More Proof That SUV Convertibles Don’t Work

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In October, the long-awaited Range Rover Evoque finally went on sale in the United States. Publicly, the Evoque began as the three-door LRX Concept at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in 2008. Later that year in Geneva, Land Rover released another all-but-identical LRX concept, this time fittingly named the LRX Geneva Concept.

Then at the 2010 Paris auto show, the production Range Rover Evoque debuted. Land Rover’s official introduction of the five-door production Evoque was heralded at the Los Angeles auto show in 2010. Prospective buyers required plenty of patience to make it all the way to October 2011. Yet by Land Rover standards, there were plenty of buyers willing to possess plenty of patience: by January the Evoque was Land Rover’s second-best-selling model in the U.S. behind only the Range Rover Sport. This made the Evoque the second-best-selling model in the Jaguar Land Rover Group, as well.

From the get go, the Evoque reaped awards like nothing other than a gorgeous vehicle can. North American Truck of the Year, Top Gear Car of the Year, Car Design News’ Design of the Year, Scottish Car of the Year, Motor Trend’s SUV of the Year, Automobile Magazine All-Star,’s Best Luxury Utility, Auto Express’s Best Compact SUV, MSN Autos’ Car of the Year. And the list goes on for quite a while.

To put it simply, Land Rover got it right. They absolutely nailed it. Very little could have been done better. Maybe a touch more power here, a little less weight there, a bit more fuel efficiency all around, and a slightly lower price tag would have been nice. But couldn’t the same be said for nearly every new vehicle introduced? Indeed, the Lamborghini Aventador has enough power and it weighs in at the scales nicely, but it definitely needs more fuel efficiency and a lower price tag. True, the Toyota Prius C is properly weighted, has an appropriate price tag, and has top notch efficiency, but it yearns for more power. You get the picture: the Range Rover Evoque isn’t perfect, but no vehicle is, not in every measure at least.

But from a near-perfect foundation , Land Rover has gone and done something awful. They’ve taken the roof off the Range Rover Evoque Coupe. This isn’t something an automaker is supposed to do just because its engineers can. “Can” does not equal “should”. The Evoque Convertible is awkward enough that you’d pay an auto shipping company to come and take it away… after your neighbour bought one.

Consider the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet. The Murano is not the award-winning crossover that Land Rover’s Evoque is, but it’s an impressively unique design with enough credentials to secure more than 4500 U.S. buyers each month. In 2006, when the U.S. market was stronger, Nissan was selling nearly 6800 Muranos each month. Nissan had a good thing going with the Murano. It wasn’t the conventional Pathfinder or the rowdy Xterra or the small Rogue or the even smaller Juke. The Murano was a different Nissan, a genuine alternative to the ho-hum Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot.

So what did Nissan do? They removed two doors and chopped off the roof. Who asked for this?

It’s hard to believe any prospective buyer asked, but perhaps one day the engineers in Nissan’s utility room were having a bit of fun when the boss unexpectedly walked in… and liked it.

The Murano has not been well-received, to say the least. And with the top up, small children run to their mommies screaming. The mommies then run to the family minivan, roll up the windows and lock the doors.

Now, SUV convertibles can work. In fact, the original SUV is Jeep’s Wrangler. It’s meant to be driven top down. But the Wrangler is a box, and the top is square. And in many cases, even in 2012, the Wrangler’s soft top is never replaced by the hard top, clearly indicating the frequency with which the top will be down, not up.

The Range Rover Evoque is not, traditionally, a soft top vehicle. Nor is it boxy, not by any means. Nevertheless, Land Rover recently began experimenting, and the results are stupefying, even frightening. Land Rover says they are, “exploring the potential for the world’s first premium convertible SUV.” Fortunately, for now, they simply want to gauge reaction. Land Rover says it’s a “bold” and a “new twist”. They say it would reach out to a “completely new customer base.” Which makes you wonder, what is that customer base buying now, when there isn’t a premium convertible SUV to purchase? Must not this allegedly new customer base be satisfied with the current crop of vehicles? Or at least the current type of vehicles?

There will be those who say the Range Rover Evoque Convertible Concept is attractive. Controversial designs are controversial for just that reason, because at least a handful of prospective consumers are impressed and therefore willing to defend the design. True, it’s not as though a convertible Land Rover will be eating away at sales of any other convertible Land Rover, the way some new models cannibalize sales of other new models. But will these prospective consumers actually spend tens of thousands of dollars an Evoque droptop if it becomes available? And by building a version of the utterly handsome Evoque that most people don’t like, will Land Rover alienate potential buyers of the regular Evoque Coupe and five-door?

Observers can attempt to answer these questions, but Land Rover bosses are the ones who have the final say. That said, it’s quite likely that the reaction gauged at the Geneva auto show will not be nearly as positive as it was the for the LRX Geneva Concept four years ago.

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