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SUVs get ready to flip their lids

How the convertible Range Rover Evoque might look.
How the convertible Range Rover Evoque might look. Drive - Chris Harris (illustration)

THE roof could soon be coming off the four-wheel-drive as car makers look to further capitalise on the seemingly never-ending popularity of soft-roaders, or SUVs.

Reports of a new breed of convertible crossover vehicles are become increasingly prevalent, with several models - mainly from prestigious European makers - mooted to be built.

The first to lose its lid could be Range Rover's stylish Evoque SUV. The Indian-owned British brand's drop-top plans were recently made public by Jeremy Clarkson on the popular BBC television program Top Gear. ''I have it on good authority that Land Rover is currently working on a 300-horsepower [225kW] convertible version of the Evoque,'' he said.

''It's so secret, this, that only I know - well, only I and everybody else now knows about it,'' he added, before cutting a picture of the three-door version with a pair of scissors to resemble a convertible.

Clarkson's claims give further weight to a 2011 report from a British automotive site on the possible addition of a soft-top version of the Evoque.

''A convertible Evoque wouldn't be the maddest brand extension.

It isn't a totally crazy idea,'' a Range Rover spokeswoman was quoted as saying about the car that straddles multiple vehicle categories and has people queueing to own one. ''All I can say is watch this space. We've got lots of ideas for the Evoque.''

Land Rover is unlikely to be alone in testing the waters with a high-end convertible soft-roader. While BMW has nothing in the pipeline, it is a brand that has shown it is prepared to push the boundaries with SUVs.

Its X6 was the first sports-styled off-roader to sacrifice interior space - one of the main reasons people are switching to SUVs - for looks.

BMW Australia's head of corporate communications, Piers Scott, hasn't ruled out a drop-top SUV in the long term.

''I can say categorically that there is nothing currently in the production plan,'' he says. ''But certainly, where we are concerned, nothing is off the table.

''Australia can be a traditionally conservative car market but in saying that, with niche and groundbreaking models like the X6 we've shown that customer demand in that top-end segment can be more adventurous.''

At the other end of the scale, Ssangyong this week revealed sketches of a convertible SUV to be unveiled at next month's Geneva motor show. The South Korean brand's XIV-2 concept is touted as a ''strategic model for the global market'' and based on ''wind-in-the-hair driving enjoyment''.

Kia is also reportedly considering an open-roofed version of the Soul crossover based on the Soulster concept revealed at the 2009 Detroit motor show. A recent Kia press release stated that the drop-top Soul is ''currently under final assessment for production''. The open-topped off-roader is nothing new, however.

Nissan last year released the Murano CrossCabriolet (pictured right) in the US - a four-seat, two-door version of the awkwardly styled SUV with a fully automatic folding canvas roof. The Murano CC has, somewhat surprisingly, been quite successful in America but Nissan Australia says the car will never come here.

The Willys Jeep - the first production off-roader purpose-built for the US military - was also fitted with a removable roof. Since then there have been several models with removable roof sections, including Mitsubishi's Pajero, Suzuki's Sierra and Vitara and Land Rover's Freelander during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Jeep still offers the Wrangler with a soft-top as standard and, overseas, Mercedes-Benz offers an open-top version of its blocky G-Wagen.

Convertibles are often up to $10,000 - or even $20,000 - more expensive than their coupe siblings.

Topics:  4wd drive four-wheel drives suv



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