First Drive: Land Rover Discovery Sport

Land Rover Discovery Sport
Land Rover

It's the first model in a new family of cars from Land Rover, but can the Discovery Sport live up to the legacy of the Freelander it replaces? James Baggott heads to Iceland to find out.

What is it?

The long awaited replacement for the Freelander and the first in a new family of Discovery models. Land Rover has split its range into three distinct 'pillars'. There's Range Rover, with the Sport, the Evoque and the full-fat Rangie. There's the Defender range, which is soon to be retired in current classic form and replaced. And then there's Discovery. The Disco Sport is the first and where it sits in the range will become clear as the new models are unveiled. They'll undoubtedly be a larger model and we'd expect to see a baby in the range too. That clear? Good.

What's under the bonnet?

A diesel engine. Yes, just the one. For now at least. Jaguar Land Rover has an all-new set of power plants waiting in the wings, dubbed Ingenium, but they're not ready yet so for launch the Discovery Sport features the tried and trusted 2.2-litre SD4 unit that featured in the outgoing Freelander. It comes in six-speed manual or nine-speed automatic guises, has 190bhp and 420Nm of torque. CO2 emissions are 161g/km and it'll return 47.1mpg. It's nothing ground-breaking, but there's little wrong with it either. We can't help thinking, though, in five years time the first batch of Discovery Sports with this 'old engine' will be the ones buyers avoid.

What's the spec like?

Not too bad at all. Most importantly there's a new infotainment system which Land Rover - and sister firm Jaguar - have been crying out for. There's a new suite of apps which run on a smartphone and can be displayed on the car's screen. They look pretty basic, but the sat nav works well. Four trims are available - SE, SE Tech, HSE and HSE Luxury - all with varying levels of the usual extras. Options include an armrest cooler and warmer box, seven USB points - one for each passenger - and headrest mounted iPad holders. It's pretty competent in the towing stakes, too, with a maximum capacity of 2,500kg.

Land Rover Discovery Sport

Land Rover Discovery Sport

Any rivals?

The Discovery Sport enters a marketplace full of premium compact off-roaders, including the popular Audi Q5 and BMW X3. Where the Land Rover stands tall is in its off-road ability - the tough Icelandic terrain covered so easily during this drive would be the death of many a supposed off-roader. It's better suited to the school run, too, as its seven-seater layout is unique for this class of car.

What's it like to drive?

Ok, so that's the tough question, because it was actually hard to tell. We spent three days at the launch of the Discovery Sport in Iceland, tackling terrain that wouldn't look out of place on the moon. However, the landscape was so extreme it gave us very little idea what it would be like to drive on a normal road. We can report it's incredibly competent off road, though, and if the snow does fall owners will be safe in the knowledge this car can cope with even heavy drifts. We found the ride a little hard, but then that could have been the dreadful surfaces, and it was a little loud inside too, but again that was probably the studded tyres.

AOL Cars verdict

There's no doubt the Discovery Sport is a marked improvement on the Freelander - stick them side by side and it makes the old model look positively ancient. The interior is a vast improvement, it's comfortable and has plenty of room in the front and back. The multimedia system is better than before, although not perfect, and off road it's in its absolute element. However, with no time on 'normal' roads on the launch it's impossible to report on what it would be like as a daily driver. We'll reserve judgement on that for a later date. Still, we doubt this will harm the Disco Sport's popularity - the brand is on such a role it's going to fly out of the showrooms.

The knowledge

Model: Land Rover Discovery Sport SD$
Price: From £32,995
Engine: 2.2-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged, diesel
Power: 190bhp, 420Nm
Max speed: 117mph
0-60mph: 9.8s
CO@ emissions: 161g/km