Land Rover’s new Sport is a clear winner

I KNOW the Land Rover Freelander has many fans, but if you bought an original one (built between 1997 and 2006) you might have invested in trouble.

Land Rover’s new Sport is a clear winner

Water and diesel leaks, and head gasket, diff and electrical problems, and mechanical and build-quality issues, spoiled the car for many people.

The Mk 2 version — the Freelander2 — sorted out many of those bug-bears, but the brand’s change in ownership, from Ford to the Indian conglomerate, Tata, in 2008, spelled the end for the Freelander. It did not fit into the new owner’s plans to move the brand upmarket.

Having successfully — and impressively — rebuilt the already ritzy Range Rover (not to mention Jaguar, which it also owns), Tata put a glossy new coat on the Land Rover and this week we drive the much-anticipated Freelander replacement, the Land Rover Discovery Sport.

The Discovery nameplate has been a brand leader for Land Rover and while we have yet to see the forthcoming new version of the big SUV, the Sport has taken over from the Freelander as the ‘soft-roader’ in the company’s line-up, in the same way as the Evoque has in the Range Rover stratosphere.

To call it a ‘soft-roader’ is to demean the Sport’s abilities — particularly its’ stunning off-road capability — but the majority of owners will never find out just how good it is at climbing mountains or traversing bogs.

For a majority of buyers, the Freelander was good to be seen in: it endowed you with a credibility the rest of the pack didn’t have. It mattered not that you never pulled a horse box in your life nor had to grind your way across treacherous terrain to aid a lambing ewe, the Freelander (even the early ones) had plenty of cachet.

Whether or not Land Rover’s decision to ditch the Freelander handle has to do with perceived frailties is something we may never know. Fact is that the Freelander is — for now — a thing of the past and the new Sport is the king of that hill.

And king it is, because continuing the excellent work it has put into its swisher products, JLR has now also made a vehicle that has a sub-40k price tag, is hugely family friendly, a genuine go-anywhere ability and an excellent diesel engine.

It may be that — as is also the case with the majority of its predominantly German rivals — the cost of the Disco Sport ratchets up alarmingly as you move up through the various specification grades and that, right now, it comes with only one engine option (the new generation of Ingenium engines is not yet available).

There are small questions about its stiffish damping, particularly for those who will never drive one outside a city’s bounds, but this is one seriously good car.

The Sport’s looks have already enamoured several friends of mine who are already in the 4x4 milieu, but that is not all that has had them slavishly opining their desire to have one. They know the established 2.2 diesel engine is a cracker; they like the seven-seat option; they like the lavish rear legroom; and they like the new InControl infotainment system, which is both easier on the eye and more user-friendly than anything the company has produced heretofore.

Based roughly on that of the Evoque, the interior of the Disco Sport is very nice and, for a car with such a complex range of abilities, the switchgear is remarkably simple, easy to understand and easy to work.

The décor is swanky without being OTT, but durable and capable of hard wearing, without being unduly workmanlike.

The 190bhp output of the engine is good, but the 420Nm of torque, allied to the nine-speed automatic gearbox, certainly allows the term ‘Sport’ to be applied here.

There is no shortage of available grunt when you need it and the performance figures underline the fact. A nine-second 0-100kph time and a top speed of 188kph, allied to a 6.3 l/100km consumption figure (44.4 mpg), make for a perfectly acceptable package, especially when you consider that the car weighs in at over two tonnes.

And considering that weight, you’ll be surprised not only by how sprightly this thing is, but how well it handles. Sure, the stiffly damped ride is a little jiggly around town, but on the open road it has bags of grip, beautifully weighted steering and handles better than any mid-sized SUV I’ve experienced.

Although the HSE Luxury version we tried is almost double the price of the base model, the extras, such as the panoramic roof, leather upholstery, and the two additional seats are a new dimension.

But the seven-seat package means you don’t get the full-size spare wheel, which is otherwise standard, and have to do with a space-saver, instead.

Some might wince when they think back to the old, original Freelander and all the problems that bedevilled it. Even those who loved the Freelander 2, however, will be forced to admit that Land Rover has upped the ante hugely with this Disco Sport, making it a very rewarding drive, a hugely practical family option and a truly nice thing to decorate your driveway.

Colley's Verdict

The Car: Land Rover Discovery Sport

The Cost: From €37,100; HSE Luxury model is €66,300-€77,953 as tested.

The Engine: Familiar 2.2 turbodiesel which is probably showing its age, especially in refinement and economy, but the new generation Ingenium engines due shortly will put that to rights.

The Specification: JLR has obviously take a leaf from the books of its German rivals, because adding kit to this car will have you reaching deep into your pockets.

The Overall Verdict: Land Rover has done little wrong recently and this car underlines further the company’s ability to design and make wonderful cars.

Star Rating: ****

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