Go back 10 years and you’d be surprised just how few cars had that extra leg on the gate or digital numeral in the instrument binnacle that denoted a sixth gear. But with the precipitous climb in fuel prices and legislation targets for emissions, we’ve seen the number of gears sported by numerous models take a similar path.
Just as we’d come to terms with Mercedes’s seven-speed ‘box and an eight-speed, ZF-sourced item doing service in a number of vehicles, Jeep introduced a nine-speed transmission in its Cherokee range, a move emulated by Land Rover in its latest batch of Evoque models.
Granted, it’s largely a concession to the aforementioned pressures under which motor manufacturers now labour, but is nine gears a step too far?
Aesthetically speaking, we’re largely familiar with, but still wowed by, the Evoque’s eye-catching lines and sumptuous cabin befitting the Range Rover nameplate.
We also remain impressed with the agile yet luxurious driving experience and the 140 kW and lusty 420 N.m of torque developed by the refined and lively 2,2-litre turbodiesel, but it’s what’s bolted to that motor that’s really unfamiliar territory.
The nine-speed transmission is the handiwork of German gearbox specialist ZF that supplies six- and eightspeed units to Audi and BMW, among others. Given an extra cog over the eight-speeder and a higher final drive ratio, it’s been tasked with providing a fairly heavy but dynamically lively SUV a neat balance between fun and frugality. But, while the new ‘box has an impressive pedigree, its application is something of a mixed bag.
In its normal drive setting, the nine-speeder hurries through the gears to place you in the highest (i.e. fuel-saving) ratio. This sometimes renders progress a bit sluggish with overtaking requiring a mash of the throttle. Thankfully, the engine is strong and flexible enough to dig up the requisite torque to liven things up.
That said, the ‘box is wonderfully smooth in its actions and selecting sport completely remedies these quirks, keeping the engine simmering and sharpening throttle response, while manual shifting is reasonably quick.
While our 9,2-second 0-100 km/h sprint came close Land Rover’s claimed 8,5 seconds, we struggled to match the 6,3 litres/100 km fueleconomy claim; our mixed-use fuel run returned 8,4 litres/100 km.
With the early adoption of a nine-speeder, we’ve got to say kudos to Land Rover for venturing into unknown automotive territory. While we remain impressed with the Evoque as an overall dynamic and aesthetic package, we still have a couple of reservations regarding the low-speed vagaries presented by the large number of ratios. Hopefully, this will be resolved in time as it’s merely the first step into our motoring future.