is not particularly quick, but this isn’t a sports car, so it gets more of a pass on that front.
For a convertible, the Evoque is pretty quiet on the road; the soft-top does a decent job with road and wind noise. With the top down, the windshield actually sits a bit higher than it does on most convertibles, so the wind doesn’t pop you as much on the head. If you want to keep the cabin even less turbulent, a wind deflector can be installed, but it covers the backseat, rendering it unusable.
I also had the chance to drive the Evoque Convertible on a mild off-road course. It comes equipped with Land Rover’s very good Terrain Response system that offers four different settings (General, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud and Ruts, and Sand) for whatever surface you may find yourself on. On the dirt trails I covered, I didn’t notice any extra wobbliness and the traction control was able to find grip even on loose surfaces. This was also the first time I’d ever gone off-road with no roof and I found myself thinking that if I did roll over, I’d be pretty worried. Even though there are bars that pop up from behind the backseat headrests when a rollover is detected, that’s still a lot of open space for a foreign object to intrude the cabin area.
Unique as the Evoque Convertible may be, the novelty doesn’t come cheap. The HSE Dynamic trim starts at $58,695 (including destination) and the vehicle I tested added nearly $10,000 in options, which brought its total cost to $69,440. The base is a $3,500 markup over the five-door version of the of the same trim level, which isn’t too much, but it’s a lot to pay for an SUV that severely compromises the utility part of the equation.
I still don’t have an answer to why it exists, but I’m glad I had the chance to test it. A convertible SUV is a unicorn that you don’t run across very often.