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 4x4 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 4x4 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.