IT’S THE CHEAPEST SEVEN-SEATER WITH A LAND ROVER BADGE – THE DISCOVERY SPORT. And, unlike the odd-man-out Freelander it replaces, it’s styled to comfortably fit with the brand’s premium image, looking something like a cross between an Evoque and a Range Rover Sport.
It starts out promising, and has a certain ‘carpark presence’, however a lacklustre interior and frustrating automatic means it’s not all sweetness and light.
Thankfully, the punchy engine, cabin space and ability in the rough offer some balance to the ledger. When all is said and done, though, it faces some very stiff competition in the medium premium SUV segment.
Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
Price: $59,590 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 177kW/340Nm 2.0 litre 4cyl turbocharged petrol | 9sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 8.3 l/100km | tested: 10.9 l/100km
With swoopy styling, proper off-road ability and that sought-after oval badge, the Disco Sport is already proving its worth as the new 'affordable' Land Rover – you will have by now noticed a few of them about.
It is certainly appealingly styled.
But, of course, our job isn’t to look at it as superficially as that. Delve deeper and you find that it’s a fresh take on an old theme, with the same petrol engine found in the old Freelander 2 and plenty else shared underneath.
That said, there is a new auto, a new infotainment system, more contemporary styling inside and out, and the option of a third row.
It’s aiming to steal buyers away from the BMW X3 and Audi Q5 in the medium premium-segment SUV market, which, we think, is going to be a tough slog.
How tough, you ask? We took a base model petrol for a week to see.
Quality: While a comparison with its predecessor reveals a more contemporary design and better finish, it still lags behind the rest of the $60k SUV segment.
The dashtop is a one piece mould, which is good, but elsewhere the plastics are less than convincing. The centre stack and console are fashioned from a hard matte-grey which is easily marked, as are the instrument surrounds.
Some of the metal looks and feels nice, but areas like the gear surround have a cheap appearance, while the buttons used on the steering wheel can creak when operated.
Also, while various of the trim materials used have a high-end look and feel, there are obvious differences in texture and finish between some of the surfaces.
So, there's good and not so good inside.
Comfort: The Discovery Sport makes its claim to being the only seven-seat premium SUV in this segment, though with the Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe’s leap in quality over the past couple of years, that claim is looking less and less credible. Badge snobs be warned.
The space is impressive. With an extra 80mm over the Evoque, and a slideable second row, not only do front passengers have good accommodation, but the second row is also expansive.
Headroom is good for the middle row, but the optional third row is definitely reserved for kids.
Adults may fit for a short trip down the road, but it’s best for contortionists.
To add the extra two seats, the Disco Sport asks an additional $1990 and you can also add air-vents for the third row if need be ($1150).
For the versatility of carrying kids in the back seats, it’s worth the extra coin, but you will be limited to what ages you can fit them in as there’s no provision for fitting a booster seat with either a top tether point or Isofix points absent.
On the plus side, the seats can be split folded, which gives you more room if you're only carrying six people.
Equipment: For a base model, the Discovery Sport has plenty on board as standard.
Automatic headlamps, rain sensing wipers, grained leather interior, eight-way adjustable electric front seats, push button start, powered tailgate, dual-zone climate control, face level air vents for the second row, mood lighting and luggage cover are all there.
Also fitted is an eight-inch colour touchscreen (which could be higher resolution), a five-inch display in between the dials, Bluetooth with phone and media playing, two 12V power sockets, a 3.5mm aux jack, 10 speakers with 190W output, satnav with SD card mapping, and four USB ports.
Storage: The door bins are a good width and are quite deep, and the centre console has a bread-bin cover for the cupholders, as well as a small under-elbow cubby hole. Ahead of the gear selector there’s a small space, too, where you could store a wallet and a phone while driving.
The third-row seats stow into the boot floor, their headrests flipping up from a cavity at the top of the seats when deployed. Put seats six and seven up, though, and boot space shrinks to handle no more than a small bag or two.
All up, stow the third row and you’re greeted with 479 litres of space; fold the second row and a huge 1698 litres presents itself.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Press the start button and the familiar Ford-sourced 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine kicks into life smoothly. Despite the engine being a generation or two old, there's still plenty of life left in it.
With 177kW on tap and 340Nm, it will hustle to 100kmh in just 8.2 seconds and is eager to perform with minimal lag.
If only the ZF-sourced nine-speed auto was as pleasant.
It’s mapped a little strangely for a car with ‘Sport’ in the badge, occasionally snatching and jerking at lower speeds, and, at cruising speeds, can be too slow to kick down when you need to overtake or to accelerate out of a corner. But, not all the time, which adds to the frustration.
In speaking with some owners, they’ve said that it settles down over a few thousand kilometres (we’ll have to take their word for it).
Auto aside, throttle response and tractability are otherwise very good.
Refinement: Like most Land Rovers, option the Disco Sport with big wheels and it’s an invitation for increased road noise. Our test car, shod with 19-inch rolling stock, could be a little intrusively noisy on coarse tarmac.
The engine is smooth enough, though when you're really pushing it, it lacks the sparkle of a German 2.0-litre four.
That said, Around town, in the environment that the Disco Sport will spend most of its life, the engine stays quiet at low revs and, when stretched, goes about things with a nice-enough note from the exhaust.
Ride and Handling: Having the ability to be quite accomplished off-road usually brings with it some compromises, such as softer spring rates and roly-poly cornering. Land Rover's suspension team has ignored conventional wisdom and sorted all of that out.
The caveat is that these huge wheels aren’t entirely indicative of how a stock Disco Sport rides and handles. The ride is certainly biased toward European tastes, with a firm touch, yet there's little in the way of crashing or thumping, even on broken surfaces.
Those big black wheels also help it get around corners pretty well.
With an 80mm length advantage over the Evoque, the Discovery Sport feels a fraction more stable on the road, and when presented with some twisty stuff, it shows a good balance between ride comfort and cornering ability.
Based on Aussie tastes, most people will go for the larger wheels, but if it’s a nicer ride you’re after, you’ll need to exercise some self control in the aesthetic department.
Also of interest to note is that ticking the box for the third row removes any option for the active driveline (including torque vectoring) and active dynamics, meaning that the five seat version has the potential to handle even sharper.
Braking: 325mm vented front discs and 300mm solid rears provide a good feel underfoot.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - ANCAP’s star rating has been determined from the EuroNCAP test carried out last year.
Safety features: Autonomous emergency braking (Forward Facing Camera. City & Urban Emergency Braking). This operates between 5-80kmh providing a forward collision warning first, then collision avoidance up to a speed of 50 kmh. After that collision mitigation (reducing the speed of impact) kicks in.
There’s also Lane Departure Warning, Rear View Camera (Includes reversing guidance, hitch guidance and parking blocks) and parking sensors, driver and passenger airbags, driver's knee airbag, side curtain which covers the first two rows, auto locking and collision unlock system, and hazard lights under heavy braking.
That’s in addition to the standard ESC, traction control, roll stability control, hill descent, brake assist and distribution, and trailer stability assist.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Land Rover has a three year, 100,000km warranty in Australia. Roadside assistance is also provided, and worth noting is that this even includes assistance off-road.
Service costs: The Discovery Sport services are set at one year/16,000km intervals. Land Rover also recommends more frequent servicing if you’re heading off road.
Each Land Rover dealer has a different rate, so consult your local dealership for service costs.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Audi Q5 2.0TFSI ($63,210) – Audi’s medium SUV’s calling card is its interior quality, and its recent refresh only cements that opinion. But despite its dated appearance, it’s still a lot nicer inside than the Disco Sport and with a Golf GTI engine on board, it’s quite punchy too.
It doesn’t have anywhere near the capability off-road that a Discovery Sport has, but with a better warranty and nicer interior, it remains a good package despite its age.
BMW X3 xDrive20i ($62,200) – Put simply, the X3 is the ‘go to’ car if you enjoy your driving. Its steering feel and crisp turn-in combine with the grippy suspension to create an SUV that feels like a sedan on the road.
The 2.0 litre engine may not be as powerful as the Landy's, but it's more refined and with the brilliant ZF eight-speed box behind it, the power train is very polished.
Mercedes-Benz GLC 250 ($67,900) – Okay, the GLC is definitely more expensive but with its included equipment and an interior that feels several cuts above all of its competitors, its value for money is really quite good.
It has space, a good ride, plenty of refinement and enough grunt to keep up with the pack. Currently, it's the benchmark.
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
There's no doubting the Discovery Sport's chops when to comes to taking on the rough, and if excursions into the bush will be a regular activity for you and the tribe, then this medium SUV would be one to put on the shopping list.
For most buyers, however, a wheel will hardly hit gravel, let alone rocks, mud or sand. And that means that your options are far more open.
A big plus is the Disco Sport's flexible seven-seat interior, which is something family buyers will value and not a feature of the midsized SUVs from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
What the Germans all have, though, is modern interiors with far nicer build-quality. If you're spending plenty of time behind the wheel, you want it to be a nice place to spend time.
In isolation, the Disco Sport is not without its charms, but when measured against those key competitors, it falls a little short.
Our advice? Save up a few more pennies and have another look at that German trio.
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