The great outdoors: Land Rover remind us what a 4x4 is for with the new Discovery Sport
Does the world need another 4x4? Do we need another Land Rover? The builders of these stalwart off-roaders seem to think so and the new Discovery Sport is the first shot in the second salvo of new models from the Midlands-based company. The Discovery Sport replaces the old Freelander, a car that could loosely be described as a 'small' SUV. Although it shares a fair amount of design language with its more upmarket Range Rover siblings, the Discovery Sport is intended as a rougher, tougher, more utilitarian piece of kit.
The new car was debuted in the wild hinterlands of western Iceland. Global car launches are usually theatrical affairs, combining fine empty roads, dramatic landscapes and a scattering of sleek hotels and coffee stops. Manufacturers are keen to showcase their new babies at their very best, so every detail is micro-managed and the opportunity for the unexpected is minimised. This isn't the case here. Land Rover's stagehands don't bother lurking in the wings, for the company's global expeditions team are a core part of every launch, tagging along in a fleet of specially modified vehicles drawn from the marque's storied past to ensure that getting stuck in snowdrifts is all part of the fun.
Even these unscheduled stops were rare. The Discovery Sport performed outstandingly, traversing great snowy swathes of the island across roads closed for the season due to the weather. Land Rover still make the world's best off-road cars and the confidence this instils is nothing short of invaluable. The Discovery Sport is intended to live a more outdoorsy life than the Range Rover range, which frequently find itself as elevated luxury transport for the urban elite, despite its river-fording, mountain-scaling skills.
At this juncture you just have to decide what means more; the Land Rover badge, or the Range Rover one. Both cars have a breadth of ability and practicality that belies their size. The Range Rover Sport is larger, thirstier and plusher. But the Land Rover - by dint of that name - gives off a more casual, utilitarian and less precious air. That will matter more to many, especially the country-dwelling customer base that brought the original Range Rover to prominence back in the 70s. It's no less chunkily handsome than its relatives, although there's a slight danger of the bleed between Land Rover and Range Rover becoming ever blurrier. By means of being newer, the interior trim, tech and gadgets are all a generation ahead as well.
The 'Sport' appellation mirrors its opposite number in the Range Rover stable, where prices are twice as high. It also signals the future arrival of a larger standalone Discovery model to replace its current namesake. That said, the new car is still a full seven-seater and offers flexibility enough for most. Other manufacturers might compete - the Audi Q5 or BMW X3 for example - but the Discovery Sport has a sense of solidity and class that transcends traditional brand one-upmanship. For its fans, for whom only a Land Rover will do, the Discovery Sport won't let them down.