The long wait is over

You can measure the importance of a car by the length of build-up to its introduction, and by this simple yardstick, the new Range Rover Evoque is just about the most important car to be launched by Land Rover in the last decade.

There was the concept, then the public debut and now finally the real thing is here.

The Evoque is crucial because it will be the most accessible Range Rover ever. It’s a crucial distinction to make: the Evoque is cheaper than the Discovery, but that wears the Land Rover tag.

No, The Evoque is a car for those who can’t yet afford a full-house Range Rover but want the status and prestige that goes with it.

The exterior appearance is by any standards is eye-catching. The fact that the Evoque looks like a concept car that has driven straight off the show stand shows how brave the company has been.

It has clear brand identifiers such as the clamshell bonnet and twin-bar grille, but the overall shape is much more radical and has a street-toughness about it that mixes with the luxury feel.

There are 12 exterior colours, three roof colours and eight alloy wheel designs just on the outside, but inside there are 16 ‘tailored’ interiors available as well as a huge list of options.

Choosing your own will be a delicious and welcome dilemma, which of course is the whole point, but regardless of the boxes ticked, the Evoque’s cabin is another big plus.

Of course, this is a significantly cheaper car than a Range Rover, but the Evoque sits comfortably in the same ball park as its illustrious big brother.

Go for the five-door and you have a clearer view out and much easier access to the rear seats, whereas the three-door is arguably better looking but with the inevitable penalty of a tricky journey to the second row.

Boot space is good regardless but families who want one will be better served with five doors.

As well as the obvious four-wheel drive layout there is a low-emission front-wheel drive model paired to the cleanest 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel, which achieves an impressive 133g/km of CO2.

There is a higher-output 187bhp version of the diesel too, as well as a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol that is comfortably the quickest of the range.

However, if you want the full experience then the more powerful diesel with four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox is the way to go.

Off road, any fears about this being a showy on-road poser were quickly dispelled. The Land Rover off-road genes are clearly there, and the car is capable of more than 99% of its land-dwelling owners would ever go near.

Despite all that, it is on road that the Evoque is most impressive. The first thing that is immediately apparent is the directness of the steering, which is well-weighted and with decent feel but with a surprising sharpness which highlights how agile and planted the car is.

The Evoque corners with real zeal, shrugs off its kerb weight and attacks the road like some sort of overgrown hot hatch. That it can do this without feeling out of its depth in mud or too harsh on broken streets is testament to its breadth of ability.

Some people won’t like the looks and others will dismiss it as another soft-roader for those who don’t need it. But viewed as a car in its own right, the Evoque is a mightily impressive piece of engineering and design.

It is highly desirable, very capable and even decent value.