The Land Rover Discovery Sport has found being a successful successor to the Freelander about as challenging as climbing a molehill.
Between 2005 and 2015, the Freelander (and Freelander 2) averaged just 729 sales per year in Australia, with a peak of 1178 in its last year. In the four full years since its 2015 debut, the Discovery Sport’s respective figures are 3458 and 4547.
Kudos to the LR marketing team for coming up with a more aspirational model name that links it to the company’s renowned big adventurer, the Discovery, though there are a couple of key factors that have undoubtedly influenced the positive sales trend.
There’s the handsome styling that is spun off the fashionable Range Rover Evoque, and there’s the availability of a third row that is extremely rare in the luxury medium-SUV segment.
A first major makeover for the Disco Sport is due here towards the end of 2019, and you can read our international-drive review here. Considering the popularity of this Land Rover, though, here we’re assessing the outgoing model’s worth as a potentially great runout option.
Land Rover is currently offering the MY19 Land Rover Discovery Sport SE (with either petrol or diesel engine) from $59,990 drive-away, and throwing in five years of servicing and warranty, plus the ‘plus two’ third row that usually costs $2100 and turns the vehicle into an occasional seven-seater. The deal runs until stocks last.
An SE wasn’t available for testing, so we have an HSE powered by the top diesel engine, the SD4. It's matched to a nine-speed auto.
For reference, the SE’s key standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels with full-size spare, 10-way electric front seats, 190-watt Land Rover-branded audio, auto high beam, rain-sensing wipers, electric and heated side mirrors, perforated grained-leather upholstery, keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, and electric tailgate.
For off-roading, there’s Terrain Response multi-surface settings, crawling cruise control and hill descent control.
The HSE adds notable items including fog lights, auto-dimming side mirrors, xenon headlights (standard on the Si4 SE as well), 19-inch wheels, 12-way electric seats with heating and cooling, air quality sensor, and an 11-speaker 380-watt Meridian system.
A mates’ trip to the snow also set up the perfect opportunity to revisit Disco Junior’s big-adventure credentials. With four occupants including driver, the rear seats would be redundant on this trip, though the 40-20-40 rear-seat configuration proved perfect before we had even set off.
With no roof pod or ski racks as a snow-bunny owner would undoubtedly fit to their Land Rover, folding the centre rear seat ensured we could stack skis and boards in the vehicle, while allowing two adults to enjoy the greater comfort of outboard seats. Vehicles with 60-40 set-ups would force one adult to sit in the narrower middle section.
The Disco Sport’s boot isn’t massive at 420 litres, though it was sufficient to fit the rest of the gear, including some big bags. Rear vision was compromised, however.
City driving highlights a couple of issues we’ve experienced previously with the Disco Sport’s drivetrain, though the poor stop-start system is endemic across Jaguar and Rover’s Ingenium family range. As in models such as the E-Pace and new Evoque, the system is frustratingly slow to restart the engine. It makes for tardy getaways, which are compounded by the diesel engine’s low-rev lag.
The Land Rover, wearing 19-inch wheels in HSE guise, rides fairly firmly at low speed. While never unduly uncomfortable, it’s not as relaxed as you’d like for a high-riding family wagon.
Perhaps the Brits are just encouraging owners to get out onto the open road, because on freeways and country roads the suspension becomes pleasantly supple with a relaxing gait and a nice cadence to the damping.
Combined with the SD4’s smoothness and its 500Nm of reasonably chunky torque (power is 177kW), it makes for a pleasurable way to while away hundreds of kilometres.
It also provides good overtaking performance and decent punch up hills, especially when you consider we were asking it to effectively lug 2.5 tonnes plus – the 2060kg vehicle and four blokes with heavy ski gear.
That didn't help fuel economy. We averaged 7.7 litres per 100km overall, and even our best indicated consumption of 7.2L/100km – during long freeway running – didn't fall below the official 7.0L/100km.
With just a 54-litre fuel tank, the gauge was showing less than a quarter of diesel remaining by the time we had reached Cooma from Sydney, dashing hopes of delaying a fill-up until we were well on our return journey (and enjoying fuel prices lower than they typically are in ‘snow country’).
(Our experience of Jaguar Land Rover's Ingenium engines has also revealed they are fairly thirsty around town compared with many rival engines.)
Rear passengers at this stage, by the way, were offering mostly positive comments about leg room. They also appreciated the optional panoramic roof ($1890) that enlightened the cabin during the day and allowed stargazing at night (if that’s your thing).
Other aspects of the cabin make us look forward to the MY20 update. It’s not a fully premium presentation as we’ve come to expect from Land Rover products in most recent years.
While there’s soft, rubbery plastic for the mid and upper dash, as well as the upper doors, to provide both a sense of durability and quality, fit and finish isn’t great. Our test car featured three examples of trim misalignment, which while minor aren’t something you would find in an Audi, BMW, Mercedes or even a Volvo.
The centre stack’s uninspiring design and undersized touchscreen don’t help, either, even if there’s much to be said for the logicality of all the controls.
Physical buttons flank the touchscreen, which provide shortcuts for key functions including climate and front seat heating/ventilation. There’s also a rear camera button that I used occasionally to help spot approaching cars (with luggage blocking most of my rear view), though the poor quality and wide angle made it fairly unhelpful.
MY20 will bring an improved infotainment display in the form of the Touch Pro system that debuted on the Range Rover Velar. Land Rover is also switching out the rotary transmission dial for a more conventional gear lever.
A larger console bin wouldn’t go amiss, though the door bins are already usefully wide, and the front passenger gets a shelf to place their smartphone and it includes a USB port (with others in the console bin and cupholder section). On the chilly starts to each day’s skiing, the HSE’s heated front seats were the envy of rear passengers.
The driver can also enjoy handling that makes negotiating winding roads to snow resorts a comfortable affair, particularly the accurate and well-weighted steering. The irony of going to the snow, of course, is that you rarely get to drive on the white stuff. Even when there’s been a good dumping of snow, the road crews do a great job of keeping the bitumen clear for traffic.
We did try to venture onto a snow-blanketed track for photography, though our cautious approach to figuring out where to go left the Disco Sport stationary at one point, and then reluctant to get underway with mushy snow underfoot. Snow mode in the Terrain Response system or the Low Traction Launch setting didn’t help, but a quick reverse and then going forward in a different direction proved again how vital momentum is in off-road scenarios. We’ll put that one down to a bit of operator error.
The Perisher Valley car park reinforced the popularity of Discovery Sports in Australia, as well as other Land Rover models (including my favourite-looking Disco, the ultra-boxy Discovery 3).
It’s easy to understand the appeal of the newer, smaller member of the Discovery family, and if Land Rover can eradicate some of the blemishes with the MY20 update, the Disco Sport will be an even more attractive proposition.
Or, if you can live with those, then there’s a good runout deal to be had.