It seems like we've been expecting the baby Range Rover forever, as it was revealed at the Paris Motor Show last year. Thankfully the launch of the Evoque is in sight and to whet my appetite for the baby Rangie, Land Rover gave me a passenger ride in some late development prototypes.
Available in three and five-door bodystyles, with two or four-wheel drive, the Evoque is the smallest Range Rover ever and is most logically a rival for cars such as BMW's X1 or the forthcoming Audi Q3.
Seen as a game changer for the marque, Land Rover is hoping that 90 per cent of Evoque customers will be new to the off-roading brand. With Posh Spice Victoria Beckham as creative design executive, younger, more urban and more female buyers are also expected to be attracted to the new Range Rover.
The Evoque's slippery 0.39 shape remains true to the 2008 LRX Detroit concept. Highlights of the Halewood built body are the sweeping, floating roof and the aggressive front styling with its clamshell bonnet. These are classic Range Rover design cues and to reduce weight both are made out of aluminium. Other clever, weight-saving techniques used in the Evoque include a composite plastic one-piece tailgate.
With almost 380,000 trim combinations, there's plenty of opportunities to make the Evoque your own. Available in three trim levels, options are expected to include a full-length glass sunroof, Magneride continuously variable damping system, a large choice of alloys with sizes between 17 and 20 inches, contrasting roof colours and an automatic parking system. Other useful kit includes a new version of Land Rover's hill descent control, which allows drivers to select the speed of descent.
Two versions of the 2.2-litre turbo diesel in 148 and 187bhp outputs, and a 2.0-litre, turbocharged petrol engine delivering 237bhp will be available at launch. I got passenger rides in the front and back of both the 187bhp version of the diesel and the hot petrol engine, all with the optional Magneride suspension.
The interior seems well designed and comfortable and although the cars we rode in were a little way off what the production cars will be like, some interior touches such as the instruments and the climate control switchgear look a bit cheap. There's just enough room in the coupe version for four, but the small rear windows make it feel a bit claustrophobic in the back. The five-door is better, with just enough head and legroom for my six-foot frame.
The first thing I noticed in all the Evoques I rode in, was how agile and sporty it feels. Body roll is kept well in check and it felt like there was plenty of grip. More like a sportscar than an SUV, the all-round independent suspension was brilliant over the worst that the Land Rover test track could throw at it.
Both engines felt powerful and refined, though the diesel is noisier when worked and the dynamics didn't feel as sharp as the more powerful petrol version.
Prices for the Evoque will start at £27,955 and after trying these pre-production prototypes, I can't wait to drive what has to be one of the most exciting cars of this year.