Getting caught up in a snow storm on a remote track on the outskirts of Reykjavik, at night, might not be most car manufacturers’ way to give journalists their first impressions of an important new model, but it certainly gets you in the mood for an adventure.
It probably wouldn’t have been Land Rover’s top choice of scenario, either, but at least the wait for others to extricate themselves from snow banks gave me plenty of time to familiarize myself with the interior of the new Discovery Sport. That’s arguably one of the new model’s most important areas, as it packs three rows of seats in to its sub-4.6m length.
I always liked the Freelander 2’s relative simplicity inside, with chunkier controls and tougher finishes than most newer Land Rovers, but its packaging made it feel quite small for a vehicle that’s about the same size as a Discovery 1. Although just 91mm longer than the Freelander 2, the Discovery Sport feels much roomier and the feel of quality is a huge step up too. Those two rear seats really are tiny though, and best left to the kids.
Once the weather lifted and we were able to see the road ahead, the Discovery Sport demonstrated a massive improvement in ride and handling over the Freelander 2. A longer wheelbase and all-new rear suspension setup plays a big part in that, while it’s stiffer and more taut too. Underneath, it clearly takes more influences from the Range Rover Evoque than Freelander 2.
Our route included steep snowy hillclimbs, twisting gravel tracks and icy asphalt, and the Discovery Sport always felt neutral, responsive and fun to drive. Flicking down a few gears in the nine-speed ZF auto ‘box and letting the 187bhp 2.2 SD4 motor growl a little produced some entertaining sideways drifts.
Overall, I was expecting it to feel like a pricey ‘Freelander 3’ (UK prices start at more than £32,000) but I have been proved mostly wrong. I still don’t think it feels at all like a small Discovery 4 (which is how Land Rover would like you to see it), but it’s far better than the sum of its parts and has its own distinct character.
It IS a small Discovery, and worthy of that name. In many ways it’s as refined as a Range Rover Sport, and it’s as nimble as an Evoque. It could just do with a bit more oomph and visual attitude to live up to the Sport name. I’d expect Evoque buyers, or would-be Evoque buyers, to look very closely at the prospect of becoming a Discovery owner, rather than a Range Rover owner. It’s that good already, and better is yet to come...
For the full review, make sure you get the February 2015 issue of Land Rover Owner – on sale December 31.