Hunter S. Thompson said it well. “Drive fast on empty roads with nothing in mind except falling in love and not getting arrested.” On the recent launch of the new Land Rover Discovery Sport, that’s just how I felt. I wanted to fall in love with the Disco, except it wouldn’t be on open streets. We would be on mountain passes, country streets and dirt tracks.
Ian Macleod, aka #CountryRunner
Day one was a whirl of adventure and great driving over mountain passes. Day two promised much…
Waking up in Prince Albert is a thoroughly calming thing. Our Land Rover hosts had planned mountain biking and trail running for those interested. Just a few weeks away from Comrades, I opted for the solitude of a run on the tar and gentle dirt in and around the village. Watching the sun rise over the Karoo, well, that is special. And boy, the air is clear out there.
Us rested journalists gathered later at the Swartberg Hotel for a proper breakfast. We’d need it for the day’s venturing about in our now dustied fleet of spanking new Discovery Sports. Our itinerary read as follows: “Zero your odometer in front of the Swartberg Hotel. Head south out of Prince Albert on the R407 towards Klaarstroom. At 20km turn left into Aviator Estate. Follow Land Rover signage to the hangar.” A hangar? Yep.
The scene hinted strongly at what was in store. A long dirt runway, presumably for small planes, a Top Gear-style leaderboard, traffic lights and timing equipment. We were about to put these motor vehicles to the test in a bit, fast way.
It was to be a drag race against the clock: take your Landy to the end of the track, turn back towards the hangar, slalom through a set of cones, stop at the lights, wait for green, give it horns! The goal was to accelerate as fast as possible until the marker indicating no more throttle. The trick was then to determine the best moment to apply brakes and bring the car to a halt within a small distance, probably 8 metres.
That sounds scary. In a regular car it might be, too. But with the extensive technology in the Discovery Sport, it doesn’t feel it. Terrain response, ABS, electronic traction control, roll stability control, dynamic stability control and the like would be pushed hard.
It was quite a site watching journos – ranging from experienced, advanced drivers to lifestyle writers who rarely break 60km/h – take on the challenge. Testament to the vehicle’s capacity, everyone looked good doing it! I like to think my flamboyant approach of breaking very late flying well through the designated stopping zone looked best of all!
Next was a drive through Meiringspoort Pass. Twisting through the bendy roads, dwarfed by the sharp cliffs all around was motoring magic. Pausing only to take in the Meiringspoort Waterfall, we heading on to Kammanassie Dam Wall for the tour’s swansong.
Lunch was a welcome treat. Rustic and simple. But adventure wasn’t far away. Abseiling down the dam wall (optional) was on the cards. Despite my record of overshooting finishing lines by a long way – not ideal for this sort of task – I went for it. It’s one of those things where you just have to trust the fellow charged with strapping you in and holding your ropes based on little more than the fact that he wears the right kit and seems to know what he’s doing.
Edging over the lip was terrifying, I admit. But everything else was a hoot. Withing a few cautious steps, you’ll find yourself bounding off the wall with abandon, peering across the countryside for the best views, posing for the cameras.
Events gradually quietened down and we said our farewells, Land Rovers peeling off from their neat row, heading to the airport in George. That left about an hour of cruising along bendy farm roads to consider the vehicles.
The Discovery Sport will cost you somewhere between R540 000 and R590 000. There’s a choice of turbocharged diesel and petrol engines in a 2.0 or 2.2 litre. The transmission is a 9 speed auto with paddles. The seating is a 5 + 2 arrangement in a properly handsome interior. Leather, wood and ‘tech’ are superbly combined. The 12V charging point, handful of USB slots and touch-screen computer control are all excellent.
With the sorts of off-road, power and safety features you’d expect, this is deluxe SUV that will be hugely popular around Sandton and Constantia, but certainly not too precious for kayaks on the roof, thumping through muddy potholes and climbing uphill to your favourite secluded cabin in the bush.