A droptop for the opera and the dunes

Combine a compact four-seater with real off-road capability, add a luxury interior, and you end up with either a toy for the rich and famous or the perfect urban escape vehicle. Give it a convertible top and it begins to look like an over-the-top attempt to please every desire, like the 141-function Swiss Army knife.

For the 2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible, let's admit to the elephant in the room: its looks. I was one of the many who scoffed when Land Rover unveiled the top-less Evoque at last year's Los Angeles auto show. I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to convertible tops, thinking they look right only on roadsters.

And though I still don't think a convertible top should begin at chest height, I found the Evoque Convertible's raison d'etre. Put it on sand, and you've got a modern dune buggy, a luxury conveyance for hopping sand dunes and racing the surf.

The Evoque itself is a nice little car, showing off all the interior niceties of a modern Range Rover along with the brand's legendary off-road prowess. You don't get this nice of a cabin in a Jeep Wrangler, and the Evoque gets you to many of the same places.

Land Rover launched the Range Rover Evoque in 2011, making it the baby of the Range Rover lineup but still a pricey, premium car. Its turbocharged direct injection 2-liter four-cylinder engine, a leftover from Land Rover's Ford era, makes 240 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque. With its nine-speed automatic transmission, the Evoque Convertible turns in fuel economy of 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.

Making it worthy of the brand, the Evoque Convertible gets a four-wheel-drive system with electronic locking differential and Land Rover's Terrain Response System, which let me toggle through settings for different types of ground, from sand to snow to mud. Land Rover even claims almost 20 inches of wading depth. A fixed suspension, rather than the adaptive suspensions of its bigger brothers, will limit articulation, but it still boasts 8.5 inches of ground clearance.

2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible

The soft-top makes the Evoque convertible look like a kludge, but good engineering keeps the ride quiet.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

Most of my time with the Evoque Convertible was spent on pavement. Cruising down the highway, I was impressed by its comfortable ride and quiet cabin. The soft top manages to keep out excessive road noise with nary a flap. The noise increased with the top down, of course, but a wind screen that folds up behind the front row effectively limited turbulence.

The engine proved more than adequate to power the Evoque Convertible along, but I found the throttle programming and turbo lag absolutely horrible. Putting along in traffic, I put pressure on the gas pedal, and when nothing happened, I gave it a little more. Suddenly I was surging forward and had to jump on the brakes. Not only was I driving a goofy-looking car, but the turbo-lag made it seem like I'd just learned to drive.

Assisting my driving, the Evoque Convertible's head-up display showed my speed and gave me turn-by-turn directions in bright orange and green graphics, while adaptive cruise control handled braking and acceleration, giving me a rest from the turbo lag. Most importantly, a blind-spot monitor system and surround view cameras made up for the rather wide swaths of cloth that comprise the C-pillars. I couldn't see much back there by turning my head.

Filling up the center dashboard, a 10.3-inch touchscreen showed off Land Rover's latest version of its InControl infotainment system. The home screen showed the familiar colorful quadrant menu as on previous Land Rovers I've driven, with audio, phone, climate control and navigation buttons. Swipe to the side, and I've got more apps, including an off-road info screen and even a full web browser. Yes, the Evoque Convertible comes with a dedicated data connection useful for online destination search and other apps.

2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible

Land Rover brings a touch of class to a compact off-roader with the Evoque, giving it a unique niche.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

Land Rover integrates a new navigation system in the Evoque Convertible from Here, a navigation company co-owned by BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. The maps in this system show nice aesthetics and multiple views, both top-down and perspective. There is also a satellite imagery view, similar to Audi's Google Earth integration. While I was happy with the system's free-form destination search feature, getting to it involved drilling down through two menu levels.

Land Rover's InControl app on my phone integrates a number of third-party apps, such as Parkopedia and Glympse. I could also access my phone's calendar and contacts through the InControl interface. However, I could not easily set an address from my calendar as a destination in the navigation system.

Split-view front cameras, along with the surround view on the Evoque Convertible's touchscreen, were a help during minor off-roading on sand and rocks. I can't say I really challenged the car, but it felt very capable crawling over these surfaces. Its ground clearance gave me plenty of confidence.

As a pro tip, put down the midrow windscreen when going offroad, as it traps swirls of dust kicked up by the Evoque Convertible in the front cabin area.

The 2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible adds a new, almost whimsical element to what already makes for a very niche vehicle. At a base price of over $40,000, you are already into upscale territory with the Evoque, and that's for a small SUV. Considering its off-road capability and its interior appointments, the Evoque begins to justify itself, and there really isn't much like it.

The convertible top makes it an even more unique vehicle, one that will likely earn many detractors for style. But its many uses, from urban evenings to long roadtrips to beach adventures to open-air motoring, make the Evoque Convertible a do-anything car.

2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible

The Range Rover Evoque Convertible looks at home on the sand and serves as comfortable transportation to upscale urban events.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

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