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A new vintage to savour

CAR REVIEW

South Africa doesn’t get much tamer than the Cape winelands. Endless rows of uniformly-spaced vines stretching deep into the horizon; old whitewashed buildings that somehow always seem spotless. There’s a sense of cultivation you simply don’t get elsewhere in the country. It almost feels European — an observation its settlers would no doubt have taken as a compliment.

Of course, none of that is to say that the region is not strikingly gorgeous. And perfectly suited for a quick two-day road trip: the broad, scenic roads offer no shortage of spots to stop off for a picnic, grab a cup of coffee with a view, sample a craft chocolate or enjoy an overnight stay on the border of a vineyard complete with the fruits of its labour.

Which is likely what Land Rover had in mind when it planned the route for its launch of the new Discovery Sport.

In the minds of many consumers, the more docile lands of the Western Cape are an apt metaphor for this British gent. There’s no denying it does not carry the sporting intrigue of some of its rivals — most notably the Audi Q5 or BMW X3. On a flat surface it wouldn’t keep up with them, either. But the Earth, as we know, is not flat.

Even in these calm climes it’s not hard to find terrain that would stifle those slick Germans but which the Land Rover will gobble up. It’s worth making it clear now: this car is infinitely more practical than many of its rivals. If you’re looking for a subcompact SUV that will handle equally well in the city and on a casual foray into the wild, you’re not going to go wrong here.

That’s what we began to find out as we headed north from Cape Town’s city bowl. On that first overcast weekday, my driving partner and I got to cruise in one of the HSE models — the top-of-the-range model, additionally fitted with the R-dynamic aesthetic package. To put it mildly, the bells were big and bold and the whistles shiny and clean. Sexy 21-inch alloy wheels, a ridiculously large panoramic sunroof, Meridian sound system and a heads-up display that projects relevant information onto the windscreen fighter-jet style.

The interior layout hasn’t changed too much in this facelift and is what you might expect: neat and functional. Apart from a rather annoying steering volume control (can’t we just have tactile buttons please, modern designers), everything works well and without too much figuring out.

Travelling up that benign highway the drive similarly offered a safe and comfortable experience. The 2.0 litre 4-cylinder 132kW turbocharged diesel offers a kick — but not one that will knock you off your feet. Which again, we might argue, is not really the goal here. For a long-distance haul, you want something considered and smooth — adjectives that are well-placed here.

The lazy driving was particularly satisfying as we drove through the West Coast National Park. With its strict 50km/h speed limit, the park encourages you to take in sights and stop to admire the almost turquoise ocean that appears soothingly calm on this area of the coast.

Eventually we made it out and continued up to Riebeek Kasteel, one of the oldest towns in the country and our stop for the night. For dinner we headed to the panoramic Kloovenburg Wine and Olive Estate, where, as one might expect, we drank plenty of wine and ate ourselves sick on cheese platters. The establishment is owned by one Pieter Stephanus du Toit, father of the Springbok star. He offered up a bottle of fine red signed by Pieter-Steph to the duo that could stomp the most juice out of a grape bucket; we narrowly missed out in second place, which is probably for the best because in all honesty we would have drunk it hastily with little consideration for the significance of a World Cup-winning autograph. Once the festivities came to an end, the Land Rover staff gave us the short lift back to the hotel, during which they turned on the Sport’s massaging seats, which felt a little bit like showing off but which we happily embraced nonetheless.

The next morning we rose before dawn to catch the sunrise over breakfast on one of Kloovenburg’s koppies. Those boundless rows of vines only seemed to multiply as the sun rose higher, and so, our fast broken, it was time to get in among them.

The offroad section of the drive took us up some fairly steep climbs that the Discovery Sport dismissed with little fuss. We did not tackle any hardcore crevices — but what we did do was enough to convince us that the average driver would be able to handle most trips they take off the tarmac. There are clearance cameras as well as wade-depth detection, to ensure you don’t accidentally bite off more than you can chew. It’s also equipped with Land Rover’s magical All Terrain Progress Control button. Tap it on, set a speed, and the car will tackle the hills in front of you as you keep your feet off of the accelerator and brake.

From there it was another scenic drive back down to Cape Town. By this point we had switched into a model much closer to the bottom of the range, and were missing some of those more extravagant bells and whistles mentioned earlier. Still, the drive was identical and the quality of the interior remained solid. The one significant drawback worth mentioning is that the models missing the fully digital gauge cluster come with a screen sandwiched between analog rev and speed counters that have essentially been cut in half — which just seems odd.

Prices range between about R750 000 and a few clicks north of R900 000; just where on that scale you want to land will largely come down to personal preference. Overall, however, it’s hard to go wrong here. If what you want is a reasonably sized SUV in which to explore South Africa, there’s no reason to advise against the Discovery Sport.

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Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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