A puny little power plant but do not be fooled, it has two turbochargers

We left things off last week not looking too well for the driving dynamics of the new Land Rover Discovery Sport.

However, selecting S mode in the transmission and engaging the Sand programme in the Terrain Response System changed all that. Before we continue, there are a few things that need to be said first.

The Discovery Sport is a vehicle of contrasts. The name says “Sport” in it but Jaguar-Land Rover asserts that fuel economy is its major USP. Odd; and a little self-defeating to the untrained eye.

It is a large automobile saddled with what, at first glance looks like a puny little powerplant; but then again this small engine has two turbochargers slapped onto it for that extra Oomph!

Then there is the nine-speed gearbox… There are two ways of looking at this transmission, which first debuted on the Range Rover Evoque some time last year.

First is from a performance perspective: with numerous gears, it is easy to keep the engine speeds right inside the power band, maximising the available performance. But then again, with many gears, it is possible to keep the engine speed as low as possible without stalling.

ROADS IN MAURITIUS

This is what the Disco Sport does. Oh, and there is the second gear launch too, a setting that is as economical as it is ungratifying. Sport indeed.

It is this heady mix of conflicting characteristics that probably lends to the atypical nature of the driving experience. The DS has a small engine but it can go fast when asked to.

The problem is, when asked to go fast, the much vaunted NVH reduction is temporarily sacrificed and the engine sounds something between growly/barky and buzzy/whiny.

It is not an offensive sound per se, but it is not very pleasant either, especially coming from something called a Sport. It is only after quickly rushing through a sequence of three or four rapid-fire upshifts (it has a nine-speed tranny, remember?) that the four-pot settles down to a more becoming distant thrum… either that or you let off, because some corners have shown up. This is also another area to take note of.

The Disco Sport lives up to its name in the bends. It really does. And Mauritius is deceptive in advertising itself because they will mention the beaches and the rum and the touristy sites but they keep strangely quiet about the roads. They ought to say something.

The mountain passes are EPIC. Excruciatingly narrow and heart-achingly picturesque, these painfully steep roads also form the kind of hazards that give road safety a whole new meaning. All the corners are blind. All of them.

Some are switchbacks, some are chained C’s that transform apex-clipping into an art form and would provide enough entertainment for anyone in a Honda Civic Type R to last them a year. But then there are the 180-degree turns and this is where, as they say, it gets real.

You are in an SUV. The lead car is setting a pace that can best be described as ambitious. You keep up easily, and why not when back home they call you “petrolhead”. However, keeping up requires your full attention.

Going for the inside line through blind turns on a narrow two-way road is damn near suicidal. However, NOT going for the inside line will create understeer, causing you to run wide, which will in turn cause you to literally fall off the road in an expensive Land Rover (in last week’s piece I described the replacement of the hard shoulder with a deep trench on Mauritian roads).

The trick is to find that invisible line between aiming for the apex and sticking to the road markings.

LANE HOGGING

The result is a sort of lane-hogging, straddling the centre line and it works for a while. The steering is direct, and it weighs up gradually as you pile on more speed (adaptive electric power steering).

While it may not be rich in feel, it is certainly rich in its directness and responsiveness. There are no wasted arm movements, though there is a smidgen of guesswork about how much lock you have applied carrying speed into a corner.

The steering sharpness and the suspension setup make the Disco Sport less of an SUV and more of a…. I would like to say a Subaru wagon here, but the Disco Sport is not that uncomfortable, so I will have to say an Audi Avant; more  like an A6.

There is the visual cue of driving a long, wide car but the flatness of cornering and the handling dynamics belie this; all thanks to the magneto-rheological type suspension as seen in the Range Rover Evoque.

The magneto-what? Magneto-rheological, a system whereby the shock stiffness varies according to body roll. The usual springs and shocks are used, but the shocks are not the common type.

These ones have the hydraulic fluid in them festooned with a gazillion itsy-bitsy iron filings just floating around in a type of colloidal suspension (geddit?)… and there is an electric current running around the outside of the tubes.

Whenever body roll is detected by one of the gyroscopes on board the car, the suspension on that side of the car is beefed up. How, you may ask? The electric current running around the outside of the tube varies too (rheological resistor affairs).

Too much body roll causes an increase in the external current, which then creates a magnetic field in the shock absorber tube housings, causing the iron filings to bunch up and thicken the fluid.

The now thicker fluid offers greater resistance to pitch and roll movements and keeps the vehicle more or less flat through corners. It also makes me wonder what the replacement bill for all that underbody gimmickry is.

Off-roading ability? That is stating the obvious… The vehicle is called “Land Rover”, isn’t it?

For some reason, the Land Rover wing of the Jaguar-Land Rover outfit always insists on conducting their road tests at least partly off-road.

They still insist on making us perform manoeuvre’s that have us thinking less about the car’s abilities and more on “How angry will these people be if I was to, for instance, scratch the paint really badly on that sharp branch slowly coming up on my right?”.

We get it, JLR. Land Rovers can go anywhere. Whether or not they will is a matter of conjecture among the general population, and it is for two very good reasons, the first one being reliability.

PREMIUM COMPACT SUV

Of all the brand new Land Rover products I have tested, only the Freelander failed to fail -in a manner of speaking- or to issues threats thereof. The new 9-speed gearbox as used in the Disco Sport debuted last year in the Range Rover Evoque, and it went on the blink in the middle of traffic in Livingstone, Zambia. Reboot.

The Discovery 4 lit up its dashboard somewhere in  Lukenya with some barely fathomable icons, but the fact that they glowed red and had not been glowing earlier could not have meant anything good.

The new Vogue, the L405, gave me a stern warning about suspension failure high up in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.

The new Range Rover Sport temporarily switched off the Hill Descent Control facility at the exact same moment when it was supposed to work, leading to a brief moment of glute-clenching tension during an off-road event at Jamhuri Park.

Should One Buy One?

Yes. The small engine aside — I would really love to see an SVR version of the Disco Sport, possibly packing the supercharged 3.0 V6 engine from the high performance Jag and Disco 4 — this car does look the part and act the part.

If you opt for the Black Pack Edition, and you must, you will not only have a looker, but a capable weekend instrument to ensure your life is never boring too.

Many may wince at the pricing — they should start off at around Ksh. 6 million for the poverty-spec breadline model and stretch all the way to Ksh. 9 million or thereabouts for the fully decked out HSE, possibly in Black Pack trim – but remember this is Land Rover.

They have never been cheap to start with. And what on earth did you think the “Premium” in “Premium Compact SUV” meant anyway?

*This is purely conjecture. Nothing about the pricing was mentioned during the trip, but a much respected motoring journalist from South Africa hinted that the pricing will be roughlyten per cent  up on the outgoing Freelander’s.

Note: for a full spec sheet on this vehicle’s vital statistics, standard equipment, optional extras and available colors, please visit the internet. Word limits, you know…

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