MAUN, Botswana - Land Rover launched its revised SA-bound Discovery and Evoque during an epic journey that celebrates its “go anywhere” ethos – a true African safari. What better way to experience the Discovery and Evoque than with a safari trek from the Chobe National Park, the heart of Botswana’s wilderness, across the tempestuous Zambezi and into Livingstone, Zambia. Botswana proved particularly challenging as the country is experiencing its highest rainfall in decades. The constant deluge and mass flooding resulted in severely challenging driving conditions. Well worn paths became river spillways with some roads developing city-car swallowing potholes...and you thought Gauteng had problems.IMAGE GALLERY: 2014 Range Rover EvoqueWith sales of nearly 88 000 units sold in its first year of production, the Range Rover Evoque is the automaker’s fastest selling vehicle yet. In 2014 the compact premium SUV has been given a major mechanical upgrade with the addition of a new nine-speed auto, along with minor cosmetic enhancements.ENTRY-LEVEL EVOQUEThe model line-up now comprises of three specifications with the new entry-level Pure joining the existing Prestige and Dynamic grades. You can tell them apart via their respective badging and wheels; the Pure spec has 18” alloys and black badging, the Prestige 19" alloys and silver badging, while the Dynamic has 20" and red badging.The Evoque is powered by a choice of either the 2.2 diesel SD4 or 2.0 petrol Si4 engine both mated to the new nine-speed auto, which replaces the previous six-speed. The 2.2 diesel is capable of 140kW/420Nm with fuel consumption of 6.3 litres/100km and emissions of 167g/km. The 2.0 petrol has an output of 177kW/340Nm with a claimed fuel consumption of 7.8 litres litres/100km.DRIVING ITPremium crossover SUVs are typically used as weekday commuter vehicles able to perform occasional weekend trips to the countryside. The Evoque is unique in that it’s both suited to a pedestrian lifestyle in city centres as it is conquering the outdoors. While you’ll enjoy the drive to work behind the wheel of this premium SUV, you shouldn’t forget that what lurks within its compact chassis is a 4x4 warrior raging to cut loose across sand dunes, traverse steep inclines or romping through a forest.All Evoques are equipped with the automaker’s Terrain Response system, which automatically adjusts the engine and transmission depending on road conditions and offers driver-selectable modes (grass, gravel and snow, mud ruts, sand and rock crawl). Also included are hill assist and descent. Handling is a strong suit for the Evoque as it feels composed and steady through bends. Overall it feels agile and precise on the road and highly capable off tarred surfaces. The steering wheel though small in diameter has plenty of weight behind it and delivers excellent feedback. The Evoque breaks with traditional Land Rover styling, shunning the chunky, box design of its siblings in favour of a sleek, sloped-back appearance. Despite its stylish exterior, the Evoque is every bit a Land Rover, with standard all-wheel drive and a rugged LR2-based chassis and suspension to take it far into the wilderness, within reason that is (read: ride-height).There are limitations to what sort of terrain you can tackle. Drivers should be aware of its ride height at all times lest those undulations go from tickling the undercarriage to major trip-ruining damage. The revised, make that tweaked, Range Rover Evoque has new alloys, grille and badging.The Evoque delivers a ride that will be familiar to any Land Rover fan though it's noticeably stiffer over bumps and undulations than one might expect.NINE-SPEED AUTOWith the launch of its new ZF 9HP transmission in its facelifted Evoque, the automaker becomes the first to debut a nine-speed auto in South Africa , beating German rivals to market.Why a nine-speed? According to the automaker, “It proved improved economy, reduced emissions, it’s more responsive, lighter and provides smoother during shifts.” The transmission also allows for “skip-shifting”, whereby instead of traditionally shifting up/down sequentially, it can skip a gear for better performance (1 – 3 or 5 – 3 etc). The new auto is 6mm longer than its six-speed predecessor and 7.5kg lighter.For the maximum control there is a manual mode operated via paddle-shifts. The manual mode has a flaw and that’s due to getting accustomed to nine ratios. Seldom is one downshift enough to create any discernible difference in available power but you soon get the hang of it provided you're keeping track of your shifts.TAKING ON THE AFRICAN WILDDriving across the rain-soaked planes of Botswana and Zambia gave me the opportunity to truly test the Evoque’s 4x4 DNA…and it didn’t disappoint. The Evoque is spry and well balanced making it relaxing and easy-to-drive over long distances. This baby Range Rover is one of the best handling compact SUVs, not to mention one of the most striking, on the market. It will be interesting to see how the Evoque will square up against Mercedes-Benz GLA later in 2014. Other rivals include Volvo’s XC60 and Audi’s RSQ3.DESIGNThe new Pure derivative ditches the higher specification of Prestige and Dynamic derivatives in favour of a much lower selling point – R574 900. Why the downgrade? According to LRSA, many of its customers purchase the vehicle solely based on aesthetics, not utilising or even being aware of many of its features. With the Pure derivative, the automaker hopes to snap up more local customers.Some of the kit not available as standard includes the sunroof, satnav, LEDs and it has “18 alloys as opposed to “19 and 20”. The Pure might lack features luxury-buyers might desire but its lower price point makes it that much more attainable. Standard kit in the Prestige includes sunroof, privacy glass, rain-sensing wipers, xenons, power boot and navigation. Dynamic units benefit from leather upholstery, power adjustable front seats and illuminated tread plates. The Evoque has several characteristics setting it apart from the competition. Perhaps the most notable is its interior, which features excellent build quality and stylish aesthetics. Drivers have access to the automaker’s maps as well as the comprehensive routes compiled by the Tracks4Africa community, toggled via the satnav. Later in 2014, LRSA will release an upgrade which will combine the maps at a nominal fee.Even entry-level Pure variant is stunning, with soft-touch materials and aluminum trim. Inside, the Evoque remains as lavish as ever with multi-hued combinations of leather, plastics, wood and metal trim. This translates into a cabin that has more flair than most.OVERALLBar the new satnav, the interior remains unchanged. It’s spacious and comfortable though not nearly as adept at swallowing cargo as its larger Discovery sibling.The latest nine-speed auto has the potential to be a better proposition for everyone as it reduces fuel consumption and emissions making it that much more appealing.Optional features include park exit (automatically exit parallel parking bays), perpendicular park (for positioning centrally in parking bays), vehicle sensors and reverse traffic detection (to warn drivers of oncoming traffic) as well as wade sensing.The Evoque performs admirably outdoors, is a pleasure to drive and classy inside. If you regularly venture off to mountain chalets then this smallest Landy yet will make for a trusty companion.