Tim Oldland tests the Freelander replacement – can it beat the established rivals?
The cars in our Dream Car Competition are wide and varied, from the smallest hot hatches right up to 500+bhp supercars. But nestled within the selections are some cars that while they may seem more ‘ordinary’, are exactly the sort of car that many people yearn to own. The Land Rover Freelander was one of those cars. But the Freelander has now been discontinued, replaced by an all new model – the Discovery Sport. Sitting within a newly reorganised product offering from Land Rover, just as the Range Rover Sport is to the Range Rover, now the Freelander replacement has been repositioned as a Discovery Sport. Of course the current Discovery is still quite an old car, but it will be replaced soon enough and the new hierarchy will make more sense.
Going from Freelander to Discover Sport has taken more than just a name change though, growing in size to accommodate the 6th and 7th seats. It’s 100mm longer, with all of that coming from the wheelbase increase, and actually slightly thinner by 20mm and weighs slightly less. But strangely it feels a much bigger car to drive – the interior for one feels much bigger than the Freelander.
Outside, the Disco Sport has taken on the new corporate look founded on the Range Rover models, which certainly gives it a little kudos. There are strong hints of the Evoque about the front end, with the swept back lights showing the intricate running LEDs and the fog lights sitting in an almost identical recess to the Evoque ones. There is the standard complex two bar grille, while the DISCOVERY lettering on the bonnet makes a bold statement. Down the sides there is a styling line that runs thought the door handles which breaks up the large panels well, while the c-pillar behind the rear doors kicks forward giving a more dynamic look. The back end apes the Range Rover Sport with the bumper that tucks under and the large rear lights. Visibility is much improved over the Evoque, but not as good as was in the Freelander. This is a key point of the Discovery Sport though – practicality. The Evoque is style-led so can get away with a lot of compromises, but this model needs to be the capable workhorse that the Freelander was. It will be bought by school-run mums, farmers and country gents alike, so has a few boundaries to cross.
The interior certainly works on that – this is the HSE Luxury model so sits at the top of the range, but though you wouldn’t describe it as luxurious like a Range Rover it’s certainly plush. There’s leather on the seats, steering wheel, doors and main dash, but it’s noticeable by its absence from the dash top and full doors as it would be in the Evoque. But again, this is about positioning – the Disco Sport needs to be good but not so good that it takes Evoque (or even the RR Sport) sales. This particular model was very unusual for a press car though, it was in silver, with 19-inch alloy wheels and no privacy glass. It’s a very subdued colour scheme with the black leather, but this is the kind of spec you would see parked outside a country house with vast amounts of land. Should you want to, you can add the black roof, black wheels and badges, a bright orange paint and tan leather for barely any more and it will look perfectly at ease in Kensington.
It’s actually quite remarkable to see how light an airy a car can feel without privacy glass and a big panoramic sunroof (standard on this HSE Luxury), it really does make for a very nice place to sit and drive. One aspect that marks this model out over its predecessor is what happens to the boot floor. Where once would have been a spare wheel, now sit two extra rear seats, standard on all but the lowest spec variant. The seats are certainly big enough to be comfortable, but there is nowhere for your legs to go downwards, so it is limited to those aged 7-8 and under. Legroom in the rear is great though and should you have people in the last row, the middle row can slide forward. Neat touches for the rear seats include their own air vents and blower control and they have full 3-point seatbelts. Of course with the rear seats up there is precious little boot space, but unless you go another two classes up in size that is always the case. Of course safety is guaranteed for all occupants with airbags everywhere, including the bonnet with their innovative passenger protection bag that extends from the back edge to the grille in the event of hitting someone.
In our review of the Range Rover Evoque we commented that its 2.2 litre diesel engine had just been replaced by a new powerplant and this is also the case with the Discovery Sport. It was launched with the old unit, but very quickly was replaced by the engine in this test car – the new Ingenium diesel. Giving away 10bhp to the old lump, the new 2.0 litre turbodiesel produces 180bhp and in this case drives all four wheels via the 9-speed automatic gearbox. FWD, 150bhp manual models are available too. What really surprised was the level of performance this car had when compared to the Evoque we had on test – despite having less power and about 200kg more weight it felt a lot more sprightly through the gears. We hope there’s scope for a higher performance engine with over 200bhp but we certainly won’t feel short-changed if there isn’t. The economy of this 180bhp unit was very disappointing though, mixed driving over 300 miles in a weekend saw an average of 37mpg, well below the 53mpg claimed figure.
The ride is rather nice too, no doubt helped by the 19-inch wheels instead of 20’s, but that, combined with a real lack of wind noise right up to 100mph means that the Disco Sport is a very calming place to be, even the seats are supremely comfortable. The steering is quite direct and there’s little roll when you’re pressing on down a twisty country road so buyers looking for a decent steer won’t be disappointed. In fact I’d go as far as to stay that it handles better than the Evoque which is supposed to be the sportier of the two.
I’d normally easily find fault with any car we get to test, but this one is proving quite hard. It’s quick, economical, practical, looks great and is really well built. I suppose it’s quite expensive compared to the Freelander, but when you look at what you’re getting here there’s not a lot else I’d consider. The rivals are the BMW X3, Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60 (which we’re reviewing next week) and on the basis of this test it beats them all.