The Freelander had a relatively short lifespan – introduced in 1997 with production finishing in 2014, compare that to the Discovery (1989 - ) or even the Range Rover (1970 - ) and you’ll see that a 17-year production cycle is quite short when compared to its stablemates.
The truth is that Land Rover usually look toward the longer-term when it comes to production cycles, and although 17-years seems a short run, many other manufacturers would be congratulating themselves on a production run of that length. The Freelander faced stiff competition from the other manufacturers, and perhaps that’s a reflection of the booming market, rather than a comment on the Freelander itself; sales were hard won: peak sales hit 57,691 in 2013, which lagged slightly behind some of the competition.
Land Rover wanted to dominate the small SUV market, so the decision was made to replace the Freelander with the Discovery Sport, perhaps more as a branding exercise than anything else, and the latest Discovery Sport is everything that we’d want in an affordable Land Rover.
The Disco Sport isn’t ‘all new’ – it uses the tried and tested chassis architecture from the Evoque, although it does have a brand-new rear suspension setup, to allow the Sport to squeeze an extra two seats in to the floor-space of the boot, making it a true 7-seater, with this in mind, the engineers at Land Rover have made the second row of seating capable of sliding – enormous amounts of legroom with the two rear seats flat, or enough legroom when configured as a 7-seater.
Keeping with the practicalities, the Sport is capable of towing up to 2,500kg, and has anywhere up to 1,124 litres of storage in the rear, although with all the seats in place, that drops to 480 litres – still not exactly pocket size.
With a choice of power-plants from the JLR Ingenium range, you can have up to 290 horsepower on-tap, driving a 6-speed manual transmission or a 9-speed automatic, and being a Land Rover, both are equally as capable when it comes to the rough stuff – the suite of technology for off-roading is perhaps enhanced just slightly with the automatic transmission and on-road performance doesn’t suffer either; many industry experts are saying that the ride is similar to that of a Range Rover.
As you’d expect from one of the world’s leading brands, despite being the ‘affordable’ Land Rover, the standard equipment isn’t lacking; cruise-control, DAB digital radio, Bluetooth, USB connectivity, 4G Wi-Fi, an 8” touchscreen, climate-control and half-leather heated seats for a starting point, and that’s before we get near the options list, which features such toys as a Heads Up Display, adaptive xenon headlights and rear seat entertainment.
Land Rover have also beefed up the safety and driver-aids – the ‘Pure’ trim level includes the Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) system and rear parking aid, whilst stepping up to the SE Tech also includes navigation, rain sensing wipers, front parking sensors, powered gesture tailgate and keyless entry, and there’s a further four editions should you want more.
Yes, the Discovery Sport is a price point above the Freelander, but you’d have to argue that the build quality, equipment fitted, and ride is more than a price point above – this feels like a genuine Land Rover, rather than a rebadged soft-roader which the Freelander always felt to be.
A short test drive will give you the impression that you’re driving something more akin to a Range Rover, and its road presence will just confirm that – this isn’t Land Rover’s attempt to win new customers by paring back on the budget, quite the opposite in fact – you’re buying a premium product that just happens to give more value than the competition.