Land Rover Discovery Sport: Driven

It's about the point that one of the fully winterised Discovery 4 support vehicles slews past in the horizontal blizzard, grinds to a halt in the fresh snow and then crabs sideways alarmingly towards the bonnet of our stationary Discovery Sport it occurs things perhaps aren't going entirely to plan. Out of the gloom Land Rover support crews, yellow winter parkas just about visible in the driving snow, desperately try to push it out as the wheels spin uselessly in the fresh drift. And they were meant to be the cavalry.

Yep, that'll be a blizzard then
Yep, that'll be a blizzard then
We're not actually stuck but the car ahead most definitely is. At a standstill the wind is so strong it feels like our new Discovery Sport is about to be picked up and flung against the hillside, the horizontal snow completely obscuring what we're attempting to drive through and, indeed, whether or not we're still actually on the road at all. According to the navigation system we're about five kilometres from our hotel destination, tucked among some low-lying hills 80km outside of Reykjavik. But with visibility at about five metres it may as well be back at the airport.

Later we hear from the hotel staff that this is one of the most intense storms they've ever experienced. Getting excitable about the weather doesn't seem an especially Icelandic trait, so it must have been proper. Proper enough to have the support crew taking over an empty building in the nearby geothermal power station to store and prep the cars and then bedding down in the hotel bar rather than attempting to get back to Reykjavik.

Next day things were looking a little brighter
Next day things were looking a little brighter
Season's greetings
Welcome to Iceland in December then and Land Rover's attempt to prove that the new Discovery Sport is more than just the latest school gate style statement and, as they used to have it, the best 4x4xFar. Maybe a simulated school run to test the standard 5+2 seating might have been a better idea though. Because as it stands a significant number of the party are going to require assistance from the spectacularly cool 'bigfoot' Defenders built to full Icelandic spec on 38-inch balloon tyres.

Just what is the Discovery Sport though? Clearly it's not a replacement for the Discovery 4, despite sharing a name. Rather it's the successor to the Freelander and the first of what's promised is an entire new family sitting between the bling of Range Rover branded vehicles and more traditional Defenders, for as long as they're with us.

Bigfoot keeps a watchful eye, just in case
Bigfoot keeps a watchful eye, just in case
So it's a relatively compact vehicle by the standards of the genre, Land Rover commendably boasting about its modest size compared with rivals like the BMW X3, Volvo XC60 and Audi Q5. A sub 4.6m length was a key design parameter and it's 40-70mm shorter than all of the above rivals despite shipping in the UK with that standard third row of seats.

A new discovery
Since when did PistonHeads get excited about diesel powered school run compact SUVs though? Well, to be entirely frank the trip to Iceland sounded like it would be rather a good wheeze, likewise the chance to test its credentials as a proper 4x4 with river crossings and volcano scaling. And if you're going to follow the inexorable rush into a vehicle of this kind it may as well be the one capable of such things, right?

PH does it with the windows down
PH does it with the windows down
This car is clearly a big deal for Land Rover and expected to sell in significant volumes. That seven-seater ability gives it a distinct difference from the Evoque with which it shares basic architecture up to about the B-pillars. From there back the Discovery Sport is all new, 'independent link' rear suspension freeing up the space in the back for those extra seats and class leading luggage room when they're stowed. The middle row slides back and forth by 160mm too, allowing you to trade legroom for boot space or vice versa.

The only engine available in the UK for launch is the old SD4 2.2-litre diesel, the longitudinal application in the Jaguar XE the first priority for the new Ingenium four-cylinder engine range. These, hybrids and others will follow in due course but the 190hp SD4 underlines the more utilitarian brief. So not so much of the 'Sport' then, that transverse engine layout making any more than four cylinders unlikely.

Icelandic signs no clearer with snow removed
Icelandic signs no clearer with snow removed
Family values
Optionally paired with the ZF nine-speed auto also on the Evoque and driving through a Haldex 5 four-wheel drive system it's not seemingly the hardcore off-roader either. But it is a Land Rover and there are certain expectations to live up to. The familiar Terrain Response modes are there and when Land Rover quotes approach, departure and breakover angles you get the impression it's with sincerity, not afterthought. The fact the river crossing is iced over means we don't get to test the promised 600mm wading depth but with studded tyres on fresh snow and compacted ice the Discovery Sport acquits itself well.

With no transfer box your closest approximation of low range is an extra low first gear on the automatic, this and the fact it's a second and a half quicker to 62mph making it more or less a no-brainer over the manual. It's even 10kg lighter than the old six-speed auto. The thrum of the diesel is well isolated and even the fiercest Icelandic gale doesn't ruffle the door seals, these attributes and the well-judged float in the ride all making the Discovery Sport relaxed and refined even on the high-frequency bumps of the ice-covered roads. Not something you'd say of a Defender, bigfoot or not.

Sign? I didn't see any sign...
Sign? I didn't see any sign...
Once on faster, more open Icelandic roads we'd probably be happier back in the Discovery Sport too. Carrying respectable A-road speeds on roads glistening with ice feels a little counter intuitive but the locals seem happy with it and the studded tyres are confidence inspiring. It's not a representative test of how most will experience the car in the UK but, like all JLR products, there's a clear sense it's been set up by people who know what they're about. Control weights are all bang-on and well harmonised and it's a very relaxing and confidence inspiring place to cover distance.

Faux by faux?
It's not quite as Fisher Price as the Freelander but the cabin can't quite match the cool premium feel you'd get in those quoted rivals like the X3, XC60 and Q5. And the limitations of the InControl app-based navigation system are shown when ours falls over a couple of times on our outbound journey; JLR's familiarly clunky touchscreen system is still built-in but wasn't mapped for Iceland. Not that there necessarily were maps for where we were going.

The acceptable face of the compact SUV?
The acceptable face of the compact SUV?
These are fairly minor quibbles though. For its stated aims the Discovery Sport more than exceeds its brief and will doubtless sell like hot cakes. Back home it's a sensible and pragmatic answer to the endless craze for 4x4s with a badge and breeding that still carries considerable credibility. In Iceland we'd probably stick with the bigfoot though.




2,179cc four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: 6-speed manual/9-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 190@3,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 310@1,750rpm
0-62mph: 10.4sec (auto 8.9sec)
Top speed: 117mph
Weight: 1,854kg (auto 1,863kg, both quoted as 'from')
MPG: 46mpg (auto 44.9mpg, both NEDC combined)
CO2: 162g/km (auto 166g/km)
Price: £32,395/£34,195 (SE manual/auto), £33,895/£35,695 (SE Tech manual/auto), £37,595/£39,395 (HSE manual/auto), £42,995 (HSE Lux auto)



P.H. O'meter

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (86) Join the discussion on the forum

  • GravelMachineGun 15 Dec 2014

    I am not too keen on this shape.
    The older one before it went all round was much nicer, this shape only suits the RR (imo anyway)

  • Fishtigua 15 Dec 2014

    It may have a third row of seats, where is the boot space?

  • Frimley111R 15 Dec 2014

    Ivory seats, ideal for familes with kids!

  • Impasse 15 Dec 2014

    Looks nice. It'll sell well too.

  • HonestIago 15 Dec 2014

    Won't this tread on the Evoque much more than the Freelander did? Or am I missing something?

View all comments in the forums Make a comment