A Range Rover the size of a Focus, styled like a coupé and launched by Victoria Beckham — rather than some meaty outdoorsman such as Sir Ranulph Fiennes — is clearly about as far removed from the typical Hampstead-and-Hickstead XL-sized Range Rover as a pair of Jimmy Choos is from chunky Timberlands.
Yet, if you digest the many column inches that have been written about the comely new size-zero Range Rover, the Evoque, you will see that the critics mostly agree: it is a 'real' Range Rover. Design director Gerry McGovern, who recruited Mrs Beckham as a design consultant, has styled a car that is eye-catching and — despite its scaled-down size — very Range Rover-esque. Plus, it is surprisingly capable in snow, slush, ruts and rocks. Those who thought the Evoque would enjoy the rough stuff as much as the Beckhams would like camping in the Cairngorms are in for a surprise.
It is further evidence of premium makers successfully downsizing — and expanding their offerings – to boost sales. And Land Rover expects the Evoque to be its bestseller.
They are all at it. Once upon a time, posh car-makers were happy to occupy an exclusive niche removed from the mass-making horde. Now they fight hand-to-hand with the big volume boys. Mercedes-Benz, at the time the world's most successful premium maker (BMW now is), was one of the first upmarket manufacturers to dip a toe in the gutter.
Its 190 saloon of 30 years ago (which evolved into the C-class) was a more elevated alternative to Mondeos and mid-sized Vauxhalls. Subsequently, the Mercedes badge has further proliferated, with VW Golf-challenging hatchbacks and now MPVs, SUVs and cut-price sports cars too.
BMW has also boomed. We find no fewer than four SUVs in its arsenal. It had none 12 years ago. We find the small 1-series, which convinces because it is faithful to BMW's core brand quality — driving enjoyment — never mind the oddball style. Twenty years ago, BMW had four major model lines on sale in the UK. Now it has ten, as well as extra subspecies such as convertibles, estates, M-sport models and coupés.
Rival Audi has a baby hatch (the A1), a luxury limo (A8), a Porsche-rivalling sports car (R8), and just about everything in between, including three different cuts of a similarly shaped SUV. Its popular A3 is really just a Golf in designer garb, but that doesn't stop the Sloane Square set lapping it up.
Porsche now has an SUV and a four-door saloon; not long ago it had only sports cars. Aston Martin went downmarket – these things are relative — with its V8 Vantage but executed it so well that sales, and the brand halo, blossomed. The curious new Toyota iQ-based Cygnet hatchback certainly won't be driven by Daniel Craig any time soon. This small city-friendly Aston is more suited to Bond Street than James Bond.
The premium makers — we could add Bentley, Ferrari, even Rolls-Royce — breathlessly expand because there is a growing demand for their cars, especially from newly enriched China, where there is an almost insatiable appetite for all things European and shiny.
In Western Europe, too, the story is similar. In the first six months of this year, Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Volvo all enjoyed handsome sales gains as most of the mass makers dipped. Just as telling, Audi and BMW outsell, in absolute terms, many of the 'volume' makers. In Britain, the BMW 3-series outsells all Renaults, Peugeots, Fiats, Citroëns — and the Ford Mondeo. Posh nowadays does not necessarily mean exclusive.
Into this volatile but premium-friendly market storms the Evoque. Despite global financial strains, recessions, debt and uncertainty, the signs are that it should sell very well indeed.
Gavin Green is a motoring journalist and consultant.
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