LR Disco Sport Iceland

Location, it would seem, is everything, and that little aphorism concerning the word doesn’t just hold true for property or retail businesses – in the automotive world, give a new piece of metal a good surrounding to shine, and it’ll positively sparkle, most times anyway. It’s pretty much the equivalent of dressing up for effect.

Truth be told, there was probably no need to go that far in the case of the new Land Rover Discovery Sport, because it really is quite the performer with very little need for any surrounding fanfare, but an exotic locale undeniably helps to add to the allure.

The chosen backdrop to the plot in this case was Iceland, in what was the thick of winter, no less. Sub-zero inclement weather – complete with snowstorms, wind and black ice – did seem at that point to be bordering on overkill, considering that most, if not all, owners of the L550 would never put it to such a magnitude of adventure.

Still, the conditions did their part in driving the message home that the Freelander 2‘s replacement is every bit the capable Land Rover, ready to take on just about anything (though not everything, but more on this later). And it does make for a better story than say, bumping and grinding along a more ‘traditional’ route like Eastnor.

LR Disco Sport Iceland 1

First things first, and that’s to determine if the Disco Sport’s arrival is enough to make the Range Rover Evoque worry about its standing in the family, enough that it’ll find its sales being cannibalised by its new sibling. There’s always that possibility, but by and large they are quite different creatures serving different needs.

While the pricing is close, indeed overlapping in some markets, the two present rather different propositions. The older L538 is still the sharper-looking cut (especially in its Coupe form) and it has more in the way of interior luxe – if such things matter, along with having a Range Rover badge and a two-wheel drive option (which the Disco Sport will get soon), that’s pretty much that.

Otherwise, the Disco Sport makes a rather compelling argument as an alternative. It’s a bit boxier looking but by no means dowdy, and the levels of interior trim and refinement – touted as premium but not precious – are also on the high side, much better than suggested by photos. There’s the same D8 platform from the Evoque, but revised for the application here, all new from the B-pillar on. It shares the same engines, transmissions as well as the familiar Terrain Response system and Haldex all-wheel drive, here in Gen V form.

The trump card is that of space – the Evoque’s rear is arguably a bit pinched, which is far from the case here. Two separate rear architectures have been independently developed alongside a new integral multi-link suspension, offering five- and seven-seat derivatives, both types allowing for spare wheel placement without impacting on luggage volume – on the five-seater the full-size spare is stowed inside, and on the seven-seat version the spare wheel is located underneath the vehicle.

Most markets are likely to go with the novelty of seven, even if that plug sounds a bit far fetched to be taken seriously. Given what has been seen, the 5+2 (as it’s tagged) configuration’s rear-most seats are suitable for kids – despite the sliding second-row seats (with 160 mm of movement) offering some additional purchase, adults will find anything more than a short haul a rather painful affair.

As for cargo space, on the five-seater with the second-row seats set completely back, there’s 479 litres of cargo space, a marginal increase over that on the Freelander 2 (458 litres), but with the second-row pushed forward, this increases to 689 litres. With the seats folded down, the volume increases to 1,698 litres (Freelander 2, 1,670 litres).

Pitched against competitors such as the Audi Q5, the BMW X3 and the Volvo XC 60, all of which are slightly longer and also have longer wheelbases, the Disco trumps them all in terms of cargo carrying space in both seats up or folded down positions. Thus, if space is a priority, and the ability to carry load or seven at a pinch a must-tick, then the vote has to go to the Disco Sport.

Size-wise, the SUV measures in at 4,590 mm long, 2,173 mm wide (including side mirrors) and 1,689 mm tall, which makes it longer (+91 mm) but narrower (-22 mm) and shorter in height (-51 mm) than the vehicle it replaces, the Freelander 2. Wheelbase length is 2,741 mm, a marginal increased over the LR2’s 2,660 mm (+81 mm).

Construction-wise, 20% of the finished body structure is made up of high strength and Boron steels, more than any previous Land Rover, and the body shell is 22 kg lighter than that of the Freelander 2. Aluminium finds its way on via the bonnet, roof and tailgate.

In terms of off-road performance capability, some minor differences in numbers compared to the Freelander 2 – the ground clearance of 212 mm is two millimetres more than its predecessor, while the 600 mm wading depth is 100 mm higher than before. The vehicle’s 25° approach angle, 21° (or breakover) angle and 31° departure angle however see a reduction from previously, which were 31° , 23° and 34° respectively – LR believes that the Disco is likely to be more a road warrior than an off-road one.

As such, on-road performance is up – LR says that the Disco Sport offers far better primary ride comfort but also drives better, with more engaging driving dynamics. It’s also faster, as testing has shown – the new car is 3.5 seconds quicker than its predecessor in the wet around the Mireval test track in France.

Europe and Euro 6-compliant markets will see the AJ200 Ingenium diesel enter service with the Disco later this year, but the rest of the world, including us, will run with the familiar – a blown Si4 2.0 litre (essentially, the Ford EcoBoost unit as seen in the Mondeo and S-Max) offering 240 PS at 5,800 rpm and 340 Nm at 1,750 rpm and two 2.2 Ford/PSA turbodiesel derivatives in either 150 PS TD4 or 190 PS SD4 specification, both with 420 Nm on tap.

Transmission choices, meanwhile, are a ZF 9HP48 nine-speed automatic and a Getrag M66EH50 six-speed manual, the latter revised with optimised internals to reduce friction and increase efficiency. We’ll be getting the Si4 and SD4 mills in Malaysia (with the ZF nine-speeder) when the Disco begins selling in a couple of months.

The Disco Sport can be specified in four trim levels, these being S, SE, HSE and HSE Luxury, with 12 exterior colours to choose from. Incidentally, the aforementioned sliding second-row seats are available from SE specification on, and is individually adjustable with a 60:40 split.

Specification levels include kit such as adaptive Xenon headlamps, auto high beam assist, Adaptive Dynamics with a MagneRide system, face-level air-conditioning vents across all three rows and USB five-volt charging points for every passenger, as well as a variety of audio system choices ranging from an entry-level six-speaker one to a range-topping 17-speaker, 825-watt Meridian Surround Sound option.

The Disco Sport also features a head-up display, which makes its debuts for the brand here – presented data includes road speed, gear position (if Commandshift manual mode is engaged), satellite-navigation directions and traffic-sign recognition. Other infodata screens include a central five-inch colour TFT display located in the instrument cluster, positioned between the twin dials, and an eight-inch, 800 x 480 pixel resolution touchscreen on the centre stack.

On to the proof of the pudding bit then, and freezing temperatures aside, the drive begins well enough. Upon landing, we leave Keflavik Airport in an Indus Silver 2.0 Si4 HSE Luxury petrol to begin the 104 km of the first day’s route to the rather remotely placed Hotel Ion, located near the Nesjavallavirkjun geothermal power station.

The first half passes by without drama, and the Disco Sport serves up a comfortable, if not overly plush ride along the Reykjanesbraut – there’s some inherent road noise and underlying harshness running on Route 41, but this is primarily due to the choice of tyres, which are titanium-studded units. Still, nothing too intrusive, and the cabin feels a very comfortable place to be in, especially in light of the weather outside.

Things take a decisive turn to challenging upon leaving the corresponding Highway 1 – the day no longer has light, and the weather has turned, in the words of the LR waypoint man at the turn-off, “adventurous.” By this, we find out later, he means full-on blizzard conditions along most of the Nesjavallegur route – the pipeline road is home to a large section of the 27 km-long insulated transmission main carrying communal hot water from Nesjavallavirkjun to the folks at Reykjavik.

“You might not be able to see much, but stay in the middle and use the vertical reflector strips on the sides to help you with your perspective,” he goes cheerily, despite the fact that he looks almost frozen. By now, it’s my turn at the helm of the Disco Sport and as the lead vehicle in the particular convoy.

LR Disco Sport Iceland drive 6

All is uneventful for the first 10 km, despite visibility being down to a few metres at points and Xenons being a terribly bad idea in such conditions – we even manage to barrel along and distance ourselves to the second car by a minute or so. The Disco Sport is lapping it all up, eager to impress, which it does.

At this juncture, my co-driver says, “how come you get all the fun?” and asks if he can steer the Disco Sport through the white storm outside. I duly oblige, thinking to myself I’d take the lion’s share of driving the next day to make up for it. We don’t get far before the freeze-frame begins.

It’s nice to know that Land Rovers are still not infallible, despite all the progress. A kilometre or so in, my co-driver strays too far to the left, and the Disco, able as it is, can’t defy the magical pull of the slush and starts to slide with the application of brakes. Towards the hot water transmission pipe. It feels like forever, but the vehicle finally hauls up about four feet from the mains. The thought of seeing a “Malaysians disrupt hot water supply to Reykjavik” headline in the Iceland Monitor or Reykjavik Grapevine is not a pleasant one.

The LR recovery crew get to work and tug the stuck Disco out, tail-first. Within a couple of minutes, we’re back and stuck again – in a bid to stay clear of the left and that pipe, we end up running off the right side of the road, this time with our tail embedded in. Again, the LR crew get to work in lovely conditions to pull us out front-first – from the comfy cabin (nicely heated with a Cold Climate Pack), the headlamps amplify the view of the snow beating violently across the road (or whatever there is of it), such is the wind.

You’d think that would be the end of it, but we score a record triple (I’d like to think that no other journos managed this feat throughout the drive programme) by ploughing into a massive pile of snow on the right. I look at the GPS running off the iPhone attached near the passenger side A-pillar – we’ve gotten stuck thrice in less than two kilometres. At this point I start wondering if we’ll get to the hotel by morning, if at all. The LR crew eventually wisen up and offer to run as pathfinder, with us (just about) following their tail lights.

We eventually get to a traffic jam of Discos, all queued up and waiting to traverse a curved slope climb with a whole lot of snow in the middle of the stretch – it’s a tricky run, and most of the vehicles need a few attempts to get enough speed to gain initial purchase past the curve and then modulate across the snowed parts of the straight section. My co-driver does it in one go, in impeccable fashion.

The next day, it’s the turn of a Scotia Grey 2.2L SD4 to take us on a long loop across Thingvellir national park and the Kaldidadur right around to Hvalfjordur, known in English as the Whale Fjord, before heading back on to Highway 1 and into Reykjavik. By now, conditions are much improved, with fewer snow storms to contend with, though the wind continues to blow like there’s no tomorrow. The availability of light, though severely overcast, helps orientation though.

Because of this, we have the chance to push the Disco Sport much harder. Like a mountain goat, the Landie is unfazed by the blustery conditions – crosswind stability is impressive, and the diesel continues to exhibit good pull in a vehicle weighing more than 1.8 tonnes. In terms of overall refinement however, I much prefer the Si4’s balance.

LR Disco Sport Iceland drive 45

The mesmeringly scenic B-road stretch run-in along the Whale Fjord provides the avenue for me to get a glimpse of the Disco’s handling abilities – despite the breadth to explore being limited given the studded tyres and stretches of black ice dotting the asphalt, the Disco is lively and responsive to input when asked to gee-up into the twists, even if it’s underlying character is not as playful as its lighter Evoque sibling.

The day’s route also offers the chance to show off the vehicle’s water wading capabilities with a fording run – which brings the water level nearly up to the grille upon ingress – as well as its off-road prowess traversing a rugged, snow-capped mountain-top course, which it aces easily.

Sadly, the weather and prevailing winds means there is little time to appreciate or explore the exterior save during the hurried photography sessions, but I can report that the second-row stadium seats (which perch occupants that bit higher than the front row) feel comfortable enough. No opinion however on the rear-most row, because none could be gained – both the Si4 and SD4 mules were five-seater examples.

As we pull up to the final stop in Reykjavik, it’s obvious that the new Disco is every bit as accomplished as it’s touted to be performance-wise (perhaps too much, considering owners aren’t likely to take it off-road), and that given its broader application scope – and space – is very likely to have an impact on Evoque sales, though the difference in pricing in relation to the latter will determine by just how much. Whatever the case, this is quite a Discovery, but it really didn’t need all that snow and storm to make that known.