Land Rover is going ahead with what could be the best bad idea ever: a fully-convertible 4×4. The company confirmed that “the world’s first premium compact SUV convertible,” to be known as the Evoque Convertible, will go on sale in 2016.
Although Land Rover announced this as a world’s first, the Evoque Convertible is not the first convertible SUV. That “honor” goes to the 2011 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, which was shuttered after 2014 due to its dismal popularity and sales figures.
The Nissan was so poorly received that Edmunds even ran a CrossCabriolet sales watch in 2012, tracking U.S. registrations of the open-topped Murano by state. Figures included one registration each in Hawaii and Idaho, and three entire registrations in Alaska, allowing Nissan to take comfort in the fact that at least their hunch-backed 4x4s managed to sell in every state.
Not to be deterred, Land Rover’s go-anywhere convertible concept car premiered at the 2012 Geneva Auto Show as a nostalgic nod to the manufacturer’s heritage of building soft-top, off-road vehicles, and was given the green light shortly thereafter. What makes it different from other current open air vehicles (like Jeep’s Wrangler) is that the Evoque will be a full-fledged convertible and not a removable-top version.
Official details are still minimal, but Land Rover confirmed it will be “the most capable convertible in the world,” joining the lineup alongside the company’s best-selling five-door and coupe Evoque models. The manufacturer was even given exclusive access to a 26-mile network of rail tunnels that run beneath the streets of London to put the new ragtop through its paces. Engineers could drive the top-secret vehicle up and down curved walls and other obstacles with the top down in complete privacy. Land Rover even released a video of the underground testing, along with the announcement of the convertible’s 2016 release.
The Evoque Convertible may seem to be in the same niche as the Murano, but is has much better prospects for success. First of all, it’s a Land Rover; it will benefit from the company’s iron-clad all-wheel drive engineering and manufacturing. The Evoque Convertible is also better designed, with a more upscale presentation that will be perfectly adept in both the city and in all-terrain conditions. In contrast, the Murano looked like a chubby Playmobil toy vehicle, with a large, round rear and a $50,000 price tag. Plus, Nissan isn’t exactly the first brand that comes to mind when you think 4×4.
The Evoque Convertible may be less rugged than Land Rover’s own Defender or a Wrangler, but it will be luxuriously appointed and attainable at a base price of $55,000. Who knows, given the success of the current Evoque models, the droptop may even be enough spark an interest in the niche convertible 4×4 market.
The most interesting paradox of the 4×4 convertible is who exactly it appeals to. Will off-roaders really put the top down on the trail and muck up their leather interior with mud and gravel? And while the car is designed as a four-seater, who are the unlucky passengers that will get to sit in the back, with the top down on these dusty or soggy excursions? Plus, there’s that pesky little decapitation issue should the driver take a trail with low-hanging branches too fast…
As fate would have it, just as Land Rover prepares to launch the Evoque Convertible, a rare, converted, drop-top 1973 Range Rover will be auctioned at Silverstone in November 2015. The mint condition convertible has 62,500 miles and is expected to fetch between $54,150 to $61,885 – or about as much as an Evoque Convertible.
With the new convertible, bespoke Range Rover conversion companies may soon be a thing of the past. But can the new ragtop unite hairdressers, facialists, retirees, and off-roaders in a way the CrossCabriolet couldn’t? We never knew they were that big of a demographic, but if anyone could do it, it’s Land Rover. Besides, it does look a whole lot better than the Murano.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.