Land Rover has a funny knack of releasing hugely popular models when it needs to most. When the spreadsheet doesn’t seem to read so well, the engineering and design teams pull out successful models like the original Discovery and Discovery 3. Another two good examples are the platform-sharing Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover Discovery Sport.
Now is the time that Land Rover needs another champion – a fiscal fighter to help balance the ledger. Lots of hope is placed upon the shoulders of the new Defender, naturally. However, there needs to also be sales growth across the broader, high-volume market. The 2020 Land Rover Discovery Sport needs to do well for the company's sake.
It's not a new model; this is a facelift to the Discovery Sport we already know. Although, there is a significant amount of work done to Land Rover’s baby SUV, making the update somewhat closer to an all-new model than the usual midlife nip and tuck.
Firstly, and most importantly, it now sits atop Land Rover’s new platform: called Premium Transverse Architecture (PTA) and lending its suitability to more compact designs with east-west engines and transaxles.
This new platform is shared with the Range Rover Evoque, and will pave the way for all manner of future electrification. It yields a body that is 10 per cent stiffer, also. While the bonnet, tailgate and roof carry over from before the facelift, every other panel is new.
To be blunt, such a heavy facelift was required for the Discovery Sport to keep pace with fast-moving and fresh-faced competition: BMW's X3 and Audi's Q5 are relatively new arrivals, and add to the ferocity of competition exhibited by Volvo’s XC60, Mercedes's GLC and Lexus’s NX. Don’t forget internal competition, either, offered by the Jaguar F-Pace and Range Rover Evoque.
There’s new metal under the bonnet as well, with Land Rover’s latest turbocharged 2.0-litre 'Ingenium' petrol and diesel engines making up the range. We’ve got the most potent: a P250 petrol donk that makes 184kW at 5500rpm and 365Nm at 1400–4500rpm. Note the broad range of torque, which is mildly aided by the 48V mild-hybrid belt-alternator-starter system.
All Discovery Sports have an all-wheel-drive system with off-road ability and a front-drive bias, through a ZF nine-speed automatic torque converter gearbox.
The range starts with the P200 S at a price of $60,500. Considering $56,595 would get you into a TD4 SE back in 2019, the initial pricing hurdle of getting into the Disco Sport has jumped by a not inconsiderate four-large.
It’s offset, however, by some sound improvements and inclusions. Most notably, the interior has been in the firing line. The third row is now standard fare, as is the ‘Activity Key’ bracelet, which will be handy for those adventurous types.
We’re sitting a few rungs above on the ladder, however. The P250 R-Dynamic SE yields a starting price of $71,232. We’ve got over $11,000 worth of options, making this an $82,312 proposition before on-road costs.
Those guilty of ramping up the price are: Namib Orange metallic paint ($2020), Technology Pack ($1640), Black Exterior Pack ($1590), gloss-black 20-inch wheels ($1300), black contrast roof ($920), keyless entry ($900), heated electric memory front seats ($810), privacy glass ($650), 360-degree surround camera ($500), digital radio ($400) and third-row cooling vents ($350).
Standard kit for this specification includes LED headlights with automatic function (and high beam), automatic wipers, powered boot, front and rear recovery eyes, and heated, power-folding mirrors.
There's more standard kit for the interior: Terrain Response 2 with All Terrain Progress Control, 12-way electric memory front seats trimmed in suedecloth and Luxtech, leather steering wheel, two-zone climate control with second-row vents, digital driver display, and 10.0-inch infotainment (with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and navigation).
While it's already kind of superseded by the new Pivi Pro unit in the 2020 Defender, the Discovery Sport's Touch Pro infotainment display is sharp, fast and easy to use. It has a real letterbox aspect ratio to it, which perhaps doesn't work as well for viewing maps and navigation, but has a pleasing aesthetic. Don't forget, you can port all kinds of information into the digital driver's display, even a full-sized map.
Safety is strong for the 2020 Land Rover Discovery Sport, along with associated advanced driving aids. Standard for this SE specification is high-speed emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, driver-condition monitor, lane-keep assist, front and rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, rear camera, traffic sign recognition and adaptive speed limiter.
Our $1640 Technology Pack includes a head-up display, solar-attenuating windscreen, 'ClearSight' interior rear-view mirror and a wireless charging pad. Throw in the $500 surround-view camera option (which also has ground view and virtual see-through bonnet display modes), and this Discovery Sport leaves few technology boxes unticked.
The interior is overall a very pleasant design, with blacked-out air-conditioning and steering wheel controls that keep buttons to a minimum. The very soft-touch dashboard, with a diamond-pattern texture, feels more Range Rover than Land Rover, and ties in with the cream seats nicely.
While these seats certainly look the business and proved to be a nice mix of comfort and support, having them come into contact with anything but clean clothing and skin is a recipe for disaster. The suedecloth in particular picks up marks and grime quite happily, and doesn't wipe clean like leather or other fabrics would. Instead, you need to painstakingly dab it clean with special cleaners and microfibre cloth. Maybe that's alright for an occasional-use sports car. But a family-sized SUV with off-roading pretensions? No thanks.
Seating material aside, the Discovery Sport's interior proved to be comfortable, spacious, and practical enough across the front two rows. There's 25 per cent more stowage space littered throughout the cabin, with a bigger centre console the most notable upgrade. Door bins have been redesigned, as well.
The third row is now standard across the range, with Land Rover calling the Discovery Sport a 5+2 instead of a true seven-seater. It’s lacking the physical dimensions to offer genuine adult space in the rearmost row, but does work as an occasional seat or for kids. That third row folds down into the floor when not in use, giving you 754L of space. When up, that space reduces to 157L.
The second row slides to help appropriate space, and has a 40/20/40 split for some additional versatility.
The first big driving impression in this Disco Sport is the steering feeling particularly sharp. The steering ratio is noticeably fast, as is the off-centre response. The ride, with steel springs at each corner and no dynamic adjustment, is on the money for a premium family SUV.
Bumps are absorbed with smooth control, especially considering the 20-inch hoops we are riding on. Body control is well reined in also, making the Discovery Sport surprisingly fun to bash through some corners. The near two-tonne SUV's general sense of refinement is improved by an impressively quiet driveline, which gives credence to the Discovery Sport's high-end pretensions.
The biggest disappointment with this driveline is that despite being a new engine with supposedly fuel-saving mild-hybrid technology, it is a thirsty operator. This is especially evident around town, where most Discovery Sports will spend most of their time. Our average fuel consumption figure worked out to be around 13.1 litres per 100km – a far cry from the claimed 8.1L/100km on the combined cycle.
The engine has a sometimes strange relationship with the nine-speed ZF automatic gearbox. Four driven wheels means there's never an issue with putting down the power, but gears are held at high revs around town in between long stints of near-idle cruising. Throttle response can feel laggy at times, as well. While that's a nice trait for off-roading, you need to recalibrate your right foot a little when driving around town.
Stop-start technology, often made smoother (but never seamless) with mild-hybrid technology, isn't particularly refined with this Discovery Sport. Shut-off only lasts a short period before kicking back in, limiting the amount of actual fuel that is saved. And if you request brisk acceleration at the wrong time, the delay can be frustrating. When combined with the automatic hill-hold function, it can only get worse.
The cost of servicing is covered through Land Rover's pre-paid service plans, which come in at $1950 for the first 100,000km or 60 months of ownership. Costs can increase from that point, because service intervals are set through driving habits and conditions rather than kilometres covered or time spent. So, your servicing costs could increase from that low starting point.
Land Rover's warranty is on the scant side, especially when you compare it to most other manufacturers: only three years and 100,000km. Amongst the more premium end of town, Mercedes-Benz's recent adoption of a five-year warranty offering puts other brands like Land Rover on notice to improve their own warranty credentials, outside of the promotional five-year terms offered in limited-run bursts.
While it's got a flawed driveline, the big investment of updates that Land Rover has pumped into the Discovery Sport for 2020 yields good dividends. Mostly, it's the interior and the technology that have benefitted. While the ride and refinement are improved, the driveline calibration and heavy fuel consumption are the biggest letdowns.
And don't forget, the Discovery Sport keeps a cool ace of actual off-road ability up its sleeve.