BARCELONA, Spain—Perched precariously, nose down and tilted sharply to the right, we watched—mesmerized—as a 2020 Land Rover Discovery Sport identical to ours lifted its left rear wheel far above the rocky surface and proceeded without drama down the rather steep trail just ahead. Its driver was guided, as we were, by firm directions from a stern Scottish voice just outside the open side window telling us what to do to safely negotiate the astonishingly rough track.
Actually, apart from steering precisely where directed, there wasn’t much for a driver to do to accomplish the improbable task; the car managed its own velocity and tractive effort automatically. For the driver, just hands-on wheel, foot on the brake pedal. Pretty simple, really, and quite effective.
Basically the Discovery Sport is a suburban family station wagon/SUV with capabilities no rear-wheel-drive sedan or wagon could ever achieve. It’s a handsome vehicle, with its exterior surfaces only slightly face-lifted from the good looking and very nicely proportioned car introduced several years ago, a fact that completely disguises the reality that the 2020 chassis is completely different.
The chassis is essentially identical to the Range Rover Evoque’s PTA (Premium Transverse Architecture) platform, except for alterations in the rear to allow a pair of fold-down seats for seven-passenger capability, an attribute rival of about the same size can’t offer. We thought those optional units were about as useful as the back seats in a Porsche 356, but they’re a talking point at least, and for families with two small children who can actually fit there, the option will be welcome.
In the process of changing the SUV’s platform, Land Rover engineers also completely revised the vehicle’s electronic architecture, adding a few features that seemed at first to be gadgets for the sake of gadgetry, but in practice turn out to be brilliantly positive.
One such feature is the ClearSight rearview mirror, actually a high pixel-count digital screen. When switched on, it presents the driver a wide view as seen by a camera on the back of the body, which means any passenger’s heads and/or piled-up luggage in the (relatively small) space behind the second row of seats are not visible in the mirror. Off, it’s still a normal direct-reflection mirror. The other digital trick is called ClearSight Ground View, which presents on the central screen above the console a view of the ground under the vehicle, an integration of images from a frontal camera and two side-looking cameras ahead of the wheels, which lets you “see” underneath the Discovery. There was a huge half-round hump on the overlong obstacle course we needed to follow, and it was far from reassuring to see how close the front tires were to the edges of the artificial ramp, but on the trail, it was useful to see where the tires were going to go.
There are USB connection points for each range of seats, a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot, and connections for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. If you put your compatible smartphone on the shelf ahead of the (really annoying and obstructive) shift lever, the car will charge it by induction, and of course there are multiple driver aids. Which are often also really annoying and obstructive. Our own Georg Kacher says, “They’re wonderful. If you turn them off.” But whatever features you may expect of a modern digital car, you have them available with Land Rover. The very enthusiastic true believers among engineers, designers, and manufacturing people in the company are determined to remain at the cutting edge, even using Artificial Intelligence to learn about driver preferences and adjust the car to those.