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I remember when the first Land Rover Freelander was launched. Well, I remember seeing all the press it got. It was a new breed of Land Rover back then. A sort of soft-roader for suburban mums to drive around. Back then 4WDs were limited to farmers and big burly men who like their meat raw and beer brown.

Thinking back, the Freelander was one of the “pioneering” posh crossovers. In 1997 the Honda CRV and a Toyota RAV4 catered to the mainstream while further upmarket the Germans hadn’t bothered with a small posh SUV yet. Now in 2014 we have a new Freelander but it’s not actually called a Freelander anymore.

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Tying in with Land Rover’s new naming system there are now only three nameplates to remember; Defender, Discover, and Range Rover. The Defender name will be limited to only the most rugged of Land Rovers, Discovery will be for the mainstream vehicles, while Range Rover is reserved for their poshest cars.

So welcome everyone to the Discovery Sport. This one sort of blurs the boundaries of the Discovery and Range Rover familes as it looks a bit like Evoque XL. Like the Range Rover Sport this has a sleeker design compared to the “proper” Discovery. It takes it’s styling cues from the Vision Discovery Concept we saw earlier this year at the New York Motor Show. Unfortunately, while it looks similar to the Concept car we don’t get some of the tech that was shown on the Concept such as the “see through” bonnet.

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It’s not a bad looking thing, quite the contrary actually. But I would’ve preferred if it had looked a but different to Range Rover cars. You now get a prominent ‘Discovery’ badge on the bonnet, a two-bar grille, and LED daytime running lights up front. On the side you have a rising waistline giving the impression of a sporty car (hence the name) and a semi-floating roof effect. The rear features bold horizontal taillights for a sportier design (gone are the upright taillights of Freelanders of old) and a non-clamshell style tailgate.

Inside it’s nice but not quite as luxurious as its Range Rover equivalent. While the exterior shares similar styling cues as the Evoque, inside its definitely more Land than Range. Mind you its still a premium cabin. You get Land Rover’s trademark upright dash design. Central to the dash design is a new 8-inch screen which will find its way to other Land Rover vehicles. It’ll control all the usual functions such as sat-nav, audio, and vehicle settings but also provides a new InControl app for vehicle tracking and 3G hotspot.

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The biggest difference inside the Discovery Sport and the Freelander model it replaces is the addition of a third row of seats. Yes, this is now a 7-seater car and is the only one in its class to have 7 seats giving an extra edge over the Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Lexus NX. However Land Rover emphasise it’s a 5+2 with the back seats for occasional use only. Evidence of this is in the marketing buff they suggest its suitable for children aged 13 years or less. The seats and access to them have been tested for adults but then if you want to carry seven adults on longer journeys that’s what the bigger Discovery is for.

To accommodate the extra seats the Sport has grown by 91mm in overall length with an extra 80mm in the wheelbase, it now measures up at 4590mm. Despite its modest growth Land Rover claim rear passenger and boot space has significantly increased. It’s also relatively light, some 800-900kg less than the double-chassis Discovery 4. Like other Jaguar Land Rover products the Sport makes good use of aluminium in its construction. The roof, bonnet, wings, and tailgate.

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Underneath it shares a monocoque chassis with the Evoque. At the rear there’s a new multi-link suspension set up which not only saves weight and space but also promises a more agile drive. The Disco Sport gets an updated Terrain Response system as well as new safety aids such as autonomous emergency braking and a Volvo-style bonnet airbag.

Engine choices at launch will be limited to a 2.2-litre SD4 engine with 190bhp – essentially the same engine found in the Evoque. This will be available with four-wheel drive an a nine-speed automatic gearbox. A cleaner, more efficient ED4 engine with 150bhp will follow as will the option of petrol power. The Disco Sport will go on sale in Europe sometime in January.

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What do we think? A good improvement over the Freelander and a good direction for Land Rover to be heading in or have they fallen into the German trap of homogenising all its vehicles?

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