We talk to Land Rover design boss Gerry McGovern and project director Murray Dietsch about the journey Land Rover's new seven-seat SUV has taken from concept to production
Steve Cropley Autocar
3 September 2014

Land Rover’s design boss, Gerry McGovern, says that with the new Discovery Sport his designers set out to create a luxurious environment with “unparalleled levels of versatility”.

We talked to McGovern about the thought processes, design ideas and reasoning behind the new seven-seat Land Rover Discovery Sport:

What takes precedence in the Discovery Sport, great design or great capability?   

"I’d say the capability was our killer priority. Others have great design, but Land Rovers have always had class leading functionality and always will. The big trick is in putting the two things together well. We’ve spent four years working out the best way to do it."

What were the biggest design challenges?

"The Discovery Sport had to be bigger than a Freelander, but it also needed a sporty silhouette that disguised a cavernous interior. That was a pretty hard thing to do.

"What’s more, it had to look like it was capable of what it can do, which can be difficult with an off-roader whose capabilities are as broad as this one. The design’s got to be embedded in the car. It can’t just be the icing on the cake."

Did that mean you had to make this big-selling model more generalist than other Land Rovers?

"We discussed that aspect a lot. You don’t want to lose your design roots, but equally, there’s no point producing a “Marmite” design and end up not selling enough cars. We opted to give the Discovery Sport a good deal of universal appeal; to make it look really good but try also to convey that it was really capable."

Does that mean future full-size Discoverys will be more generalist? 

"Not necessarily. Their styling has always been quite polarising, yet they’ve been successful in the market. We did try expressing Discovery 4 values in a Sport, but it didn’t really work. So, since there had never been a Discovery in this size before, we felt we had permission to jump away a bit."

Murray Dietsch, Land Rover’s director of programmes, has the major responsibility of replacing Land Rover’s million-selling Freelander with a Discovery Sport that customers will like even better. He explains the key steps:

How did you decide how to change the Freelander?

"First of all, we took a long look at what the customers needed. The first thing we learned was that it wasn’t going to be so easy beating the Freelander: we’re talking about a model that scored 47,000 sales in 2008, its best year.

"But we decided our customers needed something with a bit more capability, and a bit more room – but was still compact. That was the recipe."

Which are the key changes?

"I believe it’s two things, the new rear suspension and the packaging, and one was a driver for the other. We added only 91mm to the total length of a Freelander – which means we’re still 39mm shorter than a five-seat Audi Q5, which is a pretty good benchmark – yet we have five-plus-two seating, plus class-leading boot space. We think it’s a great formula."

Why was the new rear suspension so important?

"Two reasons: first, it removed the space-limiting suspension towers needed by the old strut-type suspension from the boot space, which made a world of difference. Second, it improved the way the car drives, both on and off-road."

So this isn’t just a drive-to-school model, then?

"Far from it. It’ll certainly drive to school better than most – and it certainly has the accommodation for the job – but we think it’s better off-road that either a Freelander or an Evoque, for two reasons.

"The Evoque’s more attuned to the road, as you might expect, and the latest developments to Terrain Response mean it maintains traction and controls the wheels in low-traction situations even better than previous versions. It’s a good 4x4 – even against our most capable models."

Read more about the Land Rover Discovery Sport

Blog: Is Land Rover leaving behind its core customers?

Read Autocar's first ride in the new Discovery Sport

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Our Verdict

The Land Rover Discovery Sport
The new Land Rover Discovery Sport is the successor to the Freelander

The Freelander's replacement goes big on prettiness and packaging, and as a result becomes the class leader

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Comments
3

3 September 2014
..........by crossing the bigger 5th gen Ford Explorer with the smaller Range Rover Evoque and hey presto!

8 September 2014
“So, since there had never been a Discovery in this size before, we felt we had permission to jump away a bit."

Mr. McGovern needs a new tape measure! Just as even the first Freelander was bigger than the Classic Range Rover, the Disco Sport is bigger than the first two Discos. It is fifteen feet long and its 9 foot wheelbase is eight inches longer, the same as the LWB Classic Range Rover, the Mk 2 (38A) Range Rover, and the recently replaced Range Rover Sport. It is smaller than the current Disco though.

30 September 2014
Makes BMW X3 and X5 look like pointless 4WD dribble.

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