The folk at Land Rover are well known for breaking the mould. The Range Rover Sport redefined the rules for a large SUV with off road capabilities and insane performance figures on the road while the award winning Range Rover Evoque brought a refreshing new design element to the Compact SUV class. This new Land Rover Discovery Sport combines the styling elements of both of those models with an on and off road drive that's going to set the bar for the Compact SUV class. It must be mentioned up front that the Discovery Sport is a completely new model in the Land Rover lineup and isn't a replacement to the outgoing Freelander model. I know that many out there will be labelling it as the replacement, especially since it's fighting in the same class, which is an understandable perception I suppose. It really is a car all on it's own though.
I love the menacing looks of the Range Rover Sport and size of the Evoque and this new Discovery Sport combines the best elements of both of them and has pushed this car to be my favourite of the trio. Sure, it's not as powerful as the RRS but that's not to say it's lacking in that department either. At the launch I was first paired up with the Si4 HSE powered by a 2.0-litre, all-alloy, direct injection, turbocharged motor that makes power that will cause a modern hot hatch to feel a little inferior - There's 177kW of power on tap with a healthy 340Nm of torque. As powerful as it is, it's efficient too with a claimed combined cycle consumption of 8.0l/100km. The launch model was above this figure but that's down to the Discovery being put through it's paces in all sorts of weird and wonderful conditions. On the return drive to the airport I drove the SD4 powered by a 140kW of diesel power with the expected high torque of 420Nm. This one is claimed to deliver just 6.1l/100km and with the drive back being on tar most of the way, the on board computer confirmed these figures.
All models in the range are automatic featuring an amazing 9-speed automatic transmission. NINE! It's manufactured by ZF and it's pure brilliance with seamless changing both up and down. On some of the more serious uphills it needed to change down by a couple of gears and now and then it felt like it kicked down by one too many gears and then kicked up to the right gear almost instantly. While riding shotgun I didn't notice this but when I was driving I did. Off road it's as good as on the road and all the clever electronics make all terrains seem tame - it does all the work for you and together with the four-wheel drive system it manages to eliminate the need for a dedicated low range. The 4x4 mode on the 8-inch infotainment screen shows you what's happening with the system and what percentage of the electronic diff lock is being engaged. What the Discovery Sport managed to do on the rocky technical section that was set up for us to play on was mind-blowing. The settings available are as follows:
• Hill Descent Control® (HDC)
• Gradient Release Control® (GRC)
• Roll Stability Control (RSC)
• Dynamic Stability Control (DSC)
• Electronic Traction Control (ETC)
• Engine Drag torque Control (EDC)
One thing that I absolutely detest is driving on sand roads with corrugation from the rain or those annoying small rocks, so when I saw that some sections of the planned route included many kilometres on this terrain I was bracing for chattering teeth and bruised kidneys but it never happened. The new suspension design with an increased travel eliminates just about all of the harshness. We didn't give it a bash, but if the need arose we could have navigated through 600mm of water with ease, which for someone who can't swim is rather handy. Yes, I know I could simply stand up in 600mm of water, but anything deeper than a bath scares the hell outta me.
Inside the new Land Rover Discovery Sport it's immediately clear that you're in a premium car. The fit and finish is top class everywhere you look. Everything is electronically adjustable and it didn't take me long to find the perfect driving position, which could be programmed in to return to at the push of a button if anyone else ever changed things up. The seats and door trim in the HSE I had are double stitched leather. Not just any leather though, it's just too cool. You know that part in Bad Boys II where Marcus is sitting in Mike's Buick Blackhawk just after he's accidentally taken extacy? "It's supple leather you know... You ever rub your leather? You know, like just rub it, see how good it feels?" Well the Discovery Sport's leather will do that to you without the influence of narcotics.
The dash layout and the centre console is great. The gear selection dial falls to the hand and you don't need to look at it to see what mode to choose. The dual zone climate control is something I like a lot. Sure. loads of cars have this but on the launch I was recovering from the dreaded man-flu and needed to be as warm as possible, while co-pilot Justin likes the aircon on. While he was being blasted by 17-degree air, I was being kept alive with my own 25-degree feed. The infotainment system features everything possible, there's satnav, Bluetooth® , radio and all the usual things you'd expect to find. Then there are screens to display the view from the external cameras - This was my favourite thing to play with. A close runner up was checking out the Eco screen that shows you what on-board systems are using energy and how your driving style is affecting your consumption. Driving through parts of the Klein Karoo and over and through mountains had us out of radio station signal but the Land Rover team anticipated this and made sure there was a USB plugged in with some really good music to listen to. The 80s stuff was rocking along nicely, but the fact that it was playing through a Meridian 825-watt, 17-speaker surround system (with subwoofer) made for a brilliant drive.
Then there's the seating. Space for five with ease, but if you need to squeeze in two more, some trickery with a few things in the rear end adds in a +2 setup. That's one of the USPs for the new Land Rover Discovery Sport - for its compact size it's actually 5+2. On the higher up models the +2 is part of the package, lower down it's an option though.
Competitors will have a hard time comparing to the Land Rover Discovery Sport. There's pretty much a model for every budget, nine in total, and they're available in 12 colours; Fuji White, Santorini Black, Corris Grey, Indus Silver, Loire Blue, Scotia Grey, Aintree Green, Kaikoura Stone, Firenze Red, Yulong White, Barolo Black and Phoenix Orange. It's hard to pic a favourite but which ever one you choose it needs to have at least 18-inch wheels on but the best for me would be the gloss black, split-spoked wheels in 19-inches. There are 10 wheel options ranging from 17-inches to 20-inches. The specifications and options are too numerous to mention, so I'll have the price and spec list available to download in .pdf form below.
The new Land Rover Discovery Sport is going to sell itself - there are hoards of die-hard fans of the brand out there and they range from those wanting something exclusive for practical reasons and also those who want something stylish and upmarket to show off their worth.
Land Rover Discovery Sport TD4 S R541 900
Land Rover Discovery Sport SD4 S R590 300
Land Rover Discovery Sport SD4 SE R635 600
Land Rover Discovery Sport SD4 HSE R692 300
Land Rover Discovery Sport SD4 HSE Luxury R731 400
Land Rover Discovery Sport Si4 S R590 300
Land Rover Discovery Sport Si4 SE R635 600
Land Rover Discovery Sport Si4 HSE R692 300
Land Rover Discovery Sport Si4 HSE Luxury R731 400
For more information visit: www.landrover.co.za - www.facebook.com/LandRoverSouthAfrica - www.twitter.com/LandRoverZA - www.instagram.com/landroversa
But wait, there's more!
The Land Rover Experience
Land Rover is known as the go anywhere vehicle and if you take a look at their marketing campaigns the catch phrase "Above and Beyond" is used. Above and beyond is certainly the right way to describe the launch of the new Land Rover Discovery Sport. I've always heard about the Land Rover Experience being something special, and now that I've done things I wouldn't normally have done thanks to Land Rover, I'm more of a fan than ever. From the time we landed at George Airport to being dropped back off for the flight home the following day I had one of my best motoring experiences to date. At the airport we were greeted with a fleet of Landys ready to take us to our first destination - the Outeniqua Transport Museum. The journos all headed for the new Landys but a few of us made a beeline for the Defender 110 with signage that read: All-Terrain Electric Research Vehicle. So yeah, I'm now one of a handful of people to have driven in a full- electric Land Rover. It's like a giant golf kart that can go anywhere it wants, well, as far as the battery charge will let it go. Some of these are currently being tested in the wild where stealth is a must and pollution is a must not. It's got all the usual features that the normal version has, even heated seats.
The Outeniqua Transport museum is mainly focused on trains but they do have an impressive collection of old cars, many of them privately owned but parked on display thanks to their owners being nice guys. There was nothing super special to be seen though and all the cars are parked randomly, but neatly of course. I'd prefer to see them parked in order of year model or at least grouped in decades, but hey, it's not my place. The museum is in great shape though unlike the Jo'burg museum which is a very sad state of disrepair.
The museum was merely a waypoint where he had a few snacks and some coffee (that was far better than the stuff I tried to drink during the flight). Once refreshed, we were lead to the end of the museum where the Power Van was waiting to take us to the next stop - the summit of Montague Pass. The Power Van is an electric train of sorts that consists of two cars that can carry 12 people each. A lot of the tracks runs almost parallel to the original pass that the old folk used to cross the mountains in their ox wagons. Quite frankly if I was alive back then I'd have let those travellers go ahead without me, I'm not built for impossible missions.
At the summin we were greeted with some amazing views of Oudtshoorn and the surrounds, and the more spectacular sight of a fleet of Land Rover Discovery Sports. From here we paired up and chose a car for the next leg of the trip. At this point you had the choice of driving an awesome luxury SUV down some amazing roads or taking a mountain bike down a perilous mountain path fraught with untold dangers and the high possibility of losing a limb or two, not to mention savage attacks from the indigenous wildlife like an ostrich with a sore toe (yes, they have toes) or an unmedicated meerkat. It was a hard choice to make but I eventually decided on taking a Land Rover Discovery Sport HSE.
The route was amazing, from the bottom of Montague pass we stayed off the beaten path so to speak and ended up driving through Swartberg Pass, easily one of the most awesome, picturesque mountain passes on the planet. The sand road rises to 1583m above sea level during it's nearly 30km long stretch with many stop off points where you're able to pull over and take in the views. It's amazing, and the Discovery Sport had no problems at any stage of it, in fact I think being in any other car it might not have been as comfortable or as easy to navigate the terrain. There were a few spots that scared me, not even half a meter from the passenger door there would be a drop of at least a few hundred meters. I'm scared of heights at the best of times so to say I was clenching was an understatement, and I don't mean my jaw. The way down was full of tight switchbacks that had me feeling rather thankful for the invention of hill descent control. The views of the Klein Karoo were simply breathtaking. We eventually hit the restaurant for lunch before carrying on with the journey along more awesome twisty sand roads followed by some dead straight tarred roads where we had a chance to open things up a bit and see what that turbocharged 2.0 was capable of. It's no slouch, that's for sure...
We changed from tar to sand again and at around 16:00 the sand roads lead to an opening with a natural dam surrounded by steep hills. The water level obviously used to be much higher many years ago because the stretch from entering the open area to alongside the water (about a kilometer I guesstimate) saw us having to drive on some very soft river sand. A normal car wouldn't get far in it, even walking in the sand was a serious mission, but the Discovery Sport made light work of it. Under the skin things were going mental, the 4x4 mode screen showed the electronic diff at an almost constant full lock, although if it wasn't for the scree in the cabin you'd have no clue how hard the car was working to make the drive as easy as it was. The sand was so soft that the only thing I can liken it to so you can get an idea would be baking flour. If you chucked a handful into the air and there was a slight wind most of it would blow away, basically evaporating - or whatever the powered equivalent to that process is called.
This was the next stop off point and the Land Rover Experience again came in to play. There was a host of activities for us to enjoy, something for everyone. For those not into any kind of sports, there was a large Land Rover marquee to chill under on some chairs and couches while enjoying some snacks and drinks. There was a kayak obstacle course on the dam, a game of soccer golf and also proper golf with the aim being to chip the ball to a floating hole on the dam. I chilled, I snacked and then I watched. The soccer golf look like a blast, but my dodgy leg saw me sitting that one out. The kayaking was also cool, and even though the water wasn't that deep (according to those that could swim) I decided that I'd rather not be the first drowning victim on a new car launch. I did however try my hand at golf and surprisingly found that I have the skills to rival Mr Woods. Well, maybe not him, but I did have enough skill to keep first place in the competition for a few rounds before being relegated to second spot. After about an hour it was time to head off to our accommodation in the bustling metropolis that is Prince Albert.
Prince Albert is a quiet little town packed with history thanks to being over 250 years old. It's tiny in comparison to most places covering less than 40 square kilometers, making it a proper one horse town. It's claim to fame way back when was having the perfect location to be used as a British garrison during the Second Boer War and as a result saw many battles fought in the area. These days it's great tourist destination that offers visitors a chance to relax away from the hustle and bustle of city life. It's a central hub for many other tourist attractions in that part of the country too. It also has another claim to fame - an annual Olive festival thanks to the many olive farms in the area. Who knew?
It was here where we were to settle in for the night in one of the many B&Bs, but not before a presentation on the new Land Rover Discovery Sport in The Showroom, an almost out of place, brand new theatre on the main street in town. After all the facts and figures were presented over soda, popcorn and the usual sweets you'd find at a cinema, we headed outside where there were even more activities set up for us to do. All the journos were divided into competing groups and team members had to complete a relay race of sorts where they had to drive a Discovery Sport through a short, but technical accuracy course, ride a mountain bike over a few obstacles and finish off with a stint on a Segway. A few of us just watched the proceedings, I was too cold to do anything active. That said, after the races I did hijack a Segway and win a drag race down the main street on it before we headed off to dinner at African Relish - a restaurant come cooking school. It was the most amazing place and once inside you'd be forgiven for thinking you were in a top international restaurant instead of a small town eatery. The look and feel of the place was great, and the food was top notch. With hunger satisfied and a few drinks under the belt it was time to turn in for the night at the quaint Saxe-Coburg Lodge just down the road.
Now usually after an action packed launch you head off to the airport at first light and Robert's your mother's brother - launch over. Not so this time, the guys from Land Rover were adamant that we'd have a proper Land Rover Experience. I was wondering why the flight back was so late in the afternoon, but after the day's activities were outlined it made sense. In the morning there were a few options to choose from; an early morning run before breakfast, a late sleep followed by breakfast and an opportunity to visit some of the local shops to buy curios and the like, an even later sleep followed by breakfast or an early morning drive in a Land Rover Discovery Sport to the top of Biltong Hill. Again, this was a choice that weighed heavily on my mind but I eventually settled on seeing what Biltong Hill had to offer. The route followed many sand roads through the local farmlands that lead to the top of an impressive hill. Once off the normal sand roads the terrain was made up of small rocks and veld that would normally rattle your insides until last night's dinner is ejected in an unsavoury manner, but again the Discovery Sport made light work of it. The team who designed that all-new suspension geometry deserves a case of Bells. Biltong Hill had some stunning views, watching the sun rise over the distant mountains is a memory not soon forgotten. The only disappointment was finding out that there was in fact no biltong on top of the hill - but there was coffee and at 07:00 that's better than biltong, but only just.
Biltong Hill conquered, time to head on home right? Wrong. After breakfast we set off for George via the tarred Swartberg Pass, but not before having a few more stops along the way. The first was to a small airfield in the farmlands for coffee and a snack in between some dirt drag racing in some new Land Rover Discovery Sports. I kid you not. The Land Rover Experience team set up a drag strip on a sandy runway, complete with start lights and a timing board. I went first purely to show everyone how it's not done - locking up and sliding through the finish line and the barrier line after that earning myself a disqualification. Bugger! Timed things like this are like drugs to motoring journos and the competitiveness quickly kicked in. I'm not sure who won overall, I just know it wasn't me.
From here we carried on to the next waypoint, a waterfall along the pass aptly named Swartberg Pass Waterfall. It was a short walk away from the rest stop and parking area (that is so neat and clean it's hard to believe it's a public place) and well worth the effort. Us city folk rarely get to see things like this, so of course I snapped away getting a silly amount of pics, just because. From there it was time to get back to the airport... or was it? Nope, there was even more in store for us.
The final stop before heading back to George Airport was Kammanassie Dam, a dam was originally built to hold water to irrigate the ostrich farms as well as the land used to grow all the feed needed for the big, evil birds. We rounded a bend to see the dam wall with a huge marquee in front of it, as we got closer to the monstrous wall, you could see Land Rover flags mounted atop, an impressive display. The fleet of Land Rover Discovery Sports all reverse parked against the foot of the wall making for a different photo opportunity, which of course I took. You could see the date 1923 on one of the main pillars, which I was told is when that section was completed. If we had to trek to the far side of the wall the first pillar would show the date at 1919 and the last to be added was when the dam was completed in 1925. The wall measures 386m in length end to end and rises 44m from the river bed, which is essentially where we were.
The activities at this stop were once again something unusual for a car launch but not for the Land Rover Experience. Those flags up top weren't just for show, they were anchor stations to abseil down the dam wall from. The thought of this immediately made my stomach turn and my knees buckle. As mentioned somewhere above, I'm not a fan of heights at all. The other activity that was set up was a short but intense 4x4 course on steep shale rock to show off the capabilities of the Land Rover Discovery Sport. I was obviously game for that one. So I grabbed some food, downed a Coke and off I went.
The briefing about the abseiling was scary enough, but I wanted to see it for myself so I made my way to the top of the dam wall, but mainly to see what pics I could get. 44m up certainly looks one heck of a lot higher than the numbers suggest. The people and cars down below were tiny, ant-sized. I was only able to get pics with a sort of crouch-lean-peek thing to lower my center of gravity in case some unseen force pulled or pushed me over the edge. Once at the first abseil station we were told that there were two abseiling options, one through a hole in the dam wall down to the centre of the wall's maintenance walkway tunnels and then the big one over the side of the wall. I must have spent half an hour watching people strap in and do the deed when all of a sudden I had an overwhelming urge to try it for myself. A little bit of encouragement from the others helped too. So I put on my big girl panties and went for it. I decided to skip the one into the centre of the wall and go straight for the big, bad change-your-jocks one instead. If I was gonna die doing something like this I'd prefer to land on a nice and shiny Land Rover Discovery Sport than a dark slab of concrete inside the wall. Go big or go home! After about a lifetime of standing on the edge of the wall all harnessed in I finally managed to regain control of my arms and legs and took that absolutely freaking terrifying step backwards and trusted in the gear... I was so far out of my comfort zone doing this but as I was a quarter way down I felt like a boss. No, like a boss's boss! No regrets!
Thanks to the guys manning the abseil stations for taking the pics on my camera so that I actually have proof of what I did. Without it many people I know wouldn't believe that I'd gone on to the dam wall, never mind abseiled down it.
Once back on terra firma and my adrenaline subsided to normal levels, I headed off to the trail set up on the a rocky section in front of where the sluice gates would dump the water when opened. The course was small but technical and on the smooth, layered rocks it would be the perfect place to test the Land Rover Discovery Sport's capabilities to the extreme. I was originally wanting to drive the course, but as fun as it looked I was loving the photo opportunities happening while others were driving. Even though the SUV isn't a dedicated 4x4 like it's Defender brethren, it can certainly hold it's own out there. The stuff it managed to do on tyres made for highway use was amazing, the suspension setup and the electronics combine to make some real magic happen. With it's DNA I expected to see a good show of course, but the axle-twisting, wheel cocking manoeuvres impressed to no end.
With the 4x4 section done and dusted it was time to head back to the marquee for a farewell and a prize giving session. The drag race winners got their prizes along with the winners of all the activities that happened at the natural dam the day before. I won a bottle of red wine for coming second in the golf challenge, not bad for a complete novice to the sport of old men. Everybody thanked everybody and wished each other well and we were off down some more great driving roads that again offered some breathtaking views and a few great photo opportunities before arriving at George Airport.
The crew at Land Rover SA put together the best motoring launch I've been on. Yeah, the Discovery Sport is an amazing car and will do well for the the brand, but the experience as a whole is something never to be forgotten. The roads, the views, the places and the things experienced were priceless. The Land Rover Experience even changed my way of thinking - I abseiled down a freaking dam wall!
The biggest possible thanks goes to Lesley Sutton for making it all possible.
A FREAKING DAM WALL!