If you want a premium seven-seat SUV, you need to spend mega bucks. And, for Land Rover fans, that means pitching in for a Discovery.
Spotting a gap in the market, Land Rover discovered that a cheaper seven-seat Discovery could be a gold mine, and they were right.
The 2017 Land Rover Discovery Sport Si4 represents the petrol-powered entry level to Land Rover's seven-seat offering. It's big enough to accommodate seven, while also still capable off-road – a key for any vehicle wearing the Land Rover badge.
The svelte design follows a rising belt line that converges towards a sloping roof line to give the Discovery Sport the sporty look some buyers are after.
Like any Land Rover, a stack of design options are offered to further enhance the proposition and make the car that little bit more special.
Our test car was finished with the Graphite Pack, which includes 18-inch graphite alloy wheels, contrast roof and graphite exterior highlights – all for a reasonable $2160.
Inside the cabin, a recent update has added Jaguar Land Rover's new infotainment system called InControl Touch. In the entry-level, it measures in at 8.0 inches and includes function and speed updates over the previous system.
But, strangely, it doesn't come with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Instead, you need to download the InControl Apps, which then allow the infotainment to mirror and display smartphone features.
Shortcut buttons flank the infotainment screen and allow quick and easy access to parts of the infotainment system. Climate controls then sit beneath the screen with dual-zone climate control offered as standard.
The steering wheel sits nicely in hand, but the buttons located on the wheel feel very rubbery and cheap. They're virtually the same across the Jaguar and Land Rover lineup and bring the feel of the car down substantially – especially when some presses are not recognised and a second attempt is required before they work.
Storage throughout the cabin is excellent with a generous glovebox, storage within the dashboard, large door pockets and rear seat storage.
While the rising gear selector is cool, the space around it seems to be excessively used to house the selector. Perhaps a traditional gear selector would use less room and allow for extra centre console storage.
Safety is a top priority in the Discovery Sport with a five star EuroNCAP rating and a host of airbags that stretch all the way to the third row. There's even a bonnet mounted airbag to protect any pedestrians that step out in front of the car.
It also comes standard with Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) and a lane keeping assistant that will lightly steer the vehicle back into its lane. The lane keeping assistant is one of those annoying features you end up switching off because it often doesn't work as intended (that's not just limited to Land Rovers, though).
Being a seven seater, you'd expect there to be plenty of room in the second and third rows. Not quite.
The second row is accommodating, but adults will find leg- and toe room slightly compromised. The second row slides and tilts and includes a centre armrest – but the second row doesn't fold flat, which means you won't be able to load longer objects through the boot.
Third row access is limited to kids or very flexible adults. As an experiment, I tried climbing into the second row and from the passenger kerbside, access requires two seats to be folded and slid forward.
That means if you have a baby seat in place and you require access to the third row, the baby seat needs to be on the furthest seat on the driver's side.
Gaining access to the third row is via a narrow gap between the seat back and base and the C-pillar. Once in, there is very limited amounts of leg- and toe room. Slide the second row forward a touch and then there's even less legroom for your second-row passengers.
But, on the plus side, the cabin is very smartly laid out in terms of connectivity and devices. There are four 12V outlets, plus six USB ports littered throughout the cabin (including the third row) to accommodate charging of devices, plus air vents for the second and third rows.
While the Discovery Sport is offered as a five-seat vehicle as standard, the seven-seat option comes at a cost of $3400.
Cargo capacity measures 981 litres and expands to 1698 litres when the second row is folded and slid forward. With the third row erect, there's only a small amount of cargo volume.
Under the bonnet of the Discovery Sport Si4 is a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine that produces 177kW of power and 340Nm of torque, consuming 8.2 litres of fuel per 100km and sending torque through a nine-speed automatic transmission.
Unlike some of the more affordable seven-seat SUVs around this price bracket, the Discovery Sport features a full-time four-wheel drive system that constantly varies torque between the front and rear axles.
It also comes with Land Rover's Terrain Response system, which tailors torque delivery and stability control intervention as the car covers various surfaces.
In terms of off-road equipment, the Discovery Sport features a 25-degree approach and 21-degree departure angle, along with a class-leading water fording depth of 600mm and 212mm of ground clearance.
Our car was also fitted with Land Rover's active driveline with torque vectoring (a $1670 option), which allows the car to disconnect the rear axle to save fuel – reconnecting within 300ms. The torque vectoring system also uses braking to help keep the car tracking around a corner during harder driving.
Behind the wheel it's hard not to notice the Discovery Sport's 1800kg-plus kerb weight. It's especially obvious with the petrol Si4 engine due to its peak torque delivery occurring later in the rev range at 3200rpm. That means there is a slight dead spot on take off before the engine winds up and offers its full complement of torque.
As a result of this, you sometimes find yourself mashing the throttle to get the car moving. The nine-speed automatic gearbox also feels like far too many gears for this small turbocharged petrol engine.
At cruising speeds it's often hunting for gears and will rarely use the engine's torque to accelerate in a high gear over the preference of kicking down to a lower gear. It feels like a six-speed automatic would have suited this engine much better.
Despite the name, the Discovery Sport isn't the SUV you want to buy if you need a sporty passenger hauler. Its kerb weight lends to body roll and a heavy feel behind the wheel.
But, lock it into a gear manually using the steering wheel paddle-shifters and the drive can be rewarding on a faster road with sweeping corners. Steering feel is good, but not great. The electrically-assisted steering rack lacks feel about centre and can be vague at times.
Despite its shortcomings, the Discovery Sport is a great car to drive around the city. The engine is perky enough to nab gaps in traffic and its performance doesn't change a great deal when you load it with passengers.
Visibility out the front, rear and sides is good – but the quality of the rear-view view camera is quite poor.
With a starting price of $59,990 (plus on-road costs), the Discovery Sport Si4 represents good value for money, but don't be fooled. The vehicle you see here has a price tag of $77,940 (plus on-road costs). It's a reality with most Jaguar Land Rover products that you need to spend big on options to kit out lower models.
It comes with a three year, 100,000km warranty and 12 monthly, 16,000km service intervals. Surprisingly, servicing costs are very reasonable for the Si4, with a five-year servicing plan (or 100,000km) costing $1460.
If you are wanting to purchase a seven-seat car for your new family that looks the part, will travel off-road and last the family through to the kids getting older, the Discovery Sport is an impressive option.
We'd opt for the TD4 diesel instead, given its extra helping of torque and better fuel efficiency. It also betters the Si4's 2000kg braked towing capacity by 200kg.
But, be careful of options pricing. The sticker price on the base model is rarely what you will end up paying, so take that into consideration when looking at competing vehicles in the segment.