The skinny: Stepping in for the blocky Freelander, Land Rover’s Discovery Sport is plusher, softer inside, and with more technology inside and underneath.
But none of that softness shows shows off the beaten path, where the Discovery Sport is able to put almost every other medium SUV to shame.
Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
Price: $59,000 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 140kW/420Nm 2.2 litre turbo-diesel | 9 spd auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.1 l/100km | tested: 8.3 l/100km
‘It’s a Land Rover, Jim - but not as we know it’
If the new Discovery Sport was uncovered light years from earth, that’s how the conversation would start. That bold DISCOVERY script across the bonnet might make you think you’re looking at Land Rover’s big off-road hauler, but in fact you are not.
Instead the ‘Sport’ suffix denotes this as a new chapter for the legendary British 4x4 brand. Replacing the Freelander, it comes with a suite of family-friendly features but loses none of the capability to tackle a dirty weekend away.
The Discovery Sport range opens with the SE, moving up to the luxurious HSE, and finishing with the full-cream HSE Luxury. Far from being spartan though, the SE comes generously kitted and is the vehicle we put to the test.
The SE is also the only model in the range to come with a choice of three engines; two diesel and one petrol.
Diesel models come with either a six-speed manual or nine-speed automatic. We took the high-output SD4 diesel auto.
Used as intended (that was our thinking, at least) the Discovery Sport had to suffer a week of city commuting, supermarket chaos, and suburban dwelling. Then, come the weekend, it was off to the hills for a romp in the mud.
Quality: Thanks to its minimalist but chunky design, the interior of the Discovery Sport looks very smart. Standard leather seat-trim is well finished with tight seams and stitching, and is matched by a similar covering on the dash and door trims.
A few plastic trims are a little less well-presented, the most obvious being the scratch-prone dull black trim around the rotary gear selector. The soft-touch dash facia wears a leather look, but isn’t quite the same finish as on the seats.
Those minor quibbles aside, there’s a firm feel to the assembly and no squeaks or creaks that we could find over a variety of rough terrain.
Comfort: Where the Discovery Sport wins friends is in its comfortable first and second row. Plush leather, supportive and comfortable cushioning and a decent range of adjustment options make all-day cruising a breeze.
Eight-way power adjustment of the front pews makes finding a comfy position simple. By adding the +2 seating option ($1990) the Discovery Sport also picks up a sliding second-row seat with centre armrest.
Seven-seat versions have to go without wade sensing (for deep water crossings) surround-view camera, adaptive suspension or active driveline and make do with a space saver in place of a full-size spare wheel..
The optional third-row seats are best kept for occasional use. A smaller seat with a high floor means younger kids will fit fine but by mid-teens anything beyond a short trip is less comfortable.
Equipment: Possibly the greatest interior innovation in the Discovery Sport is the fitment of seven USB power outlets throughout the interior. There’s one for each passenger and they’re located in logical, easy-to-reach places.
Now no-one need complain of a flat phone or iPod (or having to play "I Spy") again.
As well as that, there’s an 8.0-inch colour touch-screen which includes satellite navigation, 10-speaker audio, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, reversing camera, and off-roading apps.
It can be cumbersome to use at times - scrolling through long lists is a pain for instance - and it isn’t as neatly arranged as BMW or Audi’s click-wheel interfaces.
Rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control with speed limiter, powered tailgate, proximity key with push-button start, and dual-zone climate control are also included
Optional equipment fitted to this test car includes xenon headlights, panoramic roof with powered blind, +2 rear seats, and 19-inch alloy wheels.
Storage: With the third row folded flat there’s between 479 and 689 litres of boot space depending on where the second row is positioned. Fold the second row and you get 1698 litres of space.
Thanks to the third-row seating, the boot does without any hidden double-up storage, but the rearmost seats can be electrically released from the boot wall.
Around the cabin there’s a fat pocket in each door, lidded cupholders up front, a smallish centre console with sliding armrest, and a decent sized glovebox.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The high-output SD4 engine of our tester puts out a potent 140kW at 4000rpm and 420Nm from 1750rpm.
In and out of town the SD4 engine delivers strong performance. Typically torque-laden from low down, but also quite happy to rev freely when asked.
It isn’t stupidly quick but, let's face it, why would it need to be? Certainly in bustling traffic it has no problem darting into a gap or building steam for a freeway merge.
Cruising along at freeway speeds sees the Discovery Sport at its most relaxed. At 100km/h the tacho indicates a freakishly low 1400rpm in ninth gear.
Throw a few inclines into the mix and the transmission will seamlessly pluck a lower gear or two to bring peak-torque back into play.
Once away from the city limits we found the Discovery Sport, and its clever Terrain Response off-road assistance, far more capable than many of the soft-roading opposition.
Over the course of a day we went from loose gravel to unrelenting mud. By moving the Terrain Response from Grass/Gravel/Snow to get us to our destination, and then into Mud mode once we got there, we found the Discovery Sport almost unstoppable.
Depending on the mode selected, Terrain Response uses the centre diff-lock where required, adjusts the stability and traction control parameters and throttle response, while monitoring the car’s progress.
Doing this, we were able to get further up a boggy hillside fire-trail than mere all-wheel-drive alone could take us.
Refinement: A beautifully insulated cabin provides the kind of hushed calm that buyers will appreciate. There’s little in the way of road or wind noise.
The engine sounds and feels a bit old-fashioned, with more noise and vibration apparent inside the cabin at idle and low engine speeds than some modern diesels. Once speeds build, however, it does settle down.
Ride and Handling: Macpherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension provide plenty of on road comfort. Handling may not quite be the equal of Audi or BMW, but the Land Rover is incredibly close - all the more impressive when you consider its off-road credentials.
Off the beaten path there’s 212mm of ground clearance. By adding the +2 rear seat option, the rear departure-angle drops by one degree - hardly a big concern when the Discovery Sport can already head much further off road than an X3 or Q5.
Braking: Four wheel disc brakes with 325mm vented front rotors and 300mm solid rear discs provide the stopping force. The pedal doesn’t feature an off-roading long-throw, but is still nice and easy to control smoothly, a good balance for on and off road use.
ANCAP rating: 5/5 Stars
Safety features: All discovery Sport models come with seven interior airbags (driver and passenger front, driver knee, driver and front passenger side, curtain airbags for first and second row) plus a pedestrian protection bonnet-mounted airbag, ABS brakes including brake assist, electronic brakeforce distribution, emergency stop signal, lane departure assist, auto high beam, rear view camera, traction and stability control as well as trailer stability control.
All seats feature three-point seatbelts, the front and second row come with adjustable head restraints, with fixed height for the third row.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Service costs: Land Rover does not offer fixed-price servicing, and servicing needs may vary depending on how the vehicle is used. Consult your dealer for more information.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
BMW X3 xDrive 20d ($64,700) - On the highway, perhaps the most dynamically superior SUV around, strong engine and well-sorted suspension. There’s plenty of space inside too, and the iDrive infotainment system is hard to beat.
Although the BMW eight-speed auto is usually a strong point, it seems a little busy in the xDrive 20d. No match for the Discovery Sport off-road, but fuel consumption amongst the thriftiest in its class. (see X3 reviews)
Audi Q5 2.0 TDI ($62,600) - Audi’s mid-size SUV is starting to show its age a little inside, but that’s no impediment to what was, and continues to be, a fine package.
Audi’s off-roading prowess might be best limited to gravel driveways and damp roads, but on the road it shines with car-like handling. Not quite the power or torque of the Land Rover, but still competitive. (see Q5 reviews)
Jeep Cherokee Limited ($49,000) - Jeep’s range-topper is the sole diesel variant in the range. Like the Discovery Sport it features a nine-speed auto, but tall gearing robs it of any advantage.
A fraction less capable off-road than the V6-only Cherokee Trailhawk, the Limited nonetheless features an off-road mode selector that will still see it venture further into the bush than any premium German might dare to tread. (see Cherokee reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
A replacement for Land Rover’s ageing Freelander couldn’t come quickly enough. The good news we can report is that the Discovery Sport that takes its place is better than any of us would have expected.
The faults with the car are few: it lacks refinement at idle, the touchscreen interface can be fussy to operate - but the positives far outweigh the negatives.
A car with sublime comfort, decent and useful space, and the ability to venture further off-road than many would dare, is a rare thing.
It has cars like the Volvo XC60 and Audi Q5 beaten all-ends-up once it leaves the tarmac, and, unlike other premium mid-size SUVs, it can even be optioned with an extra pair of seats. A unique and very practical selling point.
Anyone shopping in this market segment would be wise to spend some time with Land Rover’s latest offering. It’s hard not to be impressed with the thoroughly well thought-out Discovery Sport.