Bridging the gap with new Discovery Sport
New Land Rover rival for big guns
It is only natural, I suppose, that I would remember where and when I first drove the new Land Rover Discovery Sport. It was over the crest of a mountain in Iceland in a blizzard late last year.
In contrast, my late, misty-evening drive through the Sally Gap was a piece of cake.
Nonetheless, both scenarios were revealing. The Iceland drive underlined phenomenal ability to cope with outrageous conditions. The Wicklow Mountain spin was designed to elicit more moderate, but equally important, capabilities.
As you probably know, this five-seater SUV with its 2.2-litre diesel engine is more than a replacement for the Freelander. It is larger, more stylish and infinitely better.
Based, in some measure, on the eternally in-demand Evoque, it manages to look well, provide serious cabin room and still get you through rough and tough terrain with its exceptional 4x4 ability.
Yet, in essence, it is an SUV targeted as much at urban buyers as anyone else. And that's the bit I wanted to explore more because while the 4WD will give you loads of traction and grip, you will have more pressing need of driving and creature comforts on your commute or family trip.
First off, let me say you will struggle to find a more spacious rear-seat compartment in anything costing this sort of money. Its chief rivals, the BMW X3 and Audi Q5, don't come close on space.
You can order a third row of two (smallish) seats which will encroach on that (as well as luggage space) but I think most people will be happy with the five. A couple of long-legged rear-seat passengers could not believe the scope they had to stretch out.
I was spoilt for room up front too and loved the driving position especially as I could engineer it electrically on my seat.
There's a lot of spec on this and I found the centre-dash infotainment system intuitive and easy, but the driver information screen behind the steering wheel had far too many tiny numbers. This information overload is increasingly a problem in cars.
My mountain excursion was one of several revealing drives. I felt a fair bit of road noise came through the frame over ripply roads, in particular, where little undulations and changes of camber can catch you out.
On several subsequent motorway and byroad drivers this was not a problem at all; indeed I had a lovely, cruisey drive to the Curragh. And the weight/feel of the steering was just to my liking.
But it doesn't beat the two rivals mentioned on that solid/sporty/feel quality where up-and-down movement isn't dampened as well.
Nor does it quite bestow that feeling of upmarket interior that the Q5 in particular manages to convey.
The 2.2-litre diesel we know well; a brand new 2-litre follows later on. I must say the old one impressed.
It worked well with the nine-speed automatic gearbox. Yes nine. Sounds a bit esoteric but in real-world driving ninth gear easily loped along at 110kmh. However, it was slow enough to kick down from lower gears when I wanted acceleration.
But I learned, early in my drives, that Sport mode is the one for impatient people like me. I'd go so far as to say it transformed my opinion of the drive. Much more energetic. And isn't it funny the things you notice by their absence?
I'd have loved a central armrest in this, especially as I was tipping along the motorways.
And I missed a couple of hooks in the boot (it has mega space) to hold the shopping bags. It has floor-lashing points but for an urban vehicle it could do with a few more on the side.
And you know what? I think I'd miss the 4x4 (several modes to cope with a variety of conditions) too.
They are bringing in a 2WD later in the year but I think when all is said and done 4WD is a wonderful reassurance whether on a dry city street in an icy mountain track.
And that's where I could see the Discovery Sport tipping some people's decisions: it has the sort of capability you'd miss.
Facts & figures
Land Rover Discovery Sport 2.2 TD4 SE, 149g/km, €390 road tax. Prices start from €37,100. SE spec on test €43,560. Remember delivery/related charges are extra.
Equipment included on SE tested: Terrain Response (automatically adapts to prevailing conditions), 4WD, 9spd automatic gearbox, electric parking brake, air con, sat nav, several airbags, trailer stability assist, 5ins TFT driver information centre, 8ins infotainment touchscreen, front/rear foglights, cruise control, automatic lights/wipers, rear parking system, 10 speakers.
My side of the road
I get a lot of queries from people about what car to buy. Their starting point is often a surprise (well, to me anyway). They think they need an SUV; they think they need a diesel. And they think they need all sorts of gadgets (you'd be surprised how many use that word). My advice? Whoa there! Don't get carried away. By all means have comfort - but don't waste money. Buy what you need; not what you'd love to have. It is so easy to delude yourself. Be careful out there.