Meet the Land Rover Discovery Sport. It’s basically the new Freelander – a car that’s been around some 17 years, spanning two generations – and justifies its new name with a handful of clever tricks.
For one, it contains no fewer than seven seats within its 459cm (180.7in) length. That’s a package just 19cm longer than the five-seat Freelander and 4cm shorter than the five-seat Audi Q5. Alright, they’re fold-out rather than full-size efforts, but adults should be able to squeeze into them for short journeys.
Finding space for the extra seats wasn’t the work of a moment, with the Freelander’s MacPherson strut suspension replaced with a more compact multi-link set-up that fits beneath the boot floor, while the engines are mounted transversely rather than longitudinally (like they are in the Q5), enabling front seats to be further forward in the wheelbase.
As well as its generous seating, the new car is set to live up to the Discovery half of its name with some genuine off-road ability. The Discovery Sport can wade through 600mm (23.6in) of water and haul its way up one-in-one slopes.
But what about the Sport tag? That new rear suspension set-up is claimed to boost on-road composure, while the front-end construction comes from the ubiquitous Range Rover Evoque. The Evoque’s four-wheel-drive system – a Haldex centre coupling linking front and rear axles – is transferred across too, as is its 2.2-litre SD4 187bhp turbodiesel engine.
The Discovery Sport will gain further options in the form of a 150bhp eD4diesel, which will power a front-wheel-drive model, while Jaguar Land Rover’s new family of four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines (rather irritatingly named “Ingenium”) lie further down the line, with a plug-in hybrid in the plan. Gearbox options comprise a traditional six-speed manual or ZF’s nine-speed automatic, so impressive in its current applications, Evoque included.
While the Sport usurps the Freelander, the full-sized Discovery will itself get a replacement, growing in the process to provide some breathing space above this new car. Both will get a gamut of new technology, highlights including a pair of forward-facing stereoscopic cameras that scan the road ahead, prompting (among other functions) an automatic emergency stop if the system decides you won’t hit the brakes in time to avoid a crash. There’s also an airbag fitted under the bonnet – a Land Rover first – that will fire within 60 milliseconds of a front impact to reduce pedestrian injuries.
The Discovery Sport launches in January 2015, with the SD4 model starting at £32,395 – around ten per cent more than an equivalent (albeit five-seat) Freelander. When the front-drive eD4 launches later next year, it will dip below £30,000 and will fly to the top of company car lists with 119g/km CO2 emissions.
We’ve not touched on the styling yet, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Discovery Vision Concept from earlier in the year. Funny that. But looks are, of course, a subjective thing. So tell us what you think. Are you sad to see the Freelander go?