On Top of A Mountain With Kenton Cool And The Range Rover Evoque Convertible By Fiona Sanderson
With a reputation for being the world’s best ski resort, Courchevel 1850 has a lot to live up to….and it does! So, I was delighted to be invited to be part of the “in crowd” and test what has been dubbed the world’s first luxury compact SUV convertible – the new Range Rover Evoque Convertible. It was also a chance to meet Land Rover ambassadors Kenton Cool and Ben Saunders, two of the world’s top alpine and polar explorers respectively, and hear their opinions on the car.
Courchevel is synonymous with luxury, and masses of it. Courchevel 1850 has for many years attracted the world’s rich and famous and this remains unchanged today. The home of alpine chic is orientated towards pure luxury, and the ski chalets here are really amongst the best in the world. So, with a reputation to live up to I was anxious – particularly as a Range Rover Sport driver – to see whether its new cousin could fit into this luxury backdrop and handle the icy slopes off-road. Lining up at Geneva Airport, the cars looked pretty impressive for the start of our adventure into the mountains – even their very orange paintwork seemed to capture the spirit of the French sunshine!
Interiors And Style
From Lyon Airport to the French Alps, my co-driver and I were able to drive the new Evoque Convertible on the open roads and up into the mountains. We were impressed with its comfort, handling and its contemporary interior and spaciousness. Even the cutting-edge infotainment system (InControl Touch Pro with 3G connectivity) has stepped up several notches since my Range Rover Sport, to bring the very latest in-car entertainment and navigation. Pretty impressive.
However, no-one has quite managed to make these systems easily viewable with the roof down in the blare of the sunshine. Still, why bother to change music tracks when the Evoque gives you technology and information storage of up to 16,000 songs. You can also upgrade this in-car technology system to include a premium 12-speaker, 660w surround sound Meridian audio system with digital processing for outstanding sound quality. Blasting through the French Alps with the roof down in a luxury convertible, with roasting heated seats and steering wheel, in the alpine air, seemed to tick all the boxes!
The Evoque Convertible seats four people – the fifth making way for the hood folding mechanism. Apparently you can also fit an optional wind deflector behind the front seats which would make the car effectively a two-seater, but it should ensure that your hair remains in tact when you arrive at your luxury resort! We did try the Evoque Convertible with the roof up and unlike other convertibles I have tried over the years, it was incredibly quiet. For skiers, it’s perfect as you can opt for a ski hatch to carry all your skis and equipment, but for ladies, beware as there is less room for luggage in the 251 litre boot (down from 420 litres in the regular Evoque), if you are hoping to take a number of glamourous outfits with you.
The Snow Challenge And All-Terrain Ability
The Evoque Convertible certainly looked the part parked outside our hotel, L’Apogee Courchevel – located at the very top of the former Olympic ski jump in the Jardin Alpin area of Courchevel 1850. With some of the finest views in the resort, L’Apogée Courchevel is one of the newest addition to the exclusive Oetker Collections Hotels, having opened its doors for the first time in December 2013. This hotel seems to have raised the bar in luxury with its superb ski in/ski out location and stunning backdrop.
For non-skiers, there seems to be plenty of other snowy activities, from sledding to snowshoe safaris, and plenty of shopping in the boutiques; while Le Spa de L’Apogée seemed to be a destination in itself with pure therapy and a beautiful pool. For me, however, I was looking forward to the Land Rover series off-road challenges in the snow and the chance to ski with Land Rover’s Ambassadors – British alpine climber Kenton Cool and polar explorer Ben Saunders – both of whom are used to the snowiest conditions, having confronted the climb of Everest and the crossing of the Poles. As Kenton Cool explained in my interview with him, the Evoque Convertible adds an extra element to driving in the mountains, bringing you as close to nature as you are ever going to get with off-road capabilities which match both the Range Rover and Discovery.
Land Rover’s engineers insist the Evoque convertible has been set up not to give anything away to the hardtop in off-road worthiness and I couldn’t agree more. I was accompanied by one of Land Rover’s specialist drivers, and he was able to guide me off-piste on a series of challenges around the mountain slopes using the Evoque’s full suite of off-road technologies, including Terrain Response and All-Terrain Progress Control, an all-new feature for the 2016 model.
You can flick between general, grass/gravel/snow, or mud and ruts, and this all-terrain control lets you take the control away from your pedals and adjusts the vehicle’s settings to keep you on track in challenging off-road situations, whilst maintaining a smooth and safe ride – all you have to do is steer! Effectively, it is a cruise control system for off-road or snowy conditions – and it makes progress pretty easy. It works brilliantly, but frankly, I prefer a bit of rough and tumble sliding around in the snow. Perhaps that’s just me! The car handled all that it was asked, and more.
I am sure the Range Rover Evoque Convertible won’t appeal to all die-hard Range Rover owners, but it certainly has convinced me. On a purely objective basis, the Evoque Convertible is a seriously impressive car with good looks, comfortable interior and with genuine off-road (and snow-tackling) ability. For a committed Range Rover Sports owner, I am seriously considering swapping to the Evoque Convertible – with summer around the corner you might even see me with the top down driving down through the vineyards of France soaking up the sunshine.