Can the brand that built its reputation upon all-terrain competency still convince customers to take roads less travelled?
SO far, so familiar … upmarket brand launches swank new sports utility with quiet acknowledgement that, in all reality, few will test the newcomer’s impressive off-road ability.
It’s par for the course. Yet, when the brand in question is one of the world’s most experienced in the business, surely that’s an unacceptable admission of defeat?
Even in this increasingly soft age, Land Rover certainly still goes out of its way to encourage owners to get adventurous.
The latest innovation is the Terrapod, an expensive UK-made trailer-born device touring dealerships. This fairground attraction comprises mobile hydraulic ramp that a vehicle can be driven onto, as a demonstration of their ability to clamber up and down extreme slopes.
It’s a fun ride, but is this enough? It’s interesting the Terra-ride has arrived in time for the launch of the Discovery Sport that, while not a car, is at least rather more car-like in ambience and ability than every previous Land Rover, Freelander included.
And yet despite appearing just right for the new-age SUV set, it keeps to old ways by packing more sludge-tuned smarts than usual; stuff that’ll not only allow it to competently tackle snow, grass, gravel and sand but really gnarly terrain.
An update of the well-proven Terrain Response system, now with five selectable drive modes, plus hill start and retuned hill descent modes, certainly facilitated an easy time of our first go, a scamper around a tricky course laid out on clifftop Karioitahi farmland.
But, realistically, who’s going to bother? Land Rover New Zealand boss James Yates concedes “there’s no guarantee customers will take this or any of our other products off road.”
Indeed, he adds, it’s not uncommon for owners attending customer days divulge that those occasions are their first, and perhaps only, time they’ll test that side of a Land Rover’s character.
That’s hardly a NZ thing. In markets where it has already settled into, evidence suggests customers for this new compact seven-seater – or five-plus-two in maker-speak, as the third row seat is a $2200 option here – seem to have given much more consideration to its styling, seating plan and comfort features than bog-beating fundamentals.
All the same, Yates says, brand history alone demands Disco Sport must have a broader skillset than rivals: Audi Q5, BMW X3, Volvo XC60 and conceivably, though it’s not mentioned, the Lexus NX. “It definitely has.”
“It’s a Land Rover. We talk of capability and composure (but) the core is that all Land Rovers ARE better off road.”
Nonetheless there’s no argument Discovery Sport is also a new direction. It kicks off a reinterpretation of the Discovery ethos into a mid-point option standing between two other model pillars – a yet-to-be seen reinterpreted rugged Defender family and Range Rover.
The four-cylinder five-door offers in two turbodiesel forms, a $78,500 110kW/420Nm TD4 SE and $82,000 140kW/420Nm SD4 SE, with a single turbopetrol option, the 176kW/340Nm Si4 SE, also $82,000. The diesels are short-term stayers, set to be replaced in 2016 by a new engine that falls under JLR’s Ingenium family of fuel-efficient powertrains.
The positioning undercuts similar capacity derivatives of the X3 and Q5 while the only edition of the Lexus NX to touch common ground is the entry front-drive hybrid.
The little Landie lays in a strong equipment level: Standard are satellite navigation, powered front seats, a reversing camera and rear radar, automated emergency braking, a bonnet-mounted pedestrian airbag, 18-inch alloys and a nine-speed automatic.
As is typical, it can be extensively glammed: Self-guiding parking for parallel and perpendicular spots ($2000), heated front and rear seats ($650), an active driveline and torque vectoring system ($1650), adaptive dynamics ($1800), two, kinds of blind spot monitoring – the more expensive, at $1700, having ability to gauge water depth - lots of different wheel styles (and 19 and 20 inch upgrades), a couple of stonking stereo upgrades to spoil the serenity of the great outdoors … go crazy and even the base car could presumably ascend beyond $100,000.
Buyers who wouldn’t have considered any kind of Land Rover before are expected, yet Yates won’t share his volume prediction, beyond suggestinhs it mightn’t bump the current top dog Range Rover Sport, which has achieved 170 registrations so far this year.
Speaking of Range Rovers … the Sport has enough of the look and ambience of a car set to infiltrate the snob sub-brand’s territory to explain why the Evoque range has just been reduced. The cabin ambience, while reminiscent of other modern Land Rovers, nonetheless offers more upmarket detailing and material choices. In the centre of the dashboard, a new eight-inch screen governs a smart-looking app-driven infotainment system. Sport is the debutante for a system that is expected gradually to flow through the whole range.
It has a Rangie ‘feel’ on the road, too; not too much body movement and a good feel from the variable-ratio electric power steering system. Discovery Sport operates as a full-time 4WD and is fitted with centre differentials. Also new is a completely reworked multi-link rear end, primarily to allow that third-row pair of seats but also for better comfort.
It’s going to look great outside any chic café.