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Why the Disco Sport is TG's Family Car of the Year

Got kids? All is not lost. Here's a real-world car that can still excite

  • As extreme-risk automotive assault courses go, this one is right up there. I’ve just threaded a Discovery Sport between the two hollow engine cowls of a 747, and as I round the corner to pass photographer Rowan, my attention is focused on a piece of dismembered landing gear that lies on its side: a macabre aeronautical sculpture directly in my path. When dwarfed by the scale of the 747 they’re normally attached to, they take on a more diminutive status, but when torn from their host and discarded on the ground, they are, quite simply, MASSIVE. Even the squishy-looking bits are inflated to 205psi and form immovable rubber boulders that are best avoided.

    Photography: Rowan Horncastle

    This feature was originally published in the May 2016 issue of Top Gear Magazine.

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  • When we first started negotiating access to the airliner boneyard that sits nestled at the end of Mojave runway, it was mostly, if we’re being honest, on the basis that it would make a fascinating backdrop for a set of images. However, following a briefing from Scott and his associate, who manage the site and spend their time dismembering these fallen giants for recycling, we were given free range. Carte blanche. So what began purely as a photographic location has turned into the world’s most bizarre off-road proving ground. The extremity of the location is nudged up even further by two things. Firstly, we have been given very clear and somewhat menacing instructions to avoid three planes, which on first sight look no different to the others: “Do not look at them, drive near them and absolutely DO NOT PHOTOGRAPH them, they are used for special ops training, and you don’t want to piss those guys off.” Duly noted.

  • The second factor was last night’s torrential downpour, which has drained into the desert surface and turned the oil-soaked sand into something vaguely approximating setting porridge. Make that setting porridge that would shatter your teeth, littered as it is with myriad bolts, rivets and torn shards of aero-grade aluminium that threaten the junior Disco’s tyres on every rotation. The fact that certain areas, indistinguishable from others, are basically sandy bogs, while others have similar tyre-swallowing qualities to quicksand adds to the excitement.

    It’s really only when you get up close to a Boeing 747 that you can begin to appreciate the scale of fabrication involved, the detail of its packaging and what an engineering miracle it is that this 178,756kg giant became the heavy-lifter of the skies. On a much smaller, but no less impressive scale, the packaging of the Discovery Sport is one of the trump cards in its armoury, and in no small part responsible for it winning our Family car of the Year award.

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  • As any parent will tell you, the effect that having a family has on your car choice is profound. The classified ads are really just a graveyard of automotive dreams, littered with endless adverts professing “family forces reluctant sale”. Having unwillingly traded your pride and joy for something altogether more practical, family life continues in blissful ignorance for a few self-congratulatory years as you adapt to life as a grown-up. But then they grow up, and you enter a phase best described as the parental-Uber.

  • Children need ferrying to sports fixtures, the school collection ends up in a “how many kids today” lottery when your child unselfishly invites all of her classmates around to play. As the years pass, this develops into a late-night taxi service post pub. In short, when it comes to family cars, flexibility and an ability to adapt to the unforeseen, unpredictable and sometimes just plain weird wins big. For our money, the Sport’s seven-seat configuration, with the third row nestled in the base of the 689-litre boot and each with their own optional USB ports shows a product that has been developed by people with families at the core of their thinking.

  • Until recently, the seven-seater was the preserve of the automotive articulation that all hope is lost: the MPV. So, to have shoehorned them into a compact SUV is a work of packaging genius. Whereas a full-size SUV could be labelled as too opulent, and an MPV too dreary, the Sport wears its practicality lightly, cleverly occupying that narrow bandwidth of social acceptance and credibility that matters on the schoolrun and company-car selection. And its social acceptance is in no small part down to its design.

    Having created an icon in the Evoque, Land Rover’s designers haven’t put a foot wrong since, and few could argue that the current line-up doesn’t deliver the looks to back up all that capability. The Discovery Sport showcases a new more sophisticated design language that moves the game forwards again, and this new aesthetic will be reinforced by the arrival of the Sport’s bigger brother, the Discovery, later in the year.

  • But like any good car design, the public can ruin it. Get the spec wrong on a Sport, and it shows. Our advice is to always go for the Black Design Pack, which de-chromes the car and gives you the optional 20-inch gloss black wheels. If you’re feeling brave, it works well in strong colours (like our long-term test car’s Phoenix Orange) or, like all of Land Rover’s current range, it looks excellent in more technical metallics. Sadly, something got lost in translation during the communications between the press office in the UK and their US counterparts, and we ended up with the full golf-club spec...

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  • Having managed so far to avoid disappearing into one of the sinkholes or clip anything pricey, things are going well. Scott and Cletus seem to be relaxing and looking the other way, so I take the opportunity to thread the Sport between the Jumbos with more enthusiasm. It soaks up the chaotic surface easily, and if we’re honest, the three hours we spend in the boneyard represent a far more extreme off-road excursion than most Sports will ever tackle. But because it’s a Land Rover, you know there’s a breadth of capability lurking beneath the surface. There’s something deeply satisfying about knowing it can scale mountains even if the closest most will get is a mild assault on a soft verge.

  • Since the introduction of the 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel engine eight months ago, the Sport has had the engine to match the off-road know-how. Available in two power outputs, 148bhp and 178bhp, the Ingenium returns up to 57.6mpg and emits just 129g/km of CO2, dropping the BIK value to 23 per cent – useful savings for business types. The irony of talking about emissions isn’t lost on me as I pilot the Sport for another lap around the grounded and dismembered high-altitude heavy polluters.

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  • Clearly sensing some kind of lefty environmental tendency, or in an effort to save us from the inevitable accident, Scott calls time on our excursion through the boneyard. Who knows, maybe special ops want their playground back? We exit across a gravel road littered with deep puddles (cue water splash) and head back into LA grateful to be back in a world where the scale seems more familiar. The Sport soaks up the 100-mile trip and slips back into its more A-list environment effortlessly, marred only by the mud spatters along its flanks that cause people to point. LA and mud are not close acquaintances.

    The irony is, that’s the point of the Discovery Sport. It’s the breadth of ability it delivers that makes it so attractive. It’s as happy on the streets of LA or the schoolrun as it is in the middle of the desert. It has flexibility, practicality and a deep-rooted capability that make it the answer to one of the world’s toughest automotive challenges: family life. For that reason, it’s the TopGear Family car of the Year.

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