What is it?
A revised Range Rover Evoque for the 2014 model-year.
‘Tweaked’ might be a better word for it, given that the most significant exterior changes are new alloy wheel designs and slightly different ‘Land Rover’ badges. There are new colour options for the interior, too. But bigger and more meaningful updates have been carried out under the skin, to the driveline specifically.
Out has gone ZF’s old six-speed automatic gearbox, in comes its brand new nine-speeder, as tested in an SD4 prototype earlier this year. Performance, refinement, ride comfort and fuel efficiency are all supposed to be notably improved – the last of those items having been in quite serious need of improvement in real-world terms, both for the SD4 turbodiesel and the SI4 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol.
As an option on that 237bhp petrol comes the second important update to the Evoque’s transmission: an intelligent four-wheel drive system called Active Driveline.
This is an ‘on-demand’ system that automatically decouples drive to the rear axle when cruising above 22mph, but can reconnect it in three tenths of a second as necessary. The drive system also includes an electronically controlled ‘e-Diff’ on the rear axle.
There are new driver-assistance systems for 2014 model year cars, too: more sophisticated park-assist functions, active safety systems and ‘wade sensing’ for proper off-roading.
What’s it like?
The new gearbox alters the Evoque’s driving experience quite markedly. Nine speeds are about four too many for this tester to keep count of without the aid of a gear indicator. But left in ‘D’ and driven at run-of-the-mill pace, the new ZF ‘box swaps between ratios so seamlessly that it doesn’t seem to matter how fast you’re going or which gear it’s in when you suddenly want to pick up speed.
It feels as much like a stepped CVT as a normal auto; there are that many available ratios it can select from at any one time.
At a 50mph trunkroad cruise, for example, the engine might be spinning well under 2000rpm, but it’s very quick to react when you flex your right foot. And it reacts in precise proportion. Want to drop just one ratio and ease up to speed? Half throttle will do you. Go to two thirds and the transmission will drop two cogs at once, for a typical overtake. Go to full power without kickdown and it’ll drop three; four in kickdown.
The car feels slightly faster through the gears as a result of the shorter intermediate ratios. And there’s so little delay with the automatic downshifts when they come; the ‘box really does seem decisive, except at very low speeds when subjected to very sudden extremes of pedal.
If the flappy paddle manual mode has a flaw, it’s simply because it takes a while to get used to having nine ratios to flip between – and having that many inevitably means you have to do more ‘paddling’. Seldom is one downshift enough to create a meaningful difference in available engine power, for example: it usually only buys you 500rpm or so. And when you’re downshifting, say, three times for an imminent bend or lane change, there’s often just enough time between completing a sequence of short flips on the left-hand paddle and getting your desired gear to allow you to wonder if you forgot a flip.
This tester found the best mode for the gearbox was ‘S’, which does make for less involvement than you’d get when picking out the gears yourself, but also for less brain strain than keeping tabs on all those ratios yourself.
And if you leave the car in ‘S’ mode, you can focus on and enjoy the Evoque’s handling that bit more. Even after the arrival of the Audi Q3 RS and the Alpina XD3, this remains one of the very finest handling compact SUVs there is. It’s as taut-riding as either of those performance-derivative rivals, and though it doesn’t have the outright lateral grip of some, it feels agile and precise on the road, and juggles compliance and isolation against sporting agility very well. The steering wheel is quite small in diameter and has plenty of weight, but it offers good feedback from the front contact patches and feels consistent, irrespective of road speed or lateral load.
This isn’t the most comfortable SUV you could buy; it serves a more sporting taste. But its responsiveness and basic ‘go-straight-where-you-point-it’ handling make it relaxing and easy-to-drive over long distances.
Our test drive didn’t offer the opportunity to discover exactly what the new 4×4 system does to the Evoque’s limit handling, or its traction in very slippery conditions. Among our criticisms of the car at launch was that its 4×4 system didn’t send power to the rear wheels quickly enough, or in enough quantity, to neutralise its cornering balance or create the optimal traction in mud or snow. On the road, the car’s on-throttle handling balance felt the same as ever: the Evoque is spry and nicely balanced during steady-state cornering, but could be more neutral as you add power.
However, the new driveline – combined with the new transmission – does deliver better economy on the road. Our test route, which took in mountain roads, city driving and some motorway cruising, drew just over 33mpg from the Evoque SI4, which seems entirely acceptable from a car of this size and type. According to the claims, the revised car is almost 4mpg more fuel efficient on the combined cycle, which is enough to notice.
Should I buy one?
If you’re in the market for a petrol-powered SUV, you’re in a small minority. But you shouldn’t discount this car.
The range-topping Evoque may not have the sporting cache of an Audi RS Q3, and it isn’t in the same league on performance. But it could show the Audi a trick or two with its balance and the way it communicates with the driver.
Jaguar Land Rover’s ‘Engineered To Order’ department may yet produce a hotter and more focused Evoque than this. But even if they don’t, Gaydon’s baby Range Rover will remain one of the best handling 4x4s available at any price.
Range Rover Evoque SI4 Dynamic
Price £41,000; 0-62mph 7.1sec; Top speed 135mph; Economy 36.2mpg; CO2 181g/km; Kerb weight 1640kg; Engine 4 cyls, 1999cc, turbocharged petrol; Installation Front, transverse, 4WD; Power 237bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 251lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 9-speed automatic
What is it?