Brand recognition is a black art. Companies spend years and millions of dollars cultivating an image and still fail to connect with consumers. Coke, Nike, and Target have nailed it. What does Yahoo stand for? I m not sure, let s Google it.

Land Rover has effortlessly melded two things that don t generally mesh- luxury and extreme off-road prowess -into a perfectly polished brand. When these vehicles aren t crawling over boulders and traversing rivers, they can be seen depositing well-dressed patrons off at the opera house. It s like a Gore-Tex tuxedo.

Which brings me to the Range Rover Evoque Coupe. It s like nothing before it. It polarizes people. It takes a chance. There s an uncompromised concept car attitude in the bold sheetmetal. Indeed, back in 2008, Land Rover showed off the LRX concept and Evoque stays remarkably true to its image. Maybe rational minds forgot to tone it down on its way to the showroom. Thank goodness for that.

Evoque is the smallest, lightest and most efficient model they ve ever created. Based on the Range Rover LR2 architecture, it s also available in a more practical 5-door model that goes up against Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Mercedes GLK. The 3-door s competition? There really isn t any. Who makes sport utes without back doors these days?

The New Language

Evoque frames the brand in a whole new way with an edgy silhouette that features a gun-slit greenhouse. It s far more urban than past Range Rovers and with Boron steel in the A and B-pillars it s safe too. The headlamps sport complex glowing LED sculptures that are more interesting than the simple electric eyeliner pioneered by Audi. Dipped in Fuji White paint, it has the sinister appearance of a Star Wars storm trooper.

For the record, my neighbor hates the shape and he s not alone. So be it. Design is subjective. Personally it makes me happy. The way I see it, Land Rover has unleashed such a striking design, it will be nearly impossible for them to do dull in the future.

Different Under The Skin Too

Evoque is motivated by a direct-injected, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that pumps out 240 horsepower @ 5,500 RPM and 251 lb-ft of torque @ 1,700 RPM. Like family member Jaguar XF, the cylindrical transmission knob dramatically rises up for duty. Six gears are on tap, quick and crisp manual shifts are done with steering wheel paddles.

Evoque is some 350 pounds lighter than the six-cylinder LR2 so 0-60 rushes up in about 7 seconds. This may be an all-wheel drive performance rig but EPA rated fuel economy is good at 18 city, 28 highway.

Equipped with MagneRide magnetic suspension that instantly softens or firms up, body roll is practically non-existent. Cornering is very engaging for a sport ute, ride quality is on the stiff side but remains comfortable. The cabin is quiet, making it easy to drift up over legal speeds. How quiet? The writer before me set the speed warning chime at 75 mph and it was constantly going off. Plant your foot to the carpet and the engine lets itself be known in a good way, though there s nothing harmonious about the exhaust note.

In stop-and-go urban driving there s a bit of turbo lag off the line. Also, the Range Rover s turbo four-cylinder is more coarse than the competition s six-cylinders. This type of powerplant is the future though folks, it should be popular with many manufacturers as strict CAFE standards begin to kick in.

Front-Wheel Drive?

Yes. Evoque is available that way and don t be too surprised. It s quite possible that a dirt parking lot is the roughest terrain most of them will ever see. But before you think Evoque is all stiletto heel and no hiking boot, remember it s a Range Rover and they have a reputation to uphold. With a full-time intelligent Haldex AWD system, just match the icon of the Terrain Response system to the surface you want to cross and you re good to go. I did some light off-roading (more than most owners will ever do) and Evoque didn t blink an eye. It can also tow up to 3,500 pounds. There s hill decent control too.

Evoking Design

The exterior is bold and that doesn t change inside. Materials, from aluminum trim to the soft neoprene-like instrument panel look great. The dramatic sweep of the center console is impressive and a Volvo-esque storage space behind the center stack gets keen red LED lighting. Evoque s interior impresses everyone that sits down in the supportive sculpted leather seats. When Dynamic mode is selected on the transmission knob, sporty red lighting accents the interior.

A crisp eight-inch LCD touch-screen display looks great though I find the main page and it s interface busy and hard to read at a glance. Move into specific menus and it s cleaner. There s a self-parking option plus a system of five exterior cameras that offer up a 360-degree view around the car. Helpful when hitching trailers too. For city slickers it will keep wheels and bumpers free of scrapes. Off-roaders can spot damaging rocks and such. All these views make Evoque more interesting than most cable networks.

Audiophiles will love the optional 825-watt (that s not a typo) sound system. The entire roof is made of glass, providing a surprisingly open and airy feeling to the cabin. A nice luxury, the steering wheel gets heat. At night, bright exterior puddle lamps light your path complete with a stylized Evoque logo within the beam.

For those who don t find enough style here Victoria Beckham (AKA Posh Spice) was named Creative Design Executive to the Evoque program. She s working with Land Rover on a special edition of the Evoque. Get in line, I m sure it will be brilliant.

There s Room In The Back. Really.

If you often put people in the back seat, you might want to go with the 5-door version. Moving the electric powered seat out of the way is slow going. Once in back there s a decent amount of room. Seriously. It may look as if the sloped roof eliminates all headroom but really, it s perfectly fine. My test vehicle has the option of a two-position rear seat. There s storage galore in this space but no cupholders or power port for friends to charge phones.

Time for gripes. The huge side mirrors block forward site lines, and with narrow windows all around, visibility is something not found in abundance. Land Rover has put many thoughtful details into Evoque which makes the absence of grab handles, bottle holders in the doors, ventilated seats, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, or much adjustment in the sun visors a bit curious.

The cargo hold gets easy-to-adjust tie downs. It s hard to call AAA for flat repair out in the wilderness so a real spare tire under the load floor is appreciated. The pinched design of the back end keeps usable space down. For example, Audi Q5 and Mercedes GLK hold eight bundles of Costco bath tissue in the trunk, so in the infamous TP Trunk Test, five packs of the two-ply is on the low side.

Check Please

So, what will this collection of brains, brawn and beauty set you back? Well, a front-drive Evoque starts at around 44 grand. The one I m driving retails for $58,400 which will also buy a well-equipped Mercedes M-Class or Audi Q7. Only you can decide if these larger vehicles are better for your lifestyle.

Perhaps you ve heard Motor Trend recently named Evoque SUV of the year. It s also been anointed Scottish Car of The Year, and really, what have the Scotts done for us to question their judgment?

So summing up, Evoque is a fascinating piece of machinery that advances Land Rover s design language by 20 years while keeping the brand s heritage in low beam range. That s quite a balancing act. While I have my quibbles with this vehicle, it s a compelling and emotional choice for those of means, especially in coupe form. Looking to add a piece of modern art to your driveway? Range Rover Evoque delivers.

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