Paris. Fashion week is yet to finishing blowing through the capital, but it will take some show to upstage the kitsch, colourific display held by Land Rover on the banks of the Seine to officially unveil the new Discovery Sport.
Flying the car up the river (á la Jaguar XE) had been mooted, then spiked by the French authorities. So instead of swooping, we got chugging, the huge barge chartered for the task hitting its mark at a tardy crawl. Dressed in astroturf and littered with wellies the size of phone boxes, the set was empty for what seemed like an age before our star entered stage right (and left) to dawdle up ‘n’ down artificial dale for the cameras.
The message – a jumbled tribute to the previous Disco’s established identity – hardly seemed to matter. This was much more about Land Rover as it is now; a climactic, cash-rich candy box of ideas and enthusiasm. For all the bemusement in the assembled legion of journalists at the peculiarity of the slow-moving stunt, the real meaning registered loud and clear: currently only one manufacturer has the devil-may-care confidence and financial clout to pull this kind of thing off – and it pulled pillow-lipped Rosie Huntington-Whiteley from the hat at the death to prove it.
What current owners of the Disco – particularly those running MkIIs into the muddy ground – would have thought of the hoopla is anyone’s guess. And also another moot point; the Discovery Sport is laser-targeted at the upwardly mobile crowd currently outgrowing the Evoque. When the Freelander disappears early next year, Land Rover won’t have a sub £26k entry-level option – not until it gets all funky and feisty with the next-generation Defender, anyway.
Until then the Sport will prop up the practical, versatile end of the range. Which won’t be a problem; the brand has apparently already shifted 1200 of the things without lifting a finger. The early adopters are unlikely to be disappointed. It looks devilishly good in the flesh; so much so that the design language may end up making the forthcoming full-sized version the pick of the bunch. That’ll be a proper seven-seater, of course. The Sport’s 5+2 seating helpfully distinguishes it within in the range, and from the competition – but it’s verifiably a child-only option in the very back.
You can’t have a five-seater in the UK – unless you opt for the tow pack, which, as well as increasing the limit to 2500kg from 2200kg, deletes the third row. Given the size of the boot that’s left, that makes for an interesting prospect, I think. Certainly until the XL Evoque arrives. That car will obviously trump the Sport’s fixtures and fittings, but these too are thoroughly likeable and annoyingly well summed up by Land Rover’s ‘premium not precious’ slogan.
The new infotainment system – making its debut here four or five months ahead of the Jaguar XE’s roll-out – is also a big step up; armed with a swipeable, pinchable eight-inch infotainment screen, a drastically improved menu and the kind of processing grunt required to make the thing appropriately responsive.
Of course, the XE will earn bragging rights in under-bonnet grunt, with the new generation of Ingenium engines making its debut there ahead of the Discovery. That imposed wait – still glumly set for ‘next year’ – remains our chief gripe about the Sport (ahead of any we encounter when we actually get a go in the thing).
Otherwise, from the aluminium-inspired weight loss and expensively reimagined rear suspension to the hydraulic rebound stops (a Land Rover first) on the front, the car appears utterly on-target for a now-typical Gaydon-style assault on class leadership. So much so, it hardly needed the introductory razzmatazz – but with self-belief leaking from every pore, it’s nigh-on impossible to begrudge Land Rover its moment in the sun.