► The Discovery’s smaller, cheaper brother gets an update
► Still available with seven seats and AWD
► New engines, new tech, new look
In among the hype of the new Land Rover Defender, not to mention the fashionable hit that is the recently released Mk2 Range Rover Evoque, it’s easy to forget that Land Rover makes the Discovery Sport. But remember it, as it’s just been given a significant mid-life refresh – the new lights are the biggest giveaway on the outside,but the majority of amendments occur beneath the skin, including mild-hybrid tech, new engines and a much-improved interior.
It’s not quite the cheapest route into Landie ownership – that honour still goes to the Evoque, to the tune of just £280. So what does the Discovery Sport offer that marks it out from the rest?
About that ‘Sport’ moniker…
The Land Rover Discovery Sport, despite the last term in its name, isn’t pitched as a sporting version of the full-fat Discovery. Instead, it’s a smaller and cheaper model, aimed at those who still want space and practicality but can’t – or don’t want to – stretch to the big boys.
On paper this makes it a rival for the likes of the Hyundai Santa Fe and Skoda Kodiaq, and to that end it can be specified with seven seats and a whole host of family-friendly features.
The changes for the facelift go beyond the cosmetic, which is good news. Under the skin, Land Rover’s essentially transplanted the front structure from its latest model platform – catchily named ‘Premium Transverse Architecture’.
That gives the Disco Sport access to JLR’s newest Ingenium engines, and these near-enough mirror the Evoque’s with choices ranging from a 148bhp diesel up to a 247bhp petrol. All are four-cylinder, and all bar the entry-level diesel come with a standard nine-speed automatic, mild-hybrid tech and four-wheel drive. A PHEV is on the way, but don’t get too excited about the mild-hybrid system – it’s there just to boost the combustion engine’s efficiency by a smidge.
Is it sporty to drive?
No, but that’s not really a problem for a big, family-focused SUV. We’ve driven diesel engines in 178bhp and 237bhp form, along with petrol engines putting out 197bhp and 247bhp. Despite the most powerful versions of each achieving 0-60mph times of 7.2 and 7.1 seconds respectively, neither of each felt fast.
The petrol’s much quieter, smoother and more refined than the diesel, but its exceptional thirst (official combined fuel economy is just 30.5mpg, and we saw figures in the late teens) means that the oil-burners are the ones to go for. They’ve got plenty of shove in the mid-range, and despitebeing quite vocal under hard acceleration,it settles down to a chilled-out thrum on the motorway.
Land Rover’s nine-speed auto helps the cruising manners but hinders the car round town, where it’s constantly jumping between gears yet rarely seems to be in the correct one.
The Sport’s quite well-mannered when you press on, with strong grip levels and really nicely-weighted and accurate steering. There’s too much body movement to call it fun, but this Discovery doesn’t feel too top-heavy and can be hustled along country lanes with little fuss. At least the absence of a sportier Dynamic drive mode shows it’s not pretending to be something it isn’t.
One of the updates to the Disco Sport’s architecture involves the front subframe being solidly mounted to the body-in-white, making it 10% stiffer. The result of this means the suspension really excels in comfort and deals with roadundulations well– even on massive, 21-inch alloys the Discovery Sport is relaxing and absorbent.
Land Rover may be one of the few premium manufacturers that’s actually building genuinely comfortable cars without needing to resort to air suspension.
Can it still off-road?
Better than just about anything else in this class. Land Rover nearly always includes an off-road section on its media launches, to remind journalists that on the rough stuff is where it started out – and where it’s still one of the kings.
Making progress over challenging ground is as simple as setting the Terrain Response dial to ‘Auto’ and carrying on your merry way. There’s Hill Descent Control for steep downhills as well as Forward Progress Control – a system which aims to keep you at a set speed regardless of whether you’re going up, down or sideways.
Impressive approach and departure angles plus the option of clever camera tech such as the ClearView ‘invisible bonnet’ only add to the Disco Sport’s tech roster. It may never see more than a slightly muddy field but it’s certainly reassuring to know Land Rover still engineers its cars to conquer continents.
What’s it like inside?
The old model’s interior was getting so long in the tooth it was dragging its incisors along the floor, so here’swhere a large proportion of the facelift can be seen.
Having swapped the positioning of the air vents and centre touchscreen around, the upper dash now resembles the one used in the Evoque - and is all the better for it.
There’s Land Rover’s latest Touch Pro infotainment system, but in order to differentiate the cheaper Disco Sport from its Range Rover siblings it doesn’t get a twin-screen setup.
We could easily live without that, but what’s irritating is that the panel we get instead is vast, plasticky and rather unpleasant. It uses a lot of touch-sensitive buttons, which sort of offer the worst of both worlds – the lack of feedback you’d get from a touchscreen and without the configurability. The climate dials perform double duty as the Terrain Response selector, which is smart, but the whole thing’s prone to fingerprints and tough to use on the move.
You can also get wireless mobile phone charging and the optional ClearSight rear-view mirror for when rear-seat passengers or larger objects in the boot obscure your rearward vision. First seen on the Evoque Mk2, this displays an image projected by a rear-facing camera integrated into the shark fin roof aerial at the flick of a switch.
High-spec models also come with a digital instrument screen for the driver, while lower-spec models come with a hybrid mix of traditional dials and a digital screen in the middle.
Just like the latest Evoque, that comfortable ride is aided by wide, soft seats with plenty of adjustment. It’s worth seeing whether lower-spec models offer the same level of comfort, but the items on our high-spec HSE and R-Dynamic models offered this fantastic level of support – a feeling not too dissimilar to having a memory foam mattress topper fitted.
The third row of seats remains something of a token effort – adults won’t like it back there – but the middle row’s very spacious and comfortable, and in five-seat form there’s loads of boot space.
Despite the name, the latest Discovery Sport has swatted up it’s act by being a better luxury SUV than before. Judged by its own merits, it’s a pretty practical and comfortable car, but also a tough one to recommend. Practically speaking, most buyers would still be better off with something like a Skoda Kodiaq – it’s cheaper and roomier.
The Disco makes its case through remarkable comfort and impressive off-road skills, though demerits need to be applied for the voracious appetite it has for fuel.
When it comes to offering seven seats with a premium badge, though, it’s only really the upcoming Mercedes-Benz GLB that challenges the Discovery Sport – and it will be interesting to see how the two fare against each other.
Yet given the tiny size of the Sport’s third row we’d find ourselves gravitating towards the Range Rover Evoque, which is better to drive, higher-quality and has just enough space for four adults. The Evoque also offers that extra sheen of desirability – something the Discovery Sport trades in for its boxy practicality.
Those sat in the second row of seats will be thankful for the added space and you might enjoy a bigger boot, but there’s little else. The thinking persons’ Land Rover? Almost.
Land Rover Discovery Sport D240 AWD Auto tested