WHERE do you appear on the Land Rover purchaser profile chart?
If you spend much of your day dressed in a boiler suit and boots, corralling farm animals, we’ll put you over here, in the mud-spattered column marked “Defender”. If green wellies are your couture du jour for geeing on the polo ponies, there’s a good chance you belong in the Pimm’s-scented “Range Rover” column.
If you’re somewhere in between – chinos by Gap, a spaniel by your side and a sense of adventure that your budget just about matches – there’s almost certainly a Discovery waiting for you.
Actually, make that a choice of Discoveries, since there’s a new one on the block. Land Rover’s Discovery Sport is a compact SUV with a premium feel, almost a foot shorter and a damn sight nimbler than its full-size Discovery 4 sibling and ready to challenge the Audi Q3, BMW X3 and Volvo XC60 and other off-roaders that might never go off-road.
It arrives on the scene just as the similarly-sized Freelander bows out of Land Rover’s UK line-up but, unlike the Freelander, can be ordered with seven seats, which also makes it a posher rival for, say, Hyundai’s Santa Fe.
Impeccable on-road manners and class-leading all-terrain ability are what the Discovery Sport promises, and we’ve come to a snow-covered Iceland to find out if it lives up to the hype.
Although it wears a Discovery badge across its nose, the rakishly-angled grille and narrow headlights owe more to its sleek Range Rover Evoque cousin than its wardrobe-shaped big brother, the Discovery 4. At the back, there are hints of last autumn’s Discovery Vision concept. The overall shape is unfamiliar, yet it gels together well and bears all the hallmarks of a modern Land Rover product.
Comparisons with the Evoque are not just skin deep, either, since the new car shares the former’s chassis architecture at the front. Moving towards the back, there’s an extra 80mm between the front and rear axles and a compact rear suspension arrangement that frees up space under the boot floor for the optional third row of seats. Land Rover calls the seating plan a 5+2 layout, a tacit admission that the rearmost row is really only suitable for children.
Inside, the dials and switchgear will seem very familiar to anyone who has spent time behind the wheel of an Evoque, as will the unerring sense that Land Rover’s people don’t just throw this thing together.
For now, the Discovery Sport comes with the 187bhp 2.2-litre diesel engine lifted from the Freelander and Evoque, coupled to either a six-speed manual gearbox or a smooth-as-you-like nine-speed automatic, driving all four wheels. A sub-£30,000 front-wheel drive version, featuring a low-emission version of the same engine, will arrive soon, before a new family of cleaner four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines enters production later this year.
Right now, though, we’re in Iceland, it’s a little after 5pm and daylight is a distant memory. Snowflakes fill the headlight beams and, on studded tyres, we tiptoe round Reykjavik on roads that resemble the Cresta Run. Should we get into a spot of bother, it’s good to know that the Discovery Sport’s raised ride height lets it clear snowdrifts and other obstacles up to 21cm high. It will haul itself up a 45-degree slope and can wade through puddles and rivers up to 60cm deep. Alas, the mercury has plummeted to -10C and even the sea is beginning to solidify, so wading is off the agenda for now.
But if the Discovery Sport’s off-road pedigree is beyond reproach, we’ll have to reserve judgment about its on-road talents until the spring – ice-covered roads are no place to test a family car’s handling to its extremes, studded tyres and advanced four-wheel drive notwithstanding. What we can report is that the new car’s suspension makes light of frozen gravel roads that appeared to have been half-heartedly swept clear of ice by the paw of an angry polar bear.
Across a lava field smothered by fresh snow, the Discovery Sport carves a neat path until an unseen drift tugs at a front tyre and draws the car into the really deep stuff, where it comes to rest on its belly, all four wheels spinning to no avail. Getting stuck is all part of the fun, says the man with the tow rope, unhelpfully. It is the only time we wish our Discovery possessed the “big” Discovery’s ride-height-raising box of tricks.
It’s blessed with lots of other creature comforts, though. Climate control and heated seats are fitted across the range, part-leather upholstery becomes full leather as you move through the four trim levels, and there’s a new eight-inch “infotainment” screen. Land Rover’s Terrain Response system can be programmed to deal with mud, sand or, in this case, snow. Lots and lots of snow.
And, with up to six USB ports and four 12-volt sockets dotted around the cabin, you’ll be almost as well connected as the upper echelons of the polo-going brigade.
Engine 2.2l, 4cyl, turbodiesel, 187bhp, 310lb ft
Transmissions 6 spd manual or 9 spd auto, 4WD
Performance Top speed 117mph; 0-62mph 8.9-10.4 secs
CO2 emissions 157-167g/km