The Corinth Canal cuts a clean slice through the Isthmus of Corinth in southern Greece as it connects the waters of the Aegean and Ionian Seas. The inky blue river of water is 3.9 miles long but just 82 feet wide, with sheer rock walls some 150 to 300 feet high plunging into the water at dramatic 80-degree angles for most of the canal’s length. Some 11,000 vessels per year choose to navigate this narrow, boulder-strewn, four-mile shortcut over the prospect of navigating around a peninsula the size of Sicily, while a trio of modern bridges allow, cars, buses, cyclists, trains, and pedestrians to get a good view of the daunting sight as they pass between mainland Greece and the Peloponnese peninsula.
There’s also another, really old bridge that, until very recently, had only been used by trains. And at that, not for a very long while. But as part of Land Rover’s global media drive event for all-new 2020 Range Rover Evoque, our hosts had decided that not only would we get to cross the spectacular Corinth Canal during our day’s drive, but to make it particularly memorable, we would do so using that ratty old bridge.
Now, I admit that I’d never even heard of the Corinth Canal until our drive route directed to set of railroad tracks, where a chummy Land Rover engineer, instructed me to select the “Mud and Ruts” setting in the Evoque’s Terrain Response system, which raised its suspension to the highest setting. Then off I went down the dilapidated tracks, wheels straddling the rusty rails and tires clomping rhythmically over the ancient ties like the Budweiser Clydesdales at Christmas. After passing an abandoned depot and rounding a tree-lined bend, a second friendly Brit appeared and instructed me to keep driving—slowly—to a spot beyond a little rock ledge some 400 or 500 feet straight ahead, where a third smiling Brit was waving.
“Are there any trains coming?” I asked, remembering why my mother told me never, ever to do what I had just done, let alone in a $55,000 luxury SUV.
“No, they haven’t been used for quite some time,” he said—which was hardly reassuring. “Also, if you have to make steering corrections, keep them small. And when you get out there, have a look left and right. It’s a view you’ll never forget.
“Oh, and don’t open the door.”
Easy enough. As the car crept forward, the Clydesdale sounds yielded to the clanking of metal plates placed on top of the ties with ankle-high guards helping keep the tires on the literal straight-and-narrow. That small rock ledge suddenly grew much larger and deeper than it initially appeared—omigod where did the ground go?!?!—yep, now we’re on a skinny, rusty bridge—with dark blue water churning hundreds of feet below. Of all the thoughts that flood your mind when the earth basically disappears beneath you and you find yourself traversing the automotive equivalent of a tightrope across a terrifyingly deep and narrow crevasse, the last would be to open the door and get out. But once the initial shock wore off, I could appreciate the unobstructed views left and right of those two sheer cliffs, the thin, bone-straight channel of water, Aegean Sea in one direction, Ionian in the other, that one could only get from this antiquated railroad bridge.
That was just one unforgettable moment among many that day, during which we covered several rocky miles of a dry river bed, mountaintop dirt trails that connect some of world’s most gargantuan wind turbines, and, of course, plenty of paved roads more akin to those on which Evoque customers will do the bulk of their driving. Happily, the new Evoque delivers the same favorable on-road manners that helped Land Rover sell approximately 800,000 examples of the first-generation Evoque worldwide. The highway ride is taut but not brittle, its braking stable and predictable, and the body remains pan flat on twisty back roads. The gutsy, turbocharged four-cylinder engine still has a touch of lag when not in Sport mode, but the 9-speed transmission makes better use of its available power and both operate in virtual silence unless sufficiently goosed. It feels light and generally perky, and to anyone accustomed to the heavier, tippier Range Rover and Range Rover Sport models, the Evoque will feel like a Porsche.
No driving scenarios proved unflattering to this second-generation Evoque, and, frankly, I can’t imagine many that would. I suspect that anyone regularly charged with shuttling kids to and fro would be more attracted to the mid-size Range Rover Velar introduced last year, so Land Rover kept the Evoque compact to appeal to singles and couples that prioritize things like parkability in dense urban enclaves and high fuel efficiency.
The greatest area of change for the new Evoque involves its vastly improved interior, which is now furnished with the same chic furnishings as the Velar. Most buttons and switches have been banished in favor of a large instrument screen before the driver, and two 10-inch-wide, high-resolutions screens in the center. Also noteworthy is the availability of an elegant fabric upholstery optional in addition to the de rigueur high-quality leather, for those to want to reduce their dependency on cows.
What hasn’t changed? The overall look, which remains emotional and extreme, with its rising beltline, super-low falling roof and oversized wheels. Details like the head- and taillamps, hood and fender garnishes, and grille textures have synced up with the larger Range Rovers while a crease along the side of the prior model body was ironed out to great effect. Will Americans have more universal affection for the controversial Evoque this time around or will the littlest Range Rover, which starts around $44K and rises to just under $60K loaded, remain a provocateur? We shall see, but regardless of how the Evoque looks in pictures, it’s a thing of beauty on the far side of a rikety bridge.
2020 Land Rover
Range Rover Evoque
Base price (incl. $995 destination/delivery): $43,645
Body style: 5-door, 5-passenger SUV
Power: 246-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Drive wheels: all
EPA fuel economy, MPG (city/highway): 20/26