Simon de Burton travels to Iceland to take a spin in Land Rover’s new Discovery Sport.
There are people who like fishing, there are people who love fishing and then there are fanatics such as the early-20th-century Scottish laird Oran Campbell. Not content with having salmon swimming past his front door, he would spend the best part of a fortnight travelling by paddle steamer to Iceland before completing the journey to his remote wooden lodge by horse.
He’d spend the entire summer fly-casting on the River Langa, which, to this day, remains a draw for salmon fans who don’t mind putting in a bit of effort. The lodge is still there it’s now called Ensku Húsin, or the English House (a name of which his lairdship would doubtless disapprove) and I discovered it, appropriately enough, in Land Rover’s new Discovery Sport during the depths of the Icelandic winter.
You have to hand it to Land Rover it’s not afraid to chuck down the gauntlet when it comes to proving that its cars are fit for purpose. It’s sent hacks to try them out in the mountains of Morocco, the wadis of Oman and the pampas of Argentina. It presumably chose to prove the Discovery Sport’s credentials in the land of ice, fire, bitter cold and howling winds because, if it can work there, it can work anywhere. And it did.
Most people would be hard-pressed to guess from its looks, but this is the replacement for the Freelander 2, which, aside from the Defender, used to be the most utilitarian vehicle in the Land Rover line-up. It took over from the original, not-much-loved first-generation Freelander in 2006 and has built a loyal following with its combination of comfort, versatility, economy and reli-ability. The Discovery Sport, therefore, has a lot to live up to.
A completely new vehicle rather than a mere upgrade, it’s based on the underpinnings of the best-selling Evoque and slots in between that and the full-sized Discovery. However, it’s far more businesslike than many mid-sized SUVs it’s not too flash and won’t look incongruous with a boot full of gundogs or towing a trailer. (It will pull up to 4,850lb and can ford water up to 2ft deep.)
Although brimming with touch screen technology (and smart-phone app connectivity on the HSE Luxury model), its interior can be had in such a finish that you won’t be nervous about getting it muddy. ‘Premium, but not precious’ is what the company calls it.
Even the tiered ‘stadium’ seating has been designed on the basis that potential buyers will appreciative versatility the rears can be slid back and forth by 6in to make the most of a couple more forward-facing, ‘occasional’ pews that niftily emerge from the boot floor. And if you fold the whole lot down, there’s room for everything from bikes to bales.
However, where the new model really looks set to win buyers is in the safety department. In addition to being fitted with sufficient electronic devices to fill a dictionary of acronyms (Dynamic Stability Control, Hill Descent Control, Roll Stability Control, Lane Departure Warning and even something called Reverse Traffic Detection), the car has a coveted five-star Euro NCAP safety rating not least thanks to its bonnet-mounted airbag, which deploys in the blink of an eye when needed.
The trusty 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine which has served many a Land Rover, Peugeot, Citroën and Ford owner well enough drives through a choice of a nine-speed automatic gearbox or six-speed manual to provide a top speed of 117mph and claimed extra-urban fuel economy of about 50mpg. Wait a few months, and the Discovery Sport will also be available with Jaguar Land Rover’s latest, home-grown eD4 diesel, which should be cleaner and more economical.
But I doubt Campbell would have cared what was under the bonnet. Not if he’d been offered a Discovery Sport in lieu of a horse to get to Ensku Húsin.
The English House is open to guests (including fishermen) from March 1 to December 20. Rooms from €90 per night (www.enskuhusin.is)
On the road: Land Rover Discovery Sport
Price From £32,395 (SE) to £41,195 (HSE Luxury)
Combined fuel consumption 45mpg
0–60mph 9.8 seconds
Top speed 117mph
USP A good-looking and useful 4×4, with a big boot for shopping and gundogs, that’s capable of towing a horse trailer
Figures relate to SE model