FIRST DRIVE – LAND ROVER DISCOVERY SPORT
WHEN the weather takes a turn for the worse in Iceland it hits hard.
A bit like a left hook from Ali or Tyson in their prime.
Howling crosswinds, horizontal hailstones the size of billiard balls and road conditions turned treacherous in a matter of minutes.
Bad news if you happen to be out in the car – unless you have the sort of defensive hardware to keep the elements at arm’s length.
So what better place for Land Rover to stage the first drive of its new Liverpool-built Discovery Sport model than the Land of Fire and Ice.
Few car manufacturers would have the confidence to put a new product to the test on the fringe of the Arctic Circle in mid-December.
But then few of them can boast the time-honoured expertise of Land Rover when it comes to coping with the most extreme conditions.
The Discovery Sport is a hugely important vehicle to Land Rover, replacing the successful Freelander on the Halewood production line it now shares with the Range Rover Evoque.
Land Rover says it will be the world’s most versatile and capable premium compact SUV when it hits the streets this month with prices from £32,395.
And compact this first member of the new Disco family certainly is, featuring five plus two stadium seating in a vehicle footprint no larger than existing five-seat prestige off-roaders.
Leaving Keflavik airport on the first part of a 250-mile expedition takes you past the largest mountains in south-west Iceland before following a 16-mile pipeline leading to a geothermal power station which uses vast wells to harness the earth’s heat.
Icelanders have learned to put up with the sulphur stench in this area – in return for the reward of 100,000 litres of hot water to capital city Reykjavik every minute.
It’s anything but all about heat though as I realised when the temperature dropped by five degrees to minus 7C in as many minutes.
With the Disco Sport’s own air-con system in operation you use more fuel, and among the raft of technology and info systems on this car there’s even a gauge telling you precisely how much extra diesel you have spent as a result.
That’s in addition to a beautifully appointed cabin with its vertical centre console, 8-inch touchscreen, multiple storage areas, four 12V power points and USB charging sockets for all three rows of seats.
Day two held the promise of some jaw-dropping scenery via the point where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet – effectively a volcanic seam where magma is belched from deep down, pushing the plates apart and creating a new crust.
The upside was the opportunity to put the Sport’s heavy duty dynamics and safety systems to the most thorough examination.
Its Terrain Response set-up ensures greater off-road ability and operates at the push of a finger for general conditions; sand; mud and ruts; and grass, gravel and snow. Dial in the latest Hill Descent Control system and there a few conditions the Land Rover can’t fend off.
The drive continues past the island’s largest natural lake along a route called Kaldidalur into the aptly-named Cold Valley and passing between the Ok volcano and a 1,350-metre high glacier.
Following the road is a test in itself as tracks and markings are quickly covered by fresh snow but the Discovery Sport is in no way fazed, proving its off-road capability with exceptional merit.
Here’s where the various systems come into play and the electronic braking ensures the car is both neutral and predictable.
The weather has relented and the light of day fades to offer magnificent silhouettes of coastal scenery and the sort of driving owners of the new car can enjoy in everyday UK conditions.
Ribbons of wet Tarmac encourage you to push on and make the most of a car the Liverpool workforce can take great pride in building.
It is powered by Land Rover’s 2.2 litre SD4 turbodiesel engine producing 190PS and both 9-speed automatic and 6-speed manual transmissions are available.
Later next year a two-wheel drive eD4 turbodiesel engine will join the line-up with CO2 emissions from 119g/km and costing less than £30,000.
Safety measures include a bonnet airbag, autonomous emergency braking and a bodyshell constructed from both ultra high strength steel and lightweight aluminium, and the car has just been awarded a five-star Euro N-CAP safety rating.
And customers can choose from 12 exterior colours while an eyecatching Black Pack adds a gloss black grille, door mirror caps, front fender vents, bonnet and tailgate lettering and 20-inch alloy wheels.
All in all the Discovery Sport is a car certain to have a big impact on the SUV scene – it’s capable, versatile, comfortable and cool as Iceland.