Land Rover Discovery Sport review
The Land Rover Discovery Sport is an upmarket, seven-seat compact SUV replacement for the Freelander
The Land Rover Discovery Sport is a luxurious compact SUV that’s designed to take on desirable models such as the BMW X3 and Audi Q5. Essentially a replacement for the ageing Freelander 2, the Discovery Sport is bigger and even more upmarket than its predecessor, plus it boasts a versatile seven-seat layout.
Externally, the Discovery Sport features a sleeker and more stylish look than the Freelander. In fact, with its rakish profile and slick detailing, the newcomer looks more closely related to the latest Range Rover models rather than the more humble Land Rover line-up. This theme continues inside, where you’ll discover classy design and plenty of top-notch materials.
Many of the Discovery Sport’s underpinnings are shared with Range Rover Evoque, but the adoption of an all-new multi-link rear suspension set-up has allowed Land Rover’s engineers to squeeze in the third row of seats. Also carried over from the Evoque are the tried and tested 2.2-litre diesel and the recently introduced nine-speed automatic gearbox, which is available as an option.
However, while this engine is durable, it lags behind the best in class for refinement and emissions – versions fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox emit 162g/km of CO2. A two-wheel drive eD4 model is due early next year, which should cost under £30,000 and promises to emit a more company car tax-friendly 119g/km.
On the road, the Discovery Sport feels composed and agile. The steering lacks feedback, but it’s fast and precise, helping you place the car with confidence. And while the low speed ride is a little firm, the Land Rover becomes more comfortable at speed. Even better, road and wind noise are well suppressed. The only weak link is the 2.2-litre diesel, which is gruff, particularly when extended. On the plus side, it delivers strong real world pace.
There are four trim levels to choose from – SE, SE Tech, HSE and HSE Luxury. All versions are well equipped, with heated seats, part leather trim, a DAB radio, Bluetooth connection and climate control featuring as standard.
Our choice: Discovery Sport SD4 SE Tech Auto
Land Rover has its own distinct design language, and the new Discovery Sport ditches the squared-off lines of the Freelander in favour of bold curves inspired by the brand’s other models. In fact, if you put the larger Discovery and a Range Rover Evoque into a computer program to create a hybrid of the two, you’d probably get something similar to the Discovery Sport.
The rounded nose is pure Evoque, while the clamshell bonnet is a traditional Land Rover touch. The headlamps feature crosshair-style LED daytime running lights, and the tail-lamps get a similar treatment, while the black wheelarch trim is another Evoque design cue. There’s a mix of body-coloured and black window pillars, while the roof subtly curves back to a high-set rear end.
As in the Evoque, you can personalise the Discovery Sport with a contrast roof (£500) and different wheel designs, while the £1,500 Black Design Pack adds a black finish to the grille, roof, exterior trim and 20-inch wheels.
Climb inside, and the Discovery Sport is pure Land Rover. The climate controls, dash and switchgear are all taken from the Evoque, but that’s no bad thing, as it manages to feel like a premium product with a robust edge. Go for the auto, and you get a rotary gear selector that rises from the centre console, although unfortunately the driver’s footwell is awkwardly shaped, so you might struggle to find a comfortable position for your left foot.
Land Rover’s infotainment system is the real highlight inside. The new eight-inch high-resolution screen has a user-friendly interface, with clear labels and a responsive touchscreen, while 3D mapping and simple address entry mean the standard sat-nav is a breeze to use.
The Discovery Sport shares many of its underpinnings with the Range Rover Evoque. However, there have been some major changes, including the adoption of a new multi-link rear suspension set-up.
However, while the chassis has been reworked, the 2.2-litre diesel is carried over more or less unchanged from the old Freelander. With 187bhp and a muscular 420Nm of torque it packs plenty of firepower, but it simply can’t match the best for refinement.
It’s a little gruff at idle and sounds harsh when extended. Even so, Land Rover has worked hard to isolate the worst noise from the cabin, and at a cruise the engine note subsides to a faint background hum.
A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, but the optional £1,800 is well worth the extra outlay if can stretch to it. Not only is the transmission smooth and responsive, it allows you to make the most of the available real world performance by keeping the engine revs in the less intrusive mid-range. Outright acceleration is improved too, as the time for the claimed 0-60mph sprint drops from 9.8 seconds for the manual to a sprightly 8.4 seconds.
While the engine isn’t the last word in refinement, the rest Discovery Sport is well up to class standards. Most impressive is the lack of road noise. There’s virtually no tyre roar and only the biggest bumps transmit a muted thump into the cabin.
The Land Rover’s relaxing character is enhanced by the composed ride. There’s a firm edge to the suspension at low speed, but the new multi-link rear axle comes into its own the faster you go, and most bumps and potholes are effortlessly smoothed out. That said, it’s a shame that the Evoque’s excellent MagneRide adaptive dampers aren’t currently available, even as an option.
On the plus side, the Discovery Sport feels agile and alert through a series of corners. The steering is extremely sharp and direct, allowing the Land Rover to dive through bends with a car-like eagerness.
And while there’s not much in the way of feedback, the electrically assisted set-up is precise and faithful. Combined with the high-set driving position and excellent visibility, it allows you to place the Discovery with confidence.
On the road, the Discovery Sport feels quite large, and while the view ahead is great, the standard rear camera and parking sensors are essential when reversing. At least the light steering means it’s easy to manoeuvre.
Body movement is also well controlled, plus there’s plenty of grip, even on the standard fit all-weather tyres. Finally, the electronically controlled permanent four-wheel drive system delivers confidence-inspiring traction, even in the slipperiest conditions.
As with outgoing Freelander and current Evoque, the Discovery Sport benefits from the same simplified version of the firm’s clever Terrain Response system. Simply choose between Normal, Mud, Sand, Rocks and Snow modes, then let the car’s sophisticated traction control system do the rest.
And that’s not all, because you also get a variable hill descent control, an impressive wading depth of 600mm, plenty of ground clearance and excellent approach and departure angles. When the going gets tough, the Discovery Sport leaves its compact SUV rivals floundering.
While the Discovery Sport is all-new on the outside, under the skin it has plenty of parts from other models. The platform is the same as the Evoque’s, as is much of the switchgear. The SD4 diesel is the tried and tested Ford-derived unit from the Freelander, so it shouldn’t spring any surprises, either.
The only real question mark is over the stability of the new infotainment system – although from past experience, Land Rover keeps dealers informed of software updates to ensure everything works properly.
Unfortunately, the brand’s dealers don’t have a great reputation – they finished 28th out of 32 in our Driver Power 2014 survey, which is 15 places behind Hyundai. A major criticism for owners was their poor value for money, although that should be addressed by the Disco Sport’s £499 five-year servicing deal.
The most obvious upgrade over the old Freelander is the inclusion of what Land Rover calls a 5+2 seating layout. Thanks to the adoption of a compact multi-link rear suspension layout, engineers have managed to create space at the rear for a third row seats.
The two individual chairs can be pulled out of the floor of the 981- in one movement, while a sliding middle row allows for easy access and increased legroom. Even so, adults will only want to sit in the back for short journeys.
With the rear most seats stowed the boot boasts a healthy 981-litre capacity – although this figure is measured to the roofline rather than under the load cover. Fold the rear bench flat and the available space increases to a van-like 1,698-litres. There are also a number of handy hooks and a 12V power supply, plus the option of an adjustable loading rail system.
Elsewhere in the cabin there’s plenty of useful storage, numerous cupholders and the availability of up to seven USB sockets. The adoption of an electric handbrake frees up space on the transmission tunnel for a pair of lidded storage boxes, while there’s a neat trinket tray set into the dashboard ahead of the front seat passenger. It doesn’t take long to realise a lot of thought has gone into the Land Rover’s family-friendly layout.
The Discovery Sport is a more upmarket machine than the Freelander, and that’s reflected in the price. Even an entry-level SE version will set you back £32,395, while the range-topping HSE Luxury model is a wallet-bashing £42,995. On the plus side, you do get a fair amount of kit for your money, with all versions getting heated seats, climate control, alloy wheels, Bluetooth connection and a DAB radio.
Less impressive are the Land Rover’s running costs, which are dealt an expensive blow by the continued use of the brand’s ageing SD4 diesel. Versions equipped with a manual gearbox emit a hefty 162g/km and promise 46.3mpg at the pumps, while auto versions claim and even less efficient 166g/km and 44.8mpg.
By comparison, a four-wheel drive BMW X3 20d features CO2 emissions of as little 131 g/km. A two-wheel drive eD4 version that emits 119g/km and promises to cost less than £30,000 arrives early in 2015, and will likely be the most popular choice for company car users.
There’s better news for private buyers, because our experts have calculated the Land Rover will hold onto to between 52 and 55 percent of its new value after three years.