The Discovery Sport has been a strong weapon in the Land Rover arsenal since it was first released. Here we review the SD4 HSE in five-seat guise to see if it can still cut it with the segment leaders.
The 2018 Land Rover Discovery Sport SD4 HSE sits in a crowded, competitive and growing segment – which makes success an even rarer commodity than it might otherwise have been. The Discovery Sport HSE is yet another model variant in a crowded Land Rover portfolio too.
Remember the simple old days? Defender and Range Rover? Now we have Vogue, Sport, Velar, Discovery, Discovery Sport, Evoque and – take a breath – Defender replacement finally on its way. If you reckon there isn’t a Land Rover product to suit your tastes, you’re off your rocker then.
The Discovery Sport is an interesting one for the British brand, though. Despite segment-leading off-road chops and design quality, the Freelander never really made the impact it had hoped to have, and as such, the clean-sheet approach was used for the Discovery Sport. The mid-size segment, especially at the luxury end, is no easy win, I can assure you of that.
What we have here then is the HSE specification, with the most powerful diesel engine, the 177kW turbocharged four-cylinder. There’s 500Nm on offer, a 0–100km/h time of 7.5 seconds, and an ADR fuel claim of 6.4L/100km on the combined cycle. We saw 8.1L/100km over our week of testing. Weighing in at 1896kg in five-seat configuration as tested, the Disco Sport will tow 2200kg – perfect for the active family that has jetskis or dirt bikes in the garage.
The 2.0-litre, four-cylinder oiler is backed by a nine-speed automatic transmission and AWD, with the full suite of Land Rover off-road driving modes and electronic safety aids. Pricing for this trim grade and engine combo starts from $71,355 before on-road costs, and as always there’s a list of options fitted to our test vehicle.
Read the pricing and specification guide for the full breakdown of model variants and starting prices. Few buyers end up with an off-the-shelf Land Rover product, though, as options are frequently the name of the game.
Those options include: dynamic exterior ($4180), dynamic HSE interior ($2920), adaptive cruise control with queue assist and intelligent emergency braking ($1440), blind-spot monitor and reverse traffic detection ($1210), lane-keep assist and driver condition monitor ($960), surround camera system ($940), connect pack including InControl Apps and WiFi hotspot ($720) and InControl Protect ($490).
That brings the total to $84,215 before on-road costs. No, this HSE isn’t cheap, but then you could get away with not ticking all those options boxes as well. Wouldn’t feel quite as premium then, though, would it?
On that subject, the external styling does look premium, and punters in general are impressed by the move away from square, sharp edges and by what the Disco Sport looks like, but the cabin feel and drive experience need to match that premium appearance to justify the price.
The cabin is an interesting conundrum. It feels like an ‘almost there’ execution of premium. By that I mean that it looks tasteful, and looks like it's well laid out, but if you compared it back to back with the most premium SUV in the segment, it would be close but not quite. We’re not doing that here, though, of course, so does it feel premium enough in isolation to justify the asking price? Almost.
The switchgear, the gauges, the mapping display and the general feel of the electronics inside the cabin look a little old and out of date. That’s not to say they don’t work well. They all do, and the systems are reliable. The general controls are starting to look old now, though, and there’s a sea of black trim inside the cabin as well, so it can look dark in there.
There are plenty of inputs and charge points for devices, but the console bin is tiny and we’d like more useful clever storage throughout the cabin. The cameras aren’t as clear as the best in the business, but they cover plenty of area and they are excellent in the safety they will add to the various driving disciplines the Discovery Sport is aimed at. The audio system itself is, as we’ve come to expect from JLR, exceptional with beautiful clarity in terms of sound reproduction.
Tested in winter, we loved the heated seats and the cooling function works really well too. There’s more than enough electric adjustment, and the seats themselves are nicely sculpted and comfortable. There’s enough room in the second row for adults, even with adults up front, so that’s another plus for this segment too. The second row affords excellent head room too, meaning the kids will be well accommodated even as they get taller, and there’s enough toe room under the front seats to be able to move your legs forward a little. The second row also gets power outlets and there are B-pillar-mounted air vents.
We also appreciated the flat load floor in the luggage area, and the remote seat releases are excellent and they work well too. There’s a solid, quality luggage cover, a 12-volt outlet back there, and the electric tailgate is way faster than some and provides quick, proper shelter from the rain if you’re loading bags or groceries in there.
Despite my comments that the cabin isn’t quite up with the segment leaders then, there’s still enough quality in the execution for buyers to be happy with the confines of the Discovery Sport, especially in HSE trim. Premium is about more than just fit and finish, though, and the drive experience is going to make up a big part of that.
Visibility behind the wheel is compromised by a pretty bad blind spot thanks to the thick A-pillars. This won’t affect drivers of all heights, but it did affect more than one member of the CarAdvice road-test crew. Once you’re up in your seat, though, you have an otherwise commanding view of the road forward – something Land Rover has always hung its hat on.
Straight up, the engine is a little less refined than we’d like. It’s got that diesel clatter we comment on, which is something that has largely been tuned out by most manufacturers. This particular diesel engine isn’t as quiet as we’d have expected. Once on the move, it’s quiet enough, though – it’s seemingly at idle where it makes the most noise.
My primary concern was with the stop/start system, which I would go so far as to say is unacceptable – especially at this price point. It's harsh (the Disco Sport judders when it shuts down and cranks back to life), there’s way too much lag (when you want to get moving again), and if you need to make a quick dash across a lane or into a side street, it borders on unsafe. It's simply too slow to start up and engage, and you need to judge your gaps accordingly. Concerned it was something to do with my pedal modulation, I asked two other CarAdvice testers to check it out, and sure enough, they reported the same issues.
For more than $80K, it needs to be better, it’s that simple. I jumped straight into a Renault Trafic from the Land Rover, and granted the Trafic is manual, but its stop/start system put the Disco’s to shame. Turn the system in the Land Rover off, however, and the drive experience is so much more enjoyable, smooth and predictable. Sure, you’ll get used to the laggy nature of it, but you shouldn’t have to.
Take a look at the relatively chubby tyres, even though the rims are large, and you’d expect a more cosseting ride than you get in reality. That’s more a criticism of our rubbish roads than the suspension system of the Disco Sport, though, and most buyers will probably like the firm feel it delivers into the driver’s seat. It’s certainly sure-footed, and that’s a plus in this segment.
So while the Discovery Sport is a platform that promises a lot – and delivers on some of it – it still struggles under the weight of the common Land Rover issues. Infotainment that is behind the leaders, a lengthy and expensive options list, and a diesel engine that isn’t as refined as we’d like.
It’s above average and worthy of consideration, there’s no doubt about that. It’s simply that on the back of so much quality Land Rover product over the past decade and a half, we’ve come to expect even more from the British manufacturer. Have a close look at the options list before you go specifying too many, and I think your Land Rover experience will be a solid one.