Roof down and bottoms up — UK motoring writer Andrew English heads to the Champagne region of France in Range Rover's new soft-top Evoque
Interviewing your taxi driver might be a journalistic cliche, but I make no excuses, since it was he who gave me the third degree en route to Land Rover's Halewood factory in Liverpool.
"Why you going there, mate?" he asked.
I explained that I was about to drive the new Range Rover Evoque Convertible to 1500km to Courchevel, France. "So that's like a fancy new Land Rover is it?"
I said explained that on its 60th anniversary in 2008, Land Rover exhibited the LRX concept at the Detroit motor show and it was that which formed the basis of the 2011 Evoque.
Despite its Freelander underpinnings, this was effectively a concept car for the road, an idea the public got like that -- I snapped my fingers for dramatic effect.
"So why are you driving it now?" he asked. Not much escaped this man.
"It's a convertible," I replied.
"A fancy Land Rover, with a hood, then," he said.
"One day we're gonna run out of things to do..."
And that was indeed my feeling when I first surveyed the Range Rover Evoque Convertible, while rivals were even less kind.
"Oh ja, the car we all really need," joked one German car maker's PR, though the joke was on the other foot at the recent Geneva motor show when Volkswagen showed the T-Cross Breeze concept, which was so like the Evoque Convertible, it's a wonder Land Rover isn't briefing its solicitors.
This drive has been devised by Land Rover's press office as a jaunt through exotic and luxurious locations, and the implication is obvious.
This is what they'd like you to think the average buyer of the car would regard as a long-weekend break. Question is, when would they get the hood down on a sub-zero M62 with sleet swirling about like soap powder?
Our route takes us down to Folkestone and the Channel Tunnel, overnighting at the belle epoque resort of Wimereux on the north coast of France and then heading to Epernay in the heart of the champagne-producing region.
Motorways and autoroutes are hardly the sternest test of the Range Rover Evoque Convertible, but first impressions are that there's a blind spot like a galactic black hole in the rear three quarters, and that adding effectively four passengers to the kerb weight hasn't done the handling or performance any favours.
The ride is commendably compliant and quiet, however, especially when you consider the tread blocks of the 20-inch Pirelli Scorpion winter tyres pummelling the asphalt.
The hood is tight against rain and snow and admirably flap-free, the heated leather seats are comfy and warm and the heater is mercifully efficient.
It's not the best-looking car in the world, but parked outside the family Champagne house of Godefroy Baijot, the Evoque's orange paintwork matches the brickwork and the dumpy rear end isn't quite such a shock.
While Land Rover is all about pushing the boundaries, rapid prototyping, reducing cost and time and speeding the wheels of industry, champagne is almost the opposite.
"We don't change much at all," Baijot told me. "We are in the luxury business and that means we can afford waste."
Perhaps that's true of the luxury car business, too. While our Evoque Convertible's 200km top speed is the same as that of the three-door coupe, its 0-100km/h acceleration is 1.2 seconds slower.
Out on the winding roads of Epernay, it's clear the Evoque Convertible isn't a very fast car. And extending the revs exposes the harshness of the diesel engine and the sharpness of the nine-speed automatic gearbox. It's sure-footed, though, with strong grip, and while you wouldn't want to throw it around corners for the hell of it, it copes well enough when you do.
Down through France to the ski slopes, I ponder the purpose of the Range Rover Evoque Convertible.
There's no obvious reason for this car, any more than there is for the myriad SUVs already on sale, which never venture farther off road than a car park.
The Evoque Convertible is slower, thirstier, less agile and more expensive than its tin-top equivalent, but that's to miss the point.
It's fun, rather a lovely thing in its own right and really not a bad cabriolet.
Even if you keep the top up for most of its life, just 18 seconds of whirring sees a furled hood and a smile on your face.
In that sense, it is a little like Champagne in that if you find yourself asking why, then perhaps you've asked the wrong question. A better question is: why not?
- Telegraph Group Ltd, photos / supplied
Land Rover NZ is taking customer-only orders for the Evoque convertible.