It was a two-door, all-wheel-drive, convertible SUV that couldn’t go off road or carry much, got poor fuel economy, looked bizarre and felt as shaky as the business plan behind it. As the possibly apocryphal story goes, the only reason it existed was that Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn’s wife wanted one. (Can you blame him for trying?)
It was a painful belly flop of a product, and it wasn’t replaced when the Murano was redesigned last year. But now it has been! Just not by Nissan.
The 2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible rights all of the CrossCabriolet’s flaws and arrives during a much more auspicious era, the balance of power in the automotive world having fully shifted toward SUVs.
In the context of a muddy parking area outside a youth soccer tournament, the Evoque Convertible doesn’t seem odd at all, sitting there among its hardtop brethren with hardly a non-utility in sight. A convertible car would be the one out of place and feeling uncomfortable.
The chic Evoque is the most striking cute ute on sale today, and going topless hasn’t hurt. Its lines and proportions work well, roof up or down. While it’s tall, the $52,995 convertible is shorter in length than many of the luxury convertibles it competes against on price, including the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3-Series. It’s as nice as any of them inside (or is it outside?), and it’s roomier, with more leg and head space in the rear when the top is closed.
The trunk isn’t huge, but it’s an efficient, 8.8-cubic-foot box that can be equipped with a pass-through into the cabin for long, linear items. There’s even an actual spare under the floor, because a can of tire sealant just won’t do in the kinds of remote places Range Rovers sometimes wander.
Evoque buyers are more likely to chase Jeep Wranglers down the strip than out into the wilderness, but they’ll get farther than they might expect if they do. It has reasonable approach and departure angles, over eight inches of ground clearance, limber wheel articulation, a surprisingly solid chassis and the ability to wade through nearly 20 inches of water. Its 240 hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, nine-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel-drive system offer a couple of off-road optimized driving modes, and low-speed cruise control lets you crawl over small rocks footloose and fancy free, if you don’t mind scratching the fancy wheels.
They’re better suited for the street, where the Evoque is in its element. It has a tight turning circle that makes it a cinch to navigate the urban environments that many of them will no doubt live in. Cruising down the avenue, up high and exposed to the elements, you feel like you’re in a very comfortable parade float that handles well and gets 28 mpg on the highway.
Some ideas deserve a second chance. The Apple Newton begat the iPhone, after all. Steve Jobs was smart to kill the former and develop the latter. The Evoque Convertible isn’t exactly a flagship product, but I do think Mr. Ghosn may have missed the boat.