The new Land Rover Discovery Sport provides numerous compelling reasons for being the best medium-sized SUV in the premium luxury class, but it’s also let down in a few key areas.
The 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport is the replacement for the Freelander 2, a vehicle that has served its purpose as a utilitarian and off-road capable SUV without ever truly challenging the likes of BMW and Audi for market share.
The Discovery Sport takes Land Rover that little bit further up the luxury ladder, though still below the Range Rover brand. Interestingly, it’s based on the Range Rover Evoque platform and there’s no doubt that it shares an exterior design similarity with its much-loved but more expensive - and smaller - cousin.
The range starts at just $53,300, though that will be the starting price for a manual base model SE that is likely to prove rather unpopular and serve just as an attention-grabbing price leader.
The base model SE with the low-output TD4 Turbo diesel (110kW 400Nm) and a nine-speed automatic starts from $55,800, and is a more realistic entry price into the range.
Ideally, the higher-output SD4 engine with the auto’ transmission is the pick of the bunch (from $59,000) with 140kW and 420Nm of torque and uses 6.1-6.3L of diesel per 100km (depending on 5 or 7 seat configuration).
The nine-speed automatic is unbeatable in this class and helps improve the vehicle’s fuel economy and CO2 emissions. We also found the coupling of the diesel engine to the transmission a smooth experience and it’s a pairing that didn’t spend too much time hunting around for gears.
Nonetheless, this is an area where the Land Rover is behind the likes of BMW’s X3, which produces the best-in-class diesel engines. To put the two in comparison, the BMW X3 xDrive 20d has 140kW of power and 400Nm of torque but it goes from 0-100km/h in 8.1 seconds, about 0.7 seconds faster than the fastest diesel Discovery Sport.
Acceleration figures are largely irrelevant in this day and age, but even the in-gear acceleration (from say 80-110km/h) of the Discovery Sport can at times leave a little to the imagination.
The British brand is working on a set of new diesel engines that will perhaps help deliver more oomph in the near future. Unfortunately due to luxury car tax (and its 7L/100km fuel usage cut-off for the higher allowance bracket), the 2.0-litre petrol turbo engine is only offered in the base model.
Thankfully what it lacks in terms of outright performance, it makes up for in ride comfort, road-going dynamics and off-road capability.
You can sum up the Land Rover Discovery Sport’s off-road credentials simply by saying it’s by far the best in class. It’s not simply the 212mm ground clearance or class-leading approach, departure and break over angles of 25, 31 and 21 degrees respectively, but just how capable the vehicle is at traversing some pretty nasty terrain.
We pushed it through some 4WD tracks that no buyer would ever subject their Discovery Sport to and it came out the other side yawning. Its terrain response system and hill-descent control systems allow the vehicle to adjust to a multitude of different surfaces on the go.
As for its road-going dynamics, we found even on 19-inch continental tyres the Disco Sport provided a very supple ride over plenty of poorly surfaced roads. 20-inch tyres would be pushing it (though they do look good with the addition of a black-pack). This is an area where it outshines the X3, Q5 and XC60 (though the X3 is the better car when the going gets fast).
In urban driving conditions the Land Rover is well suited to family life with responsive steering and well-mannered capability around corners.
All that aside, there’s no doubt the diesel drivetrain is the Discovery Sport’s biggest weakness against its German and Swedish rivals, because from every other perspective, it’s the best in class.
Its true potential and unique selling point is the availability of seven-seats, making it the only SUV in its class with 5+2 seating.
Land Rover has stretched the Evoque platform ever so slightly and re-engineered the rear suspension to allow for the addition of a third row, offering two ‘kid-friendly’ seats that will bring a whole new buying group that would’ve otherwise had to go up to a full-size Discovery or a non-premium brand’s larger SUV choice for the same money.
It’s not a standard feature, though, but at $2,000 it’s not a huge optional asking price. Nonetheless, Land Rover will then try to charge an additional $1,150 for third row air vents, which is a bit steep considering the initial outlay.
Even so, this is where the Discovery Sport has so much potential, for those that perhaps don’t need more than five seats all the time and would prefer a smaller SUV but cherish the occasional practicality of the additional seats.
The third row is definitely not for tall adults. At a 179cm, this tester could indeed fit in the third row if the second row, which is on rails, is moved to its most forward position. You can technically seat seven adults in the Discovery Sport but no one except the front-row passengers will be comfortable for too long.
The third row is best used for kids between the ages of four and ten, as those requiring a full-sized child seat would be better tucked into the second row. Even so, you’ll still need to use booster seats for the younger ones sitting in the third row and that tends to limit legroom a little bit more. Really it’s the eight year olds and above that have no need for child seats that make ideal candidates for the additional seats.
For those that don’t need the additional third-row seats all the time, the amount of legroom in the second row (pushed back to its maximum position) is almost laughably expansive. There’s more room than some SUVs in the segment above.
There’s plenty of great features built in to the whole second and third row seating arrangement as well. There are so many fast-charge USB ports (up to seven) you’ll have trouble finding devices for them. There’s also a button that electronically releases the second row seats to fold down (you’ll still need to manually lock them in though).
In terms of boot space, with the third row seats in use, there’s barely enough room for a few 2L bottles of Coke. Thankfully, you can split the third row seats so you can have one up and the other down (for when you only have six passengers), allowing for a lot more boot space when needed.
With the third row folded completely flat, there’s enough space to fit a very large pram and whatever else you can probably think of. The middle second row seat also folds flat, allowing longer (albeit narrow items) to fit through even with two rear passenger seats still in use.
With both the second and third row seats folded flat you get a massive 1698L of space, which will make trips to Ikea that little bit less stressful. The transmission and drivetrain tunnel is also very unobtrusive, giving passengers in the middle second row seat plenty of legroom.
We found the seats in the first two rows to be comfortable, though the artificial leather in the base SE and mid-spec HSE is unmatched to the top-spec HSE Luxury’s Windsor leather, which is the same as that used in Range Rovers.
The highlight for the front-passengers is the new eight-inch infotainment system that delivers super-quick touch response and a variety of apps that can find you the closest car park to read out an audio book. They also play well with iPhones, allowing for incoming text messages to be read out while you drive.
Unfortunately, for the moment, the top-spec HSE Luxury misses out on the new and much faster system, due to its inability to run the 17-speaker meridian 823w sound system, an issue Land Rover promises it will fix soon enough.
The plus side for the those going for the top-spec variant is the sound system, which is insanely good and can take 10 CDs (the other’s don’t take the antiquated format) and comes standard with digital radio.
The centre console is a little bland, practical yes, but still bland. It’s almost a little too minimalist for its own good, which is arguably better than messy and full with unnecessary buttons.
On the safety side the Discovery Sport gets a big tick, not just for all its passive (airbag) safety, which even includes an airbag built into the bonnet for that drunk pedestrian waiting to cross a busy intersection, but also for its autonomous braking feature which is standard across the range.
The car works out if you’re about to have an accident and automatically applies the brakes at speeds between 5-80km/h. Land Rover says that in most cases it will actually help avoid an accident altogether when under 50km/h, otherwise it will help limit its impact.
The pick of the range is the SD4 HSE diesel with the auto’ ($63,600). For this you get plenty of standard kit (read our Land Rover Discovery Sport pricing & specifications article for a complete breakdown of features per variant).
The top-spec’s Windsor leather and Meridian sound system is worth the extra $5,400 asking price if you must have the best audio system and can’t live without the soft leather, but that’s unlikely to persuade too many people.
The options list is extensive and unfortunately somewhat prohibitive and typical of premium brands. If you desire any other colour but white, that’ll be at least $1,300 and likely $2,600 for the one you actually want. It’s likely you’ll end up spending at least $6,000 on options, if not just for the premium colour and seven seats, plus perhaps privacy glass and the panoramic sunroof.
Overall, if outright performance isn’t your thing, there’s absolutely no reason to not have the Discovery Sport on your shopping list. Its seven-seat availability as well as good looks, practical interior and on and off-road ability makes it the best in class for family conscious buyers.
Our rating of 9/10 is purely for the SE and HSE variants based on their family-friendly nature and standard kit, the HSE Luxury would be 8/10.
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