What’s hot: Real on-road presence, flexible interior, drives exceptionally well.
What’s not: Some interior trims cheapen the feel; inadequate outward adjustment for the driver’s exterior mirror.
X-FACTOR: The new darling of Chapel Street and Double Bay; handsome lines and an outstanding all-rounder both on-road and off.
TD4: 110kW/400Nm 2.2 litre turbo-diesel (not tested)
SD4: 140kW/420Nm 2.2 litre turbo-diesel
Si4: 177kW/340Nm 2.0 litre petrol (not tested)
6spd manual or 9spd auto for diesels (auto-only for the petrol model)
SD4 diesel (claimed): 6.1 l/100km (manual); 6.3 l/100km (auto) | tested: 8.7 l/100km
Si4 petrol (claimed): 8.0 - 8.3 l/100km | (not tested)
When launched back in 1997, the Freelander broke new ground for Land Rover, taking the brand into a nascent new market - the mid-size SUV segment.
And while that Mk I and, later, the Mk II version, attracted new buyers to the brand, those first Freelanders also generated a heap of controversy around reliability and build quality - certainly in the early days of the first version.
Now enter the Freelander II’s replacement: the premium new Discovery Sport.
It arrives in Australian dealer showrooms next month, and this is a very interesting car.
Top-spec Japanese and Korean small SUVs are also in danger of feeling some sales pain, such is its pricing.
The big news for buyers in this segment is that an optional third-row of two fold-away seats is available - something the Germans can’t match.
Land Rover calls it a “5 + 2 system” - rather than seven seats - and while the two positions are adequate for kids, especially with the second-row seats pushed forward, adults wouldn’t want to go very far sitting there.
Two excellent turbo-diesels and a petrol engine are on the menu; the two model-dependent transmission choices are a six-speed manual and nine-speed automatic.
Pricing kicks off at $53,300 for the manual TD4 diesel versions and tops out at $69,000 for the automatic SD4 HSE Luxury.
- Leather upholstery, eight-way electric front seats
- 8.0-inch colour touch screen with app functionality and satellite navigation
- 10-speaker audio system, five USB ports, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming
- Rear parking sensors, reversing camera
- Cruise control, lane-departure warning, automatic headlights and wipers
- Dual-zone climate control
- Seven airbags (dual front, side, curtain and driver’s knee)
- Selectable five-mode Terrain Response
- Hill-start assist, hill-descent control, trailer-stability control
- Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights
- Front parking sensors
- Automatic-dipping and memory function side mirrors
- Automatic high-beam assist
- 10-way electric driver-and-passenger seats with ventilation
- Air-quality sensor with automatic air recirculation
- 11-speaker audio system
HSE LUXURY adds:
- Premium leather upholstery
- Hard-disk navigation
- Illuminated aluminium tread plates and premium carpet mats
- 17-speaker Meridian surround-sound system with DAB radio
While some of the trim elements in the new Sport’s interior are not quite as premium as we expected, the cabin retains a classy up-market look.
The front seats have excellent hip-and-thigh bolstering with plenty of adjustment. That, combined with the height-reach-adjustable steering wheel, means dialling in the perfect driving position is a cinch.
The outer two second-row seating positions also have a bit of outside bolstering adding to the comfort and support for rear-passengers.
The two optional third-row seats are pretty flat and basic but they do have nice high head restraints for added safety.
One downside for some people will be that with the third-row seats, the spare drops from a full-size wheel to a space-saver.
Unlike a few of the smaller SUVs we’ve driven lately, the Sport’s second-row occupants have their own air-vents and vents can also be specified (for $1300) for the third row.
The entry-level SE comes standard with quality leather trim and eight-way electric adjustment for the two front seats.
The second-row seats have a 60/40 split and, for added flexibility, they can slide and recline separately.
Space wise, the new Discovery’s interior feels more spacious than its external dimensions suggest and there is no real feeling that you’ve in a compact SUV.
There are front-and-rear door pockets, six cup-holders (two for each row of seats), a big glove box, a small but handy bin beneath the centre arm-rest, an open bin beneath the centre stack, two map pockets behind the front-seat backs and a small dash-mounted open tray in front of the front passenger (just right for a mobile phone).
Cargo space measures as much as 1698 litres with the second-row seat-backs (and third row if they’re fitted) folded flat, bettering the space of the Freelander II.
The boot space behind the second-row ranges from between 479 to 689 litres depending where they are positioned (more again than the Freelander II’s 458 litres).
Other than the electric window-switches that, like the Evoque, sit atop the door trim rather than the more user-friendly arm-rest positioning, the ergonomics for the driver are pretty good.
There is a new eight-inch touch screen that handles all the car’s app-driven infotainment duties and it’s way better than the one that’s in the Evoque.
The screen also keeps the driver informed as to what the Sport’s seriously clever Terrain Response system is doing.
Option packages include laser head-up display, parallel and perpendicular parking, 360-degree surround-view camera system, dual-view touch screen and a number of black exterior design packs.
Some of them are not cheap. For instance, the 17-speaker Meridian audio system that comes standard on the HSE Luxury tips the scales at $5000 and the panoramic sunroof is $1800.
If you don’t want a white Sport, metallic paint will cost you $1300 and the fancier premium metallic paint comes in at a not-insubstantial $2600.
The Sport’s model-dependent alloy wheels range from 17 to 20 inches and they will set you back up to $2500.
ON THE ROAD
A Canberra-based media-launch drive program gave us the opportunity to sample just what the Discovery Sport could do around town, out on the freeway, on narrow, bumpy country tarmac, and on gravel roads and forestry tracks.
We also had the chance for some ultra-serious off-roading.
I spent the drive program at the wheel of the Discovery Sport SD4 SE diesel.
And this is an impressive car. While not quite the driver’s car that the BMW X3 is, overall, the new Landy is the more complete package.
Under the bonnet of the SD4 is a really potent drivetrain: 2.2 litres of turbo diesel putting out 140kW and 420Nm.
Matched to the nine-speed automatic (with paddle shifters), it is quick on road. Though there’s a little ‘turbo-lag’ if revs are low, it soon gathers itself and you can overtake quickly and confidently at highway speeds.
You will also ‘discover’ the Discovery Sport’s great roadholding, precise steering (it’s electric-assisted) and the feeling of on-road wellbeing that is imparted to both driver and passengers.
Gravel roads are taken in its stride and the new suspension set-up - with MacPherson struts at the front an integral coil-spring rear - works a treat.
The AWD torque-vectoring system is also excellent and on slippery surfaces such as loose gravel, the stability control is there when you need it, but without being too intrusive.
The nine-speed ZF automatic has paddle shifters which return control to the driver and add to the driving fun, especially when giving things a bit of stick on winding roads. The changes, however, are not as slick as some.
As well as some seriously steep off-roading, we also did a couple of creek crossings where the water was running pretty quickly following recent heavy rain.
Getting its feet wet is no trouble to the new Land Rover as it comes with an impressive 600mm wading capability.
The Sport’s off-road technology is class-leading in this segment, but there’s also no doubt that only a tiny proportion of buyers will ever test its full and impressive capabilities.
The standard hill-decent control is nothing short of amazing and no matter how rough and steep the hill is, you can sit back and do nothing but steer. The system does everything else.
You can however override it with the brakes or extra throttle.
Around town, the Sport is extremely easy to live with. There is good all-round visibility, nicely weighted steering and an 11.6 metre turning circle helps in the tight spots.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The new Discovery Sport is an impressive vehicle that should put to rest any lingering Freelander-inspired negatives about small Land Rovers.
In fact, this new car is a credit to the legendary brand.
The combination of handsome styling (I think it works visually much better than the Evoque), feature list, road performance and capability on any surface, makes a compelling case for this car.
Priced very competitively, and with the looks to match, its arrival next month should mean some sleepless nights for the German prestige brands.
For the safety-conscious - isn’t everyone? - the Sport comes with a full suite of passive and dynamic safety technologies. After already achieving a 5-Star Euro-NCAP rating, it has also just been awarded a 5-Star ANCAP rating.
Included are seven airbags - six inside and one outside for pedestrians.
In summary, the new Discovery Sport is a welcome addition to the Land Rover family. This is one we can confidently commend to you - we think you too will like it.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- TD4 SE manual - $53,300
- TD4 SE auto - $55,800
- SD4 SE manual - $56,500
- SD4 SE auto - $59,000
- TD4 HSE manual - $57,900
- TD4 HSE auto - $60,400
- SI4 SE auto - $59,000
- SD4 HSE manual - $61,100
- SD4 HSE auto - $63,600
- SD4 HSE Luxury manual - $66,500
- SD4 HSE Luxury auto - $69,000