I can scarcely believe that it’s fast approaching 10 years since I was last at school – admittedly I spent 2 years in Sixth Form which was still in school, but in terms of wearing a school uniform and attending lessons all day long it’s nearly a decade ago. Of those lessons by far my least favourite was P.E., anyone who was generally poor at sport will empathise with me here as being forced to run around a muddy field after various different shaped bits of leather (football or rugby) is not my idea of fun, especially when the majority of my opponents were on the school football team! ‘Fitness’ and tennis were more my cup of tea, but even then it was not completely unheard of for me to flash a forged note from my mum excusing me from taking part.
It’s clear then I’m not the most sporting of individuals, but then neither do I ever proclaim myself to be (marathon entry aside perhaps). However it can be quite irksome when people or increasingly products and companies market themselves as ‘sporty’ in an attempt to seem more cool, or at least more capable in erm…kicking a ball around the pitch?
Land Rover is no stranger to this misleading nomenclature with their Range Rover Sport of 2004 heralding the arrival of a model which was supposedly more driver-focused and ‘sporting’ in terms of track performance. Now the cynic in me might argue that the Range Rover Sport was at least successful in cultivating a strong image amongst those involved in professional sports – namely premiership footballers and their perma-tannned spouses, but given that I have more than once proclaimed myself a fan of not only the original Range Rover Sport but also most of it’s competitors that would be pretty petty and hypocritical of me.
I could again write chapter and verse on the Range Rover Sport and why even now I am pining for one as my next potential vehicle, but instead I shall focus on the second model in Land Rover’s model line-up to be bestowed with the Sport name; the new-for-2015 Discovery Sport. Heavily based on last year’s Discovery Vision concept revealed at the New York Auto Show, the Sport is essentially a larger version of the Range Rover Evoque with less rakish styling and a more functional interior (ie cheaper dash materials and a larger boot with 2 extra optional seats). Set to do battle with the likes of the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, the Discovery Sport gives Land Rover a competitor in one of the most fiercely contested areas of the car market; the Freelander 2 which proceeded it was a decent all-round car and sold well in the UK at least, but it lacked the premium image, styling and interior to match it’s increasingly spiralling prices. The Evoque is often cross-shopped with these models but it’s significantly smaller size means that family buyers often had eyes for more practical competition, even if it will likely continue to have a stronger image and residuals.
The idea of the Discovery Sport is a sound one then, or at least it would be to me if the pricing levels were a little more modest; in pre-facelift ‘3’ guise the current generation Discovery could originally be had for under £28k and even well equipped models topped out at the £40k mark – Discovery Sport prices start at £33k and bearing in mind that it’s a whole class beneath and still loosely based on decade-old underpinnings I think it’s a little greedy for Land Rover to ask for most buyers to part with the best part of £40k for a well equipped model. Maybe I’m being a little unfair given the prices that rivals command for their less practical offerings, but in reality things are going to hinge on what finance offers that whizz kids at the firm’s Solihull head office can come up with; anything under £400/month will mean they sell like hotcakes to the relatively well-heeled of suburbia.
Given that people are going to buy this vehicle based on the strength of the brand name alone, does it really matter if the car is any good or not? Well the first reviews I’ve read have offered up a pretty mixed response to the car previously known as Freelander and I’ve formed some completely ungrounded opinions of my own from these sources and the tonnes of press pictures that Land Rover have published. Probably the most important thing for them to do was to make sure that the car looks half decent and that’s pretty much what they have done, it looks nice – nothing more and nothing less. Of course looks are subjective but overall the basic shape of a crossover/4×4/SUV/whatever has been used and subsequently coated with a heap of Evoque influences and a smattering of the larger Range Rover models and of course the ‘full fat’ Discovery. None of those vehicles are unattractive in the slightest and yet the resulting mix of styles is one that looks exactly what you’d imagine the next generation of Freelander to look like but possibly not what a more dynamic/sporting version of the Discovery should be; Where is the trademark stepped ‘Alpine’ roof? Where are the extrovert details which make the Range Rover Sport look so aggressive? And in the name of God why are the rear lights from an eBay store which produces knock-off Lexus lights from the early 00’s??? The Discovery Sport is still an attractive looking car, but it doesn’t float my boat in the way that say an Audi…or erm a BMW X…well OK all vehicles in this segment look a little bland, unless you count the origami metal Lexus NX I guess.
So surely if the Sport doesn’t stand out on the outside then it must be a winner inside? Well to a certain extent yes, but I’m going to be upfront and say that I’m still a little disappointed with the new car’s interior too; it’s always a little unfair to make comments like that without seeing it in the flesh/plastic/metal, but seeing as though I’m unlikely to do that anytime soon I’m going to pass comment regardless! In the past Land Rover interiors have always been slightly behind the class standard at least in terms of usability and to a degree fit-and-finish, but with more recent Range Rover models the brand has really started to push forward with a much more modern and premium feel. It seems a little surprising then that Land Rover took a bit of a step back when designing the interior of it’s new car; the centre stack is sparsely covered in chunky buttons and knobs with lots of cheap looking plastic and fake metal trim.
I guess this car is a Land Rover as opposed to a Range Rover and they decided to remind drivers that they can’t afford it’s bigger brothers, but given the pricing levels I would see it as a little bit of a slap in the face considering the quality interior of the BMW X3 and Audi Q5. Still the Discovery Sport has them licked in terms of practicality, as despite being shorter and narrower than both it can still offer optional 3rd row seating for small children and those without legs…for £1,000 mind! But then there is plenty of tech kit that Land Rover doesn’t provide even as an option, the new infotainment system is improved yes but things like adaptive cruise are getting to be the norm in this market place and can even be found in more mainstream rivals, who coincidentally offer more space too for less money.
Maybe it’s on the road then that the Discovery Sport earns it’s stripes, or at least proves itself worthy of the ‘Sport’ moniker? Well again it’s not really fair for me to pass comment without having driven the car (or indeed any of competitors) but I’m afraid to say that again my impressions are pretty middle of the road even if it is an improvement over the Freelander and equally is probably a fair bit more sporting than the ‘regular’ Discovery…it would be hard not to considering it weighs about a tonne less! With a decent amount of it’s construction being aluminium the Sport is reasonably spritely even if it’s only offered with two 4-cylinder turbos, one diesel and one petrol, both 2L and newly developed by JLR for use in their newest vehicles; feedback on these is that although a little unrefined they are at least competitive with those used by rivals and promise to be economical too – around 47mpg combined from the diesel cars. These engines power the Discovery Sport through either a 6 speed manual or 9 speed ZF automatic gearbox, the latter of which is likely to be the more popular option even if it dilly-dallies between gears like it does in Jeep models with the same ‘box.
So here we have a car with decent styling, with an OK interior and reasonable on road experience (although I must add that despite a Haldex AWD system it excels off road akin to any Land Rover product), which pretty much means that it could get lost amongst it’s many rivals if it were not for that famous green badge which guarantees it a hefty amount of kudos in the company car park. The fact that the Discovery Sport is so inoffensive means it’s pretty hard to dislike it, but I still have a problem with the fact it’s been called the Sport, although I guess it is merely just as sporting as other ‘Sport Utility Vehicles’ if not more. Interestingly the original Range Rover Sport concept was called ‘Range Stormer’ and maybe Stormer would have been a more interesting or fitting name for both the Range Rover Sport and Discovery Sport…but it is what it is and I can’t really hate on Land Rover’s new model for faking it when it comes to sporting ability.