2014 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque first drive
At the wheel of the first nine-speed automatic car
In Geneva, Switzerland
What is it?
Land Rover may be selling all the Range Rover Evoques it can build (the factory is running 24/7 to cope), but it hasn't become complacent. Updates are on the way and the first one, set for model year 2014, will grab headlines: a nine-speed automatic gearbox.
Who needs nine gears? Everyone, reckons Land Rover, which is first to market with the all-new ZF slushbox (it'll also feature in the 2014 Jeep Cherokee). Clever software plus the fact you're more often in the right gear at the right time means it's actually smoother and faster than a car with fewer gears. The gearbox will be out later this year.
Land Rover may be planning some upgrades for the 2014 model year but it's not showing its hand just yet. There's still half a year of 2013 cars to sell, after all. Besides, the Evoque doesn't really need anything new — apart from the gearbox which, despite its cool rotary shift controller, has never quite been up to the standards of the rest of the Evoque.
This nine-speed gearbox is all-new. It is 10 per cent more fuel efficient than the old six-speeder, thanks to a lower first gear for better off-roading, and a taller top gear for relaxed cruising. It also affords an engine idle-stop function. Crucially though, ZF and Land Rover say it shifts faster and more intelligently than any other rival and is a big improvement on the old 'box.
What's it like to drive?
Land Rover and ZF are right: it is a big improvement on the old gearbox. While you'd expect there to be constant shifting — and a lot of head-bobbing — the whole experience is seamless. Without the gear indicator, you'd never know what gear it's in, other than that it feels like it's in the right one.
Set off from stop, and the Evoque bypasses the super-low first gear, and does its best to shift up to as high a gear as possible. This is partly why the Land Rover says it's around 10 per cent more fuel efficient than the old one in use — yet an ability to drop down multiple gears at once means it doesn't feel hesitant or lazy when you need sudden boost. It can even block-shift straight from ninth gear to fifth gear: the acceleration is as immediate as it sounds.
Gearchanges are also immediate. Well, they take 150 milliseconds, but that's apparently faster than human perception — and means the nine-speed Evoque shifts gears faster than a Ferrari Enzo. Bet the Ferrari didn't have a top gear set for 70 km/h per 1000 rpm, though. On the highway, this means reduced noise, much better economy and a generally more relaxing drive.
It even, subjectively, improves handling — as the Evoque is in a more suitable gear more of the time, it feels more stable in the bends, something aided by corner-sensing technology that stops it shifting at inopportune times. That the gearbox weighs 7.5 kg less than the old one may bring small improvements to turn-in, too.
One more welcome addition is stop-start. Previously out of bounds for auto Evoques, the inclusion actually contributes more to the overall fuel economy gain than the three extra gears themselves, and operates as smartly as all other such systems. It makes sitting in traffic more peaceful, too (the engine is powerful, yes, but can be a bit throbby).
Should you buy one?
Being able to boast your car has nine gears is rather neat, and while we'd initially expected it to be one too many gears, on the road, it simply works. Quick-shifting and smart enough to always be in the right gear, this new automatic from ZF is a peach.
It adds the icing on the cake for the Evoque and finally matches the punchy, reasonably fuel efficient 2.0-litre turbo four for overall ability. It basically makes the Evoque that bit more intuitive and cohesive to drive — the sophisticated downsized Range Rover you'd hope for. It may not help Land Rover sell any more, but will certainly make those who do buy one feel that bit better about having done so.
2014 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
Base price: $46,995 (est)
Type of vehicle: AWD compact SUV
Engine: 2.0L, 16-valve, DOHC, I-4 turbocharged
Horsepower/Torque: 240 hp / 251 lb.-ft.
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
0-100 km/h (est.): 7.5 seconds
Fuel economy (city/hwy): 9.8/6.2 L/100 km (both est)
Competition: Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Infiniti EX 37, Land Rover LR2, Mercedes GLK, VW Tiguan
QUICK SPIN SUMMARY
Nine speed auto a work of art
Increasing familiarity still hasn't withered its fine styling
Evoque remains just as good to drive
The Evoque still isn't cheap
A bit more space in the back would be nice
Engine could do with a bit more polish
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