2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport Review: SE and HSE, off-road and on-road

We test the entry- and mid-grade Land Rover Discovery Sport models on- and off-road.
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The 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport takes everything we’ve come to expect of the British brand’s big luxury SUV and shrinks it into a more city-friendly package.

Having tested a range of variants at the launch earlier this year, we wanted to suss out which is the pick, so we recently took delivery of two different specification levels of the Discovery Sport: the entry-level SE and the mid-grade HSE.

Both were powered by the brand’s 2.2-litre four-cylinder SD4 turbo diesel four-cylinder engine, which produces 140kW of power and 420Nm of torque, and both were fitted with the optional nine-speed automatic transmission. You can choose a six-speed manual for either, should you wish, where many other brands don't offer self-shifters at all.

This isn’t one of Jaguar Land Rover’s new Ingenium engines – those will debut in the new Jaguar XE sedan instead. They’ll be more efficient than the current SD4 - which still lists fairly frugal claimed fuel use figures of 6.3 litres per 100 kilometres - and those new engines won’t do much in terms of a power hike, either.

From a pricing perspective, the SE starts at $56,500 plus on-road costs for the manual variant (add $2500 for the auto ‘box: so, $59,000), while the HSE comes in at $61,600 plus costs for the manual version (again, add $2500 for auto, $63,600).

The SE – as with all Land Rover Discovery Sport models – comes with autonomous emergency braking which operates between 5-80km/h, along with lane departure warning, a reverse-view camera, rear parking sensors, twin-zone climate control, an electric tailgate and “grained” leather trim on the seats.

Further standard goodies include auto headlights and wipers, 18-inch alloy wheels and electric front seat adjustment, and there’s also an 8.0-inch touchscreen media system with satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and a 10-speaker stereo.

The HSE gains xenon headlights with LED inlays, automatic high-beam assist, 19-inch alloy wheels, front parking sensors, heated and cooled front seats, front and rear carpet mats, colour mood lighting and an 11-speaker stereo system with sub-woofer.

As you can tell, then, you get a bit more kit for your cash if you go for the HSE, and it’s made all the better by the way the car drives around town. The ride quality is excellent, even on 19-inch wheels, with bumps and sharp-edged potholes dealt with commendably.

The steering is a little slow when you’re pushing the Discovery Sport through corners, but, in the urban environment, the response and weight of the steering is top-notch.

Where the light doesn't shine as bright is under the bonnet.

That existing 2.2-litre turbo diesel isn’t as refined as the likes of a 20d from BMW or a 2.0 TDI from Audi, and it can be laggy when you’re driving in traffic – particularly when it comes to the stop-start system re-firing. It’s also grumbly at a standstill, where rival cars’ engines don’t vibrate and rumble.

It makes up for those issues by way of the nine-speed automatic gearbox, which offers smooth, intuitive shifts whether you’re pushing the car hard on the open road, or mixing it with traffic on congested city streets.

When it comes to getting out of the urban environment, you can access the Land Rover Terrain Response system that has four preset modes for different surfaces: mud ruts; grass, gravel, snow; sand; and normal.

Land Rover claims the car is capable of coping with “challenging off-road terrain”, which is partly courtesy of its 212mm of ground clearance. But it doesn’t have the best approach and departure angles (25 and 21 degrees, respectively) and while the lower trim at the front can be removed if needed, you’re bound to scrape if you don’t pull it apart before playing,

While the lower air splitter was undoubtedly problematic, the tyres were the biggest detractor from our off-road experience. Over muddy surfaces they clogged up almost instantly, robbing the car of any grip. That’ll happen, when you take a car on 19-inch alloys with road-focused tyres off road.

While the permanent all-wheel drive system is witty and quick-thinking on dirt and gravel, and it apportions power nicely up steep, scrabbly climbs, it stumbles on the mud, too. And if you want to tackle any serious off-roading, the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk – which has a low-range transmission and a rear differential lock – is by far the better option.

The interior of the Discovery Sport is a classy and sophisticated place to be, with nice textured materials throughout and comfortable leather-trimmed seats.

The Discovery Sport's InControl media system is brilliantly simple to use, and amazingly clear in terms of its display. It offers easy usability through its colourful, high-resolution menu system that is concise and simple to learn.

The navigation system in particular is great, and while it doesn’t have a rotary dial controller to help make things a bit easier to input on the move, the voice control system is a lifesaver.

Staying connected in or out of town is easy through the simple-to-setup Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and the clarity of the stereo is excellent, even if it’s not the more desirable (and expensive) 17-speaker Meridian option. While the media system is hard to fault, it’s a shame the driver information screen between the dials can't match the crispness.

One of the most impressive aspects of the interior isn’t the fact you can have the car with five or seven seats – indeed, we had the SE with five and the HSE with seven. There is between 479 and 689 litres depending on where the second row seats are slid to (when the third-row seats are stowed), and there’s 1698L of luggage room with the second row folded. With all seven seats up (if equipped), there’s very little room.

If you’re into the Discovery Sport because of those extra two chairs (which cost $1990), don’t think this is a proper three-row SUV like the bigger Disco, think again. Those two rear seats are only good for tiny kids, despite the fact that the second row slides fore and aft.

As well as that, the number of charge points that Land Rover has built in to the car is commendable. There are three USB sockets in the front, two in the second row and two in the third row, along with three 12-volt plugs.

Space is good through the cabin, but we found the stepped floor under the front seats could impede leg room for taller drivers.

In terms of ownership, Land Rover offers a three-year/100,000km warranty on all of its models, but there’s no capped-price service program to speak of, which could be enough to make some buyers think twice.

This is a thoughtful SUV, which is well presented and reasonably well equipped. With better (off-road-worthy) tyres we’re sure it’d be a menace in the rough stuff, too.

That said, it is let down by a diesel engine that isn’t at the cutting edge in terms of refinement or frugality, and we can’t wait for the new Ingenium engine to be offered in the Disco Sport.