Range Rover Evoque Si4 nine-speed prototype

The Range Rover Evoque will soon be available with a nine-speed automatic

Overall Auto Express Rating

5.0 out of 5

The new nine-speed gearbox shows there is genuine engineering substance to complement the undoubted style of the Evoque. It shifts up and down ultra-smoothly, enhancing the driving experience and promises to provide a much needed improvement in fuel consumption. Assuming, as Land Rover has promised, the pricing strategy is kept sensible, it’s a five-star addition to the range.

The Range Rover Evoque has blazed a successful trail since its launch in 2011, winning awards and attracting buyers thanks to its cutting-edge looks that have set a template other manufacturers have swiftly followed.

But now it’s under the skin that the Evoque is breaking new ground, with the imminent arrival of the world’s first nine-speed gearbox, developed in tandem with transmission specialist ZF.

It will replace the current six-speed auto available on all Land Rovers with transversely mounted engines, and Auto Express got the opportunity to try out an early prototype ahead of the Geneva Motor Show.

Of course, you could be forgiven for wondering why Land Rover has bothered. As the Evoque on the Auto Express fleet has demonstrated, the six-speed auto is a perfectly competent piece of kit and reasonably smooth in its operation. Jerks and lurches are generally kept to a minimum.

However, the arrival of the nine-speeder should address arguably the SUV’s biggest failing – lamentable fuel economy. Our Sd4 model is averaging a woeful 29.4mpg and the new nine-speeder is claimed to improve things greatly in this respect – fuel consumption is improved by four per cent in models without stop-start, and 10 per cent with those Evoques which do come with stop-start in future.

How? Well, shorter ratios promise to give better response during acceleration and improved shifts and refinement. And the top four ratios are all overdrives, meaning superior cruising ability. There’s also the capacity to skip shifts under rapid deceleration or fierce acceleration – on the current six-speeder you're restricted to shifting sequentially.

Other claimed benefits are a reduction in noise at high speed, due to the lower engine revs, and, of course, lower emissions. It’s even 7.5kg lighter than the six-speed. And off-road, a low first gear is claimed to offer more control and ability.

In short, according to chief programme engineer David Mitchell: “More ratios mean more opportunity to be in the right gear at the right time.”

Sounds good, then, but does it work? Resoundingly, yes. Although the Evoque we drove was a pre-production model, and would benefit from some more fine-tuning, it was clear that Land Rover has a pretty special gearbox here.

The model we drove was the petrol Si4, and over our short route it felt extremely responsive. According to ZF, the gearchanges are designed to be “below the threshold of perception,” and that’s a fair claim. The shifts are so smooth that in some cases you barely notice them.

One way to keep track of what’s happening is by turning the rotary dial to sport mode and then using the wheel-mounted paddles to shift up and down. The gear you’re in flashes up in the dials in front of you; you’d be hard-pressed to keep a smile off your face when the magical 9 appears.

Even more cleverly, there’s an ASIS adaptive shift strategy, which Land Rover claims quickly learns your driving style and tailors shifts accordingly.

The nine-speeder will be available to order when the new model year updates for the Evoque are introduced in July, with deliveries starting in September. Its price hasn't yet been confirmed, but we’re told any rise will be on a par with the usual increases for model year updates.

With the rest of the package unchanged, the added driver appeal will complement the stylish looks and supreme comfort to ensure the Evoque success story continues.

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