► 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 with a sharper look, new engines and a much-improved interior.
It’s not quitethe 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 a little.
Is it sporty to drive?
No, but that’s not really a problem for a big, family-focused SUV. We drove both 237bhp diesel and 247bhp petrol versions, and despite 0-60mph times of 7.2 and 7.1 seconds respectively neither 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 it’s the oil-burner that’s our pick. It’s got plenty of shove in the mid-range, and though it’s really 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 it’s more than enough for a rapid B-road blast. The suspension really excels in comfort – 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 that’s where a large portion of the facelift can be seen. 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 but 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.
The second 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.
The Discovery Sport is a pretty good car but it’s a tough one to recommend. Practically speaking, most buyers would be way 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 still has enough space for four adults. The Evoque also offers that extra sheen of desirability – something the Discovery Sport’s never quite mastered. The thinking man’s Land Rover? We’re not too sure.
Land Rover Discovery Sport D240 AWD Auto tested