When you believe in your product, you allow the world’s media to test it in the most extreme conditions possible. Well, it doesn’t get much more extreme than Iceland. So, I guess that means Land Rover has a lot of faith in its newest model – the Discovery Sport. So when we got a chance to do our Land Rover Discovery Sport, we couldn't wait.
I pursued this profession because I love cars, plain and simple. Yes, testing some of the newest and most exotic machines on the planet puts me in an enviable position. And I’m not going to win any friends by pointing out that the travel isn’t bad either.
Most car companies go out of their way to pamper journalists in an effort to subliminally plant the seeds of a positive. Some others, however, spend more of their time working out just how to get the motoring press to truly experience what their machines are capable of – and Land Rover is one of those companies.
One of my most memorable trips was the test of the new Range Rover in Morocco a few years ago. The drive started on a beach, bashed through some dunes, crawled up a trail of rocks, and ended up on a motorway. On day two, we drove into the Atlas Mountains – only to turn off abruptly and head down a steep trail that led straight into a fast flowing river. We were then asked to follow a specially prepared Defender (affectionately known as Big Foot) into the rapids, at which point we actually drove upstream for miles with water often above the bonnet line. Now, that’s what I call a vehicle test!
Well, with their latest product – the Discovery Sport – they’ve attempted to outdo themselves once more. And this time we’re a little further north than the Rock of Gibraltar. In fact, if we went any higher we’d be having hot chocolate with Santa at the North Pole to do our Land Rover Discovery Sport.
As you land at Keflavik Airport, fifty-odd kilometres outside the national capital of Reykjavik, you get a sense of just why it’s called Iceland. On approaching the runway, a sliver of land emerges from the North Atlantic Ocean. It’s a clean cover of white as far as the eye can see. As we touchdown, we brace ourselves for sub-zero temperatures. Whatever the weather though, Iceland in winter is a sight to savour. What a place! A tight schedule meant that I had just 36-hours on the ground – but I could come back and spend 36 days just exploring the natural beauty of this incredible country.
But back to the Discovery Sport – as we left the airport, we got straight into the cars. As you approach the new Discovery Sport, you get the sense that it ought to have a ‘Range Rover’ badge on it rather than ‘Land Rover.’ And that’s not a bad beginning to our Land Rover Discovery Sport SD4.
The Discovery Sport will replace the Freelander when it’s launched in India in August, but it appears to be more of a shrunken RR Sport than an evolution of the current Freelander. And while I appreciate the no-nonsense appeal of the entry-level Land Rover, I happen to think that the RR Sport is a great looking machine. So, no complaints from me on that front… moreover, the Discovery Sport recently received a five-star safety rating – which can be partly attributed to its pedestrian safety system that includes an airbag in its svelte (but still clamshell) bonnet. In profile, it retains some of the cues from the current Discovery.
Dimensionally, it’s a little longer than the Freelander, but it weights the same thanks to an aluminium bonnet, roof, and tailgate.
The Discovery Sport is actually built on the Evoque platform, but the multi-link rear suspension has been completely reworked for added refinement – and also to incorporate the third row of seats that the Discovery now features. One of the engineers showed me a picture of the new, and rather sophisticated looking, setup. It includes some beautifully crafted pieces of billet aluminium under the skin. They’ve also worked hard to ensure that it has only lower links – thereby creating space in the structure to place the optional third row of seats. Now, Land Rover has made sure to refer to the Discovery Sport as a ‘5+2,’ and not a seven-seater. And that’s because the third row is suitable only for small children. What the kids in the back do get, however, are AC vents and their own set of USB charging points – of which there are seven in the car.
The Discovery Sport also gets JLR’s all-new, highly anticipated infotainment system – which will gradually make its way into other JLR models as well. Not only does it look and feel much better than before, but it also allows you to mirror many of the apps from your Android and iOS devices onto the car’s central touchscreen. We didn’t get a chance to try it for ourselves though, because the system was being used to keep us on the intended route. What the Discovery Sport doesn’t get just yet, however, is the new line of Ingenium engines that will debut in the Jaguar XE later this year. This all-new line up of engines is expected to find its way under the hood of the Discovery Sport in about a year’s time.
Our test car, meanwhile, had the familiar 2.2 litre diesel motor that JLR’s been using for some time. Two versions of this engine will be available in India, with 150 and 190 horsepower apiece. In our case, the 190 horses were being channelled through the new 9-speed ZF gearbox. Some people have complained that nine is one ratio too many, because the transmission is always hunting for gears. Frankly, though, I felt none of that. While I’m very happy with the ZF 8-speed, the advantage of 9 ratios is that it should be more efficient. For instance, when cruising at 100km/h the engine is turning over at under 1,500rpm. And when you step on the gas it downshifts immediately and surges forward. The trouble is that the surge doesn’t exactly pin you into your seat. After all, 100km/h comes up in a leisurely 8.9 seconds – so it’s best not to take the ‘Sport’ tag too seriously.
The impressive bit is that the engine has been insulated so well that you can barely hear it at all. And it’s in the realm of overall refinement that the Discovery Sport has made massive gains over the Freelander. Our test cars were fitted with studded tyres to give us half a chance in Icelandic conditions – and even then the ride was complaint and road noise was muted. Magnetic dampers, which adjust up to 500 times a second – a la the F-Type – are available as an option. But the standard dampers fitted to our test machine were near-perfect as far as I could tell. Not only was the ride impressive, but the body control was exceptional. In fact, throw in the torque vectoring – from the Range Rover Sport – and the new Discovery feels even more direct and surefooted on the road than its bigger and more illustrious cousin, once removed.
An hour-and-a-half journey took us deep into the country, as we followed a geothermal pipeline into the wilderness. The massive metallic tube finally led to the Nesjavellir geothermal power station – and even if you could shut your eyes to the psychedelic lights on the top of the smoke stacks, you wouldn’t be able to get your nose to ignore the strong stench of sulphur emanating from the earth below. Our stop for the night wasn’t far, and the important thing was that a dimly lit corridor in the hotel led to a door labelled: ‘Northern Lights Bar.’ And while the temperature was about minus four degrees, it was a clear night – so each one of us had our fingers and toes crossed in the hope that we would witness some slightly more dramatic psychedelic action in the sky.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. We departed at nine the next morning – still in pitch darkness. But, at least the weather was still clear – not for long though. As we made our way up into the highlands and towards a coffee stop, we quickly became immersed in a blizzard – well, they did warn us that the conditions were changeable! By the time we reached the huts especially built by Land Rover at this stop, you could barely see your own headlights. Fortunately, Big Foot was around to lead the way once again – and so we simply followed in convoy as an old-school Defender fitted with massive wheels and tyres led the way. And just in case we struggled to follow behind, there were even some Defenders converted into snow ploughs to clear the way if need be – is there nothing this incredible machine can’t do?
That said, the Discovery Sport wasn’t too bad itself. The heavy winds were shifting the banks of snow straight into our path, but the Discovery Sport couldn’t have been the least bothered. We simply set the Terrain Response to ‘Grass-Gravel-Snow’ and carried on. I could just imagine BMW’s and Audi’s falling by the wayside, as the Land Rover motored on. Many of you will never use the off-road capability of your Land Rover to the fullest, but you can still take comfort in the fact that its there. God forbid, should you ever need to escape the end of days – the Discovery Sport is well equipped to give you a fighting chance!
Fortunately, the blizzard cleared and the sun emerged to reveal the immense natural beauty of this incredible land in all its glory. We drove through wide streams fed by melting glaciers, to fully test the 600mm wading depth of the Discovery Sport, and scrambled up and down challenging mountain trails to truly test the four-wheel drive ability of the new baby Discovery. We even managed to pick up speed on some mixed trails of snow and gravel, before hitting the highway once again in the run towards the capital.
As this incredible day came to a close, two things became clear – Iceland is a wondrous land, and the Discovery Sport is the perfect machine in which to explore its beauty. Land Rover is truly on a roll. They can’t seem to put a foot wrong, and have certainly moved the game on once more with the new Discovery Sport.
Sure, I would prefer more power – but when isn’t that the case. The real risk, though, lies in the pricing strategy of Land Rover in India. Even the smallest Range Rover is stratospheric. We know the Discovery Sport will be priced somewhere between the Freelander and the Evoque. And we know as well that it’ll be assembled in India from day one, which brightens prospects slightly.
So, all we can do is hope and pray that you won’t need to take out a loan the size of the Icelandic economy to have any chance to owning the new Discovery Sport – because this is a Land Rover that’s definitely worth putting in your garage!
- Land Rover Discovery Sport SD4
Transmission: 9-speed automatic transmission / All-Wheel Drive
Power: 188bhp @ 3,500rpm
Torque: 420Nm @ 1,750rpm
Acceleration: 0-100km/h: 8.9 seconds