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Driven: Land Rover Discovery Sport. Image by Land Rover.

Driven: Land Rover Discovery Sport
A week with Land Rover's superb Freelander replacement.

 



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Land Rover Discovery Sport

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: astonishing ride comfort, styling, interior quality, seven seats, real-world economy.

Not so good: the 2.0-litre Ingenium engine will be better.

Key Facts

Model tested: Land Rover Discovery Sport HSE SD4 Automatic
Price: Discovery Sport from 30,695; HSE SD4 from 39,395, car as tested 40,720
Engine: 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel
Transmission: all-wheel drive, nine-speed automatic
Body style: five-door, seven-seat SUV
CO2 emissions: 166g/km (Band H, 285 VED year one, 205 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 44.8mpg
Top speed: 117mph
0-62mph: 8.9 seconds
Power: 190hp at 3,500rpm
Torque: 420Nm at 1,750rpm

Our view:

Land Rover is changing so fast. From a turn-of-the-century line-up of the troublesome 'Metrocab' Range Rover, middling Land Rover Freelander and underwhelming Discovery, now the two sub-brands - Range Rover and Land Rover - have their own three-model offerings. The stalwart Defender is about to be killed off after several eternities in service and, unbelievably, the company even has a touchscreen satnav/infotainment system that actually works well and looks modern. Understandably, the British firm is on the crest of a wave; no other manufacturer is coining it in quite as quickly at the moment as (Jaguar) Land Rover, thanks to its impressive array of products.

That, and unswerving brand loyalty on the part of customers, allows the capacity for some reinvention and so the Freelander name has been dropped for the most junior Land Rover of all, now known as the Discovery Sport. This links it in with the Range Rover line-up, where the slightly smaller SUV is called the Range Rover Sport. But there you have to reassess, as the Discovery Sport isn't an analogue of the RRS; it's actually comparable to an Evoque, in terms of size, price and market.

To that end, underneath the body shell are the same engines and running gear as the Evoque, plus much of its platform. And if in your mind's eye you could imagine the offspring of the union of a Freelander and the entry-level Range Rover, then the Discovery Sport is it. Half Land Rover, half the group's most profitable model, your eye first catches the Freelander-esque upright rear screen, the smooth sides and that forward-raked C-pillar. And then you look at the front and the Evoque's face is clear to see, while the round rear lamps are a classic trait of the smallest Range Rover.

If all of this sounds like we're about to accuse the Discovery Sport of being a lazy rip-off in terms of aesthetics, you couldn't be more wrong. Actually, we think it's better to behold than the Evoque and probably the smartest-looking thing yet to wear a Land Rover badge, current Discovery included. At a casual glance, it's both compact and reasonably imposing, and it looks fantastic in any spec or colour. It also doesn't have the Evoque's pinched rear windscreen, which can affect visibility, so that's a big plus point.

That classy exterior hides a seven-seat cabin - or, to put it more accurately, a 5+2 layout. True, the rearmost seats are on the tiny side but they're not as flimsy or occasional as you might think. There's also a tiny bit of boot space left intact when they're up. And folding them away is the act of a moment, as the mechanism to collapse/unfurl them is simplicity itself. Once they are lying flat, the cargo area behind the five remaining seats goes from the minuscule to the massive.

It's actually a capacious interior in general, with plenty of space for three adults in the middle seats and acres of room for the front two occupants. It's also of a top-notch finish in there, although the dashboard is slightly more angular and formal than the stylish affair in an Evoque, in order to reflect Land Rover's brand sensibilities. Yet the Disco Sport's fascia still has appeal, chief of which is the new InControl Touch software, which finally brings 21st-century software to the Jaguar Land Rover fold. Shame the 3D view in the mapping looks just like the 2D, though. And while there are no issues with the eight-inch screen on first acquaintance, its location - and the standard fitment of a lovely panoramic roof on the Sport - means that with bright sunshine streaming in through the baby Landie's ceiling, it's sometimes difficult to see what's on display.

Still, it's a good blend of the premium and the utilitarian with the Discovery Sport, HSE specification bringing plenty of luxuries like climate control, the satnav, leather, cruise control, Bluetooth and DAB, 19-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers and auto Xenon lights with high-beam assist, keyless entry and go, all-round parking sensors with a good quality reversing camera, a powered tailgate (opening conventionally upwards, unlike the 'barn door' efforts on older Freelanders) and a powerful, 11-speaker Land Rover Audio system. Options on our car added seat heating in row two's outer pair of chairs (300), a detachable tow bar (675) and rear privacy glass (350), bringing the kit list to a level we would happily call comprehensive... and the price to more than 40 grand.

Dynamically, the Sport's case only gets stronger but it is worth us drawing attention to the engine in our test vehicle at this stage. It's the old 2.2-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel, which has seen active duty for a while in the Evoque and here puts out 190hp and 420Nm. Its fuel economy and emissions figures are not great, to be honest, 44.8mpg and Band H VED making it more costly than a four-cylinder SUV has a right to be. The main complication here, though, is that JLR has already announced it will slot the sublime new 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel into the Discovery Sport. In its most muscular trim, that kicks out 180hp with 430Nm and is rumoured to dip below 130g/km CO2 in this car - meaning a free first year of road tax and just 110 per annum after that. So buy that one instead.

There's nothing majorly wrong with this TD4 unit, as during a 500-mile week in our company - where the Discovery Sport spent its time hammering up and down the M1 at an average speed of 58mph - it gave back a genuine 41mpg, not far off the official figure. And it's reasonably quiet, very smooth and plenty powerful enough to deal with the 1,863kg kerb weight of the Land Rover. So it doesn't feel utterly obsolete just yet.

If we have two more minor criticisms, they're reserved for the nine-speed automatic and the expectations the use of the word Sport in the car's name engenders. On the first score, this is another super-slick operator but there are times when it does feel like it's searching frantically for the right ratio in its vast box of cogs - something the eight-speed ZF found in Ingenium-equipped JLR products does not do. And there's nothing particularly sporty about the entry Landie's demeanour. It's a quietly competent chassis and way in advance of the Freelander's capabilities, sure, but when the Porsche Macan and, more pertinently, the Range Rover Sport SVR both show that you can put a little more emphasis on the S of SUV, we'd have liked a little more dynamism in the Discovery's arsenal - even if it is a lot cheaper than either of those entertaining 4x4s.

What cannot be faulted, and why we think the Sport is deserving of such a high mark, is the level of refinement. The ride is fabulous. It's nearly as good as that on the full-fat, 100,000-plus Range Rover and that is some accolade to foist on the car at the opposite end of the Land Rover spectrum. Wind noise, tyre noise, engine boom - they're all eradicated and the damping/spring rates are judged to absolute perfection. You won't notice the suspension doing its thing. Ever. And as serene cruising is what most SUVs get up to for the vast majority of the time, it's this facet of the Discovery Sport that moves us to place it at the very top of the compact premium SUV tree. Nobody does ride quality better than this.

With an Ingenium engine and a little more chassis flair, the Land Rover Discovery Sport would be a full-marker; that's how much of a step up from the Freelander it is. While it might be all change at JLR at the moment, some things still hold true - so if we may be permitted to clumsily sign off with an ancient Land Rover marketing slogan, the Disco Sport is the best (compact) 4x4xfar.

Alternatives:

BMW X3: no seven-seat option, firmer ride and not as attractive as the Discovery Sport. Excellent chassis and choice of six-cylinder engines, though.

Lexus NX 300h: oddball hybrid rival with striking exterior. Two-stage regenerative brakes feel horrid and despite Lexus' assertions, this is no sports SUV either.

Range Rover Evoque: sibling rivalry at its best. Majors on kerb appeal over practicality (it's a five-seater only). Sells in the legions. We prefer the fresher Land Rover but plenty will opt for the Evoque instead.


Matt Robinson - 24 Aug 2015









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2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport. Image by Land Rover.2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport. Image by Land Rover.2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport. Image by Land Rover.2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport. Image by Land Rover.2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport. Image by Land Rover.

2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport. Image by Land Rover.2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport. Image by Land Rover.2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport. Image by Land Rover.2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport. Image by Land Rover.2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport. Image by Land Rover.



2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport. Image by Land Rover.
 

2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport. Image by Land Rover.
 

2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport. Image by Land Rover.
 

2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport. Image by Land Rover.
 

2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport. Image by Land Rover.
 

2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport. Image by Land Rover.
 

2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport. Image by Land Rover.
 

2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport. Image by Land Rover.
 

2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport. Image by Land Rover.
 






 

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