Car companies like to showcase their new models in favourable surroundings, where the roads, scenery and weather make a good backdrop for the driving and photography. So car launches at this time of year often head further south than grey and gloomy mid-winter Britain.
Land Rover’s approach is a bit different. For the test drive of the new Discovery Sport, they decided to head far north to wintry Iceland, set on spicing the event with some adventure. It was a bold plan. We were meant to drive across rivers and over mountains to demonstrate the rugged capability of the car that replaces the old Freelander.
Except that it didn’t turn out quite as intended. On the first day of an event that will continue to the end of January and bring in motoring writers from around the world, we British car scribes experienced the raw fury of Icelandic weather in mid-December. We found ourselves battling through deep snow on a remote mountain road in the middle of the country, in the midst of a violent blizzard with near-zero visibility. Only the loosely spaced wayside snow poles enabled us to stay mostly on track.
It was a tortuously tough journey. In over three decades as a car journalist, I have never experienced worse driving conditions than this near white-out on the famously tricky pipeline road west of Reykjavik to Nesjavellir. The road is so-called because it runs alongside a geothermal pipeline that transports over 100,000 litres of hot water a minute from deep within Iceland’s rocky centre to the capital.
We learned little about what the new Disco Sport might be like to drive in typical conditions that British owners might experience, but a lot about its mostly efficient heater and demister system, its optional heated seats and steering wheel, and the dashboard read-out that confirmed the outside temperature at -5 deg. We were also grateful to know that this newest Land Rover has already been awarded five stars for safety in Euro NCAP crash tests.
The next morning, after a fitful night’s sleep serenaded by a howling wind, the storm had finally passed. We spent a long day driving on rutted snow and ice that showcased the Discovery Sport’s capability in tricky conditions, especially the efficiency of the grass/mud/snow setting on the car’s clever Terrain Response system. The 2.2 litre diesel engine and the nine-speed – yes, nine! – auto gearbox did their work efficiently, and the car seemed pleasantly refined. Especially so, considering that it was running on special winter tyres with 200 metal studs in each one for extra grip.
What will the seven-seater Discovery Sport be like in more normal driving conditions? That’s something we couldn’t easily judge in arctic Iceland. When I find out, I’ll let you know.