According to Land Rover, the Discovery Sport, which is the first car in the new Discovery family (a better-appointed and possibly larger variant to replace the current Discovery 4 is set to follow in time to come) and the replacement for the Freelander 2, is built to be versatile.
And we’re not just talking about the Discovery Sport’s ability to ferry seven passengers (two more), or the way its boot holds 479 litres of cargo (21 litres more than before).
We’re also talking about how the new Landie gamely tackles any sort of terrain you might care to throw at it. Now, we use the word “roads” loosely, because much of the driving we did in Iceland saw us rolling across snow-covered gravel paths and snowfields, and even fording a fast-flowing stream with water so deep, it covered the entire front grille.
It even tackled the sort of topography that would give a mud-eating Defender (our lead car for some of the trickier sections) pause for thought, or in this case, pause to lower the tyre pressure to afford it better grip on the slippery ground.
Yes, the studded Pirelli tyres of our Discovery Sport test-car helped as well, but we think much of the credit goes to Land Rover’s Terrain Response system, which uses several programs to optimise the drivetrain, steering and throttle sensitivity to better deal with the conditions underfoot.
For all the Discovery Sport’s poise on less-than-perfect surfaces, it couldn’t proceed with the aplomb of the Defender, but then the Discovery Sport is an on-road vehicle with a generous nod towards off-roading, while the Defender is a hardcore off-road bruiser.
Still, most of the people who buy the Discovery Sport will never bring it anywhere more treacherous than a road that’s seen one too many slipshod patch-and-seal jobs, so it’s handy that it’s equally competent (if not more so) on the beaten path, displaying exemplary levels of cruising refinement.
And while it’s no hot hatchback, it handles in a surprisingly tidy fashion for a vehicle weighing 1841kg and standing 1724mm tall. Its nose is remarkably darty, body roll is kept well in check and brisk driving isn’t a terrifying experience.
Land Rover will point to how some components of its rear suspension are made of aluminium (which is not only lighter, but stiffer than steel). The Discovery Sport also benefits from a chassis that features large amounts of high-strength steel in addition to an aluminium bonnet, roof and tailgate.
Despite how its turbocharged 2-litre engine with 240bhp might sound underpowered for a vehicle of its size, its zero to 100km/h time is claimed to be 8.2 seconds, and with 340Nm on tap from 1750rpm, the Discovery Sport is decently peppy.
Its gearbox, too, is of note. It’s the same 9-speeder as fitted to some variants of the Evoque, so it has the same slush-free shifting characteristics, but the one used in the Discovery Sport is far smoother.
But the most impressive thing about the Discovery Sport is the quantum leap in interior quality over the Freelander 2 – quality that rivals even that of the marque’s flagship Range Rover.
Land Rover tells us the upper half of the cabin is covered in luxe materials (buttery leather and soft-touch plastics), while the bottom half (which is likely to see more abuse) uses more durable materials, which is a thoughtful touch.
Even as the minor switchgear has a firmer, better-damped click, something that eludes models as recent as the new Range Rover. In short, it all feels rather German – a good sign that the Jaguar Land Rover Group is going places and finally shaking off the last vestiges of Ford ownership.
And the Discovery Sport is a looker, too. It takes some cues from the Evoque (in just four short years since its debut, it has gone on to become the marque’s most popular model), such as the clamshell bonnet and “floating” roof. It isn’t just a slavish Evoque-wannabe, though, as the Discovery Sport has especially nice C-pillars and cuts a handsome profile.
With all those traits, Land Rover should have a winner on its hands with the Discovery Sport. While a source from Wearnes Automotive says that the Discovery Sport will be priced at roughly $240,000 (a price point similar to the Evoque and some $40,000 more than the Freelander 2), it would still make the Discovery Sport the most affordable seven-seater luxury SUV on the market today.
Whether all that would be enough to convince buyers to give Land Rover’s newest a shot when it’s set to arrive in the middle of this year is a bit uncertain, but what’s certain is that if the Discovery Sport is a sign of things to come from Land Rover, that can only be a very good thing.
If nothing else, the Discovery Sport is a breath of fresh air – it’s an SUV that makes no pretences about being anything other than a tall-riding, people-and-load hauler. In a world where we’re increasingly seeing ever more ridiculous interpretations of the breed (the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, anyone?), the Discovery Sport’s refreshing honesty is possibly the best thing about it, and that is an even better thing.
TYPE Inline-4, 16-valves, turbocharged
BORE X STROKE 87.5mm x 83.1mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 10:1
MAX POWER 240bhp at 5800rpm
MAX TORQUE 340Nm at 1750rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT 130.4bhp per tonne
GEARBOX 9-speed automatic with manual select
DRIVEN WHEELS All
0-100KM/H 8.2 seconds
TOP SPEED 200km/h
CONSUMPTION 12km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 197g/km
FRONT MacPherson struts, coil springs
REAR Multi-link, coil springs
FRONT / REAR Ventilated discs / Discs
TYPE Continental ContiCrossContact
SIZE 235/55 R19
TRACTION AIDS ABS with VSC
KERB WEIGHT 1841kg
TURNING CIRCLE 11.6m
PRICE INCL. COE To be announced
WARRANTY 3 years/100,000km
+ Handsome exterior design, improved interior quality, impressive practicality
– Some interior fittings still don’t feel premium enough, Discovery badge lacks snob appeal