THE Land Rover Freelander is dead, long live the Discovery Sport. We reported on the early information coming out on it, but in Paris we attended the full official reveal and it is worth getting excited about. Land Rover chose to gloat about it too, putting on a huge show in which a giant barge travelled to the reveal venue along the Seine bearing not just the new model, but a pair of giant Union Jack Wellington boots. A bit of a tongue in cheek dig at the French perhaps, but the official line was they represented a Land Rover take on Paris Fashion Week.

There was even a requisite supermodel in the form of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who emerged from the car as it drove over an off-road obstacle on the barge. Stereotypically, she only had one line to say and she got it wrong, calling the new vehicle a Range Rover, but while the world’s motoring media had a chuckle, they were focused on the design of the Discovery Sport.

"The Land Rover brand continues its distinct journey," said Gerry McGovern, design director and chief creative officer for the company. That journey sees three main family lines in the form of the Defender, the Discovery and the Range Rover, hence the dropping of the Freelander. The Defender is going to be the hardest to replace when it arrives in 2016 of course, but the new Disco Sport heralds the start of a whole new range of Discovery vehicles.

"We are looking for white space opportunities," said McGovern, hinting the company might follow the path of the Germans with niche vehicles.

"There are other opportunities to expand the Range Rover brand, too — watch this space," he said.

"We wanted the Sport to be relevant, to be contemporary and to be premium. Discoverys are not exclusive, they are inclusive."

Inclusive is right because the new Sport is packed with kit to complement its premium design. It has some Discovery DNA in the form of the clamshell bonnet and the floating C-pillar, elements which will most likely also be retained in the next generation Discovery due next year.

Final local specification has yet to be confirmed but we will get the SD4 diesel and Si4 petrol in S, SE and HSE grades. All will use the same nine-speed transmission from the Evoque. Later in the year we will get the TD4 which will only be available as a five-seater.

The new model sits on the same platform as the Evoque and you can also see a bit of Evoque influence in the styling. There is also quite a bit of component sharing with the Jaguar XE which you can read about on the back page. While there will be a five-seat version available, Land Rover SA will standardise on the seven-seat version when the model launches here in March 2015. It has the potential to be a game changer, being shorter than five-seat rivals such as the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Volvo XC60 and also some seven-seat competitors like the Nissan X-Trail and Hyundai Santa Fe.

That seven-seat configuration includes a second row which can slide up to 160mm to provide greater legroom for third-row passengers, although typically the final row is for the school run or occasional use, hence it really being a 5+2. With the third row of seats up you will battle to get anything but a laptop bag in the boot but put them down and you have up to 981l of luggage space with the cover stowed and if you drop the second row then you have a whopping 1,698l.

Final local specification has yet to be confirmed but we will get the SD4 diesel and Si4 petrol in S, SE and HSE grades. All will use the same nine-speed transmission from the Evoque. Later in the year we will get the TD4 which will only be available as a five-seater.

Driveline options will include a standard setup with a Haldex coupling for front and rear axle split, an active electronic differential which can direct 100% of torque to the front axle when required and a two-wheel drive option will also become available later in 2015.

While the exterior styling is great, it is the interior that will have rivals worried. It carries lots of Range Rover DNA with a lord of the manor driving position and plenty of thick quality materials and leather to further bolster the feeling of superiority. The days of the Toyota Fortuner and Chevrolet Trailblazer could well be numbered. I cannot say anything about the pricing as yet, but look up the price of the Audi Q5 and you will not be far wrong.

It is also going to beat its rivals on technology, too. Items like Adaptive Dynamics are set to give it a driver’s edge while it will also get the full off-road suite courtesy of the Terrain Response system. It will get the same eight-inch touchscreen and InControl infotainment system of the Jag as well as 360º high-definition cameras and a laser head up display. It will have special 4x4 information screens, a wade sensing system and a first in class pedestrian bonnet airbag. The stereo camera will link to an autonomous braking system and it will also have a lane departure system. You will even be able to select from five different interior ambient colours.

I cannot help but think of that ballpark pricing. This is going to be a great deal of vehicle at that price and it is no wonder the company has already had 1,200 orders ahead of the official reveal. The Freelander might be dead but Land Rover is alive and its rivals could well be caught napping.

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Sun Dec 04 18:10:33 SAST 2016