Land Rover's India-bound Freelander replacement is very likeable as our first drive in Iceland revealed.
What is it?
Two things. To start with, it’s Land Rover’s replacement for the popular and capable Freelander. It’s also the first of the models from the new Discovery sub-brand, one that will focus on utility in the same vein as the Range Rover line is about luxury.
The Discovery Sport was shown as a concept last year and the production version’s styling doesn’t stray too far from the prototype. It’s smart, well proportioned and interesting but doesn’t have the show value of something like an Evoque. Still, there’s a certain honesty to the chunky shape which, if you think about it, more than links the Sport to the Freelander. The Sport is 91mm longer than its predecessor and also sits on a wheelbase that’s grown by 80mm. These increments, and the incorporation of a compact multi-link rear suspension, have allowed for a third row of seats, giving the Sport a big advantage over its five-seat competitors – the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Volvo XC60. But the carmaker is being cautious to call the Sport a ‘5+2’ rather than a seven-seater simply because space in the rear is only suited for kids. Access is okay but the seating position and limited space rule it out for use by adults. Abroad, the Sport will be available with a conventional five-seat arrangement too but India will get the 5+2 version only. That means Indian versions will only get a space saver as a spare tyre (mounted under the body) and not a full size one as on the five-seater.
As on all modern Land Rovers, the cabin is neat with a long-lasting feel to everything. Angular cues dominate the dashboard and, once again, it doesn’t look revolutionary in any way; just very Land Rover. What does make a big difference is the new touchscreen-operated infotainment system. It’s a big step up from the older system offered on all Land Rovers before this, and is easy enough to use on the move. Just wish it had the iPad-like responses to inputs we’ve seen on the latest systems such as the one on the upcoming Volvo XC90.
You sit at a nice height and correspondingly get a good view out. The front seats are comfortable and feature electric adjust and additionally, heating and cooling functions. These are features that could make it to the Indian car as well because the carmaker intends to launch it in fully loaded guise. LED headlights, a panoramic roof and dual-zone climate control will be part of standard kit, and rear seat entertainment could be offered as well.
Middle row passengers get seats which are supportive and can be moved fore and aft to maximise legroom or free up knee room for the last row. Space, in general, is good while the large windows allow lots of light into the cabin. The cabin has also been given lots of recesses for small items and thoughtfully equipped it with seven USB charging points, one for each occupant.
What is it like to drive?
The India-spec car will be offered with a four-cylinder, 2.2-litre diesel engine in two states of tune – 187bhp and 147bhp. This transversally-laid engine will come mated to a nine-speed automatic gearbox. We drove the 187bhp version in testing conditions in frigid Iceland but it was the sections on tarmac that gave us the closest idea of what the Sport would be like in more everyday conditions back home.
Cruising ability, for one, was very good with the engine spinning away quietly and external noise generally well contained. The engine, even in 187bhp form, didn’t feel particularly punchy but produced power in a very pleasant, linear manner. We also found the nine-speed gearbox to go about its business effectively. In fact, it doesn’t feel any different from the more commonplace eight-speed units which is a good thing. You only get the idea of the vast number of ratios when you opt to manually downshift via the paddles from cruising speeds.
Given the conditions we were driving through, the carmaker wisely equipped the test cars with studded tyres. So, we won’t really go into the finer details of ride quality. What we can tell you is that the Sport’s suspension is set up well to offer low speed plushness and good high-speed control. Even through the corners, the Sport felt balanced, tight and confident, if not wildly entertaining. The direct and well-weighted steering did help liven things up, though.
But if there’s one element that really impressed us, it would have to be its off-road ability. We drove over snow, ice, gravel and even through a flowing river, but not once did the Sport flinch. The Terrain Response four-wheel-drive system worked brilliantly across conditions, no doubt helped by the SUV’s good approach, departure and ramp breakover angles, and impressive 600mm wading depth.
Should I buy one?
If good off-road ability is high priority for you, your search for mid-size luxury SUV should end at the Discovery Sport. It’s superbly capable and also small enough to enjoy in the rough. Pity the majority of Discovery Sports in India will never see the kind of terrains this SUV is built for. On other fronts too, it impresses. It looks good, feels solidly put together and will come with plenty by way of goodies. You’ll also have little to complain about with the way it drives and rides. It may not be as rewarding to drive as an X3, but it’s not too far behind on this front.
And thanks to local assembly from the outset, it will be priced close to its main rivals too with prices in the Rs 42-50 lakh bracket. For the money, you’ll get a remarkably well-rounded SUV with a personality very distinct from its contemporaries. To many, the latter bit alone should be reason to give the Discovery Sport serious consideration. It goes on sale in India in August.