Land Rover Discovery Sport review
The Land Rover Discovery Sport is an upmarket, quality seven-seat compact SUV, and a very fine replacement for the old Freelander
The Land Rover Discovery Sport is a highly refined and classy family SUV, and feels especially sophisticated compared to the Freelander it replaces – there’s more than a hint of Range Rover here.
That’s actually the case, because the Discovery Sport is based largely on the Range Rover Evoque, using its chassis and much of its switchgear, but adding space to the package to make an SUV that’s better value for money.
As such, the Discovery Sport is one very complete family car, with room for up to seven (assuming the two of them are quite small), a very calming driving experience and the ability to really tackle the off-road stuff with expert ease.
The Land Rover Discovery Sport is a luxurious compact SUV that’s designed to take on desirable premium badged models such as the BMW X3 and Audi Q5. A replacement for the Freelander 2, the Discovery Sport is bigger and even more upmarket than its predecessor, plus it boasts a versatile seven-seat layout.
It 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 than the more utilitarian Land Rover line-up. This theme continues inside, where you’ll discover classy design and plenty of top-notch materials.
Despite sharing the underpinnings of the Range Rover Evoque, a key difference is the adoption of an all-new multi-link rear suspension set-up in the Discovery Sport that has allowed fitment of a third row of seats.
At launch the Discovery Sport’s only engine was the tried and tested 2.2-litre SD4 diesel carried over from the Evoque, although in September 2015 it was replaced by an all-new British-built 2.0-litre diesel unit, named ‘Ingenium’.
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For the time being both are on sale alongside each other, though the 2.2-litre is being phased out – and for good reason too. The newer 2.0-litre engine is lighter, quieter, more efficient and more refined than the 2.2. It’s available in two states of tune – 148bhp and 178bhp.
Transmissions are a standard six-speed manual and an optional nine-speed automatic. A front-wheel drive eD4 model is due early in 2016, which should cost under £30,000 and promises to emit a more company car tax-friendly 119g/km – while sacrificing off-road ability, clearly.
The Discovery Sport never feels less than 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, where road and wind noise remain well suppressed.
The only weak link is the 2.2-litre diesel, which is gruff, and especially so at higher revs. On the plus side, it delivers strong real world pace, but we’d still choose the newer 2.0-litre diesel unless there was a serious financial incentive to go for the older engine.
There are four trim levels to choose from – SE, SE Tech, HSE and HSE Luxury. All versions are well equipped, featuring heated seats, part-leather trim, a DAB radio, Bluetooth connection and climate control. Prices range from just over £30,000 to around £43,000 for the flagship HSE Lux.
Engines, performance and drive
Land Rover has worked hard to isolate the worst engine noise from the Discovery Sport’s cabin, and while the older 2.2-litre diesel unit is simply not as refined as it should be, the newer 2.0-litre diesel is very good indeed – at a cruise the engine note subsides to a faint background hum.
A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, but the optional nine-speed automatic transmission (£1,800) is well worth the extra outlay if can stretch to it. Not only is it smooth and responsive, it allows you to make the most of the available performance by keeping the engine revs in the mid-range where things are quieter. Outright acceleration is improved with the auto ‘box compared to the manual.
Most impressive thing about the Discovery is the lack of road noise. There’s virtually no tyre roar and only the biggest bumps transmit a muted thump into the cabin from the suspension.
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.
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That said, it’s a shame that the Evoque’s excellent MagneRide adaptive dampers aren’t currently available, even as an option. They’d take the Discovery Sport into luxury territory.
The Discovery Sport feels agile and alert through a series of corners, particularly for an SUV. The steering is extremely sharp and direct, allowing the Land Rover to dive through bends with an eagerness that belies its bulk.
And while there’s not much in the way of feedback, the electrically assisted steering set-up is precise. Combined with the high-set driving position and excellent visibility, it allows you to place the Discovery with confidence.
At times the Discovery Sport does feel quite large though, and while the view ahead is great, the standard rear camera and parking sensors are essential when reversing – that stylish rear screen looks letterbox shallow from the driver’s seat. The light steering means it’s easy to manoeuvre, at least
Body movement is also well controlled, and there’s plenty of grip even on the standard fit all-weather tyres; 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. Just 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.
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With two seemingly similar engines to choose from at the moment, the Discovery Sport range might at first appear confusing. However, soon the only engine will be a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel, which will be a staple in a range of smaller Jaguar, Land Rover and Range Rover cars.
So, while the 2.2-litre SD4 engine only comes in 187bhp guise in the Discovery Sport, the 2.0-litre TD4 is available with 148bhp or 178bhp. Both of the higher-powered variants can be specified with an automatic gearbox.
The lower powered 2.0-litre engine is branded ‘e-Capability’ and is manual-only, and despite the gearbox itself being pleasantly smooth to operate – if a little long of throw – it doesn’t really fit the character of what is a very refined, graceful family car. The automatic gives a more apt, fuss-free driving experience.
Specify the 178bhp 2.0-litre with an automatic gearbox and you’ll hit 62mph in 8.9 seconds, while the manual will take one second longer.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
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 over £30,000, while the range-topping HSE Luxury model is a wallet-bashing £43,000. On the plus side, you do get a fair amount of kit for your money.
Less impressive are the Land Rover’s running costs, which at launch were dealt an expensive blow by the continued use of the brand’s ageing SD4 diesel.
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The version still on sale with a manual gearbox returns 46.3mpg – meaning you’ll hover around the mid-30s in actual fact – and its 162g/km CO2 rating means £180 every year in VED. By comparison, a four-wheel drive BMW X3 20d features CO2 emissions of as little 131 g/km.
The introduction of the 2.0-litre diesel helps matters, with emissions as low as 129g/km from the manual 148bhp version, whose 57.6mpg combined economy rating should see 50mpg achievable day-to-day. Even the more powerful 178bhp unit with an automatic gearbox returns 53.3mpg and 139g/km, putting it in VED Band E.
And there’s better news to come, because 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.
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Insurance groups are between 28 and 31 depending on trim, which puts the Discovery Sport on par with its main rivals, the BMW X3 and Lexus NX. Considering this is a seven-seater, that’s decent value. Easy parts availability and top-notch safety features including sophisticated engine immobilising technology keep insurance costs down.
There’s good 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. That trumps the Lexus NX and is around the same as the BMW X3 and Audi Q5.
Interior, design and technology
The new Discovery Sport ditches the squared-off lines of the Freelander in favour of bold curves inspired by Jaguar Land Rover’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 wheel arch 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 per the Evoque, you can personalise the Discovery Sport with a contrasting roof (£500) and different wheel designs, while the £1,500 Black Design Pack adds a black finish to the grille, roof, and exterior trim, and 20-inch wheels.
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Inside, 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 the driver’s footwell is awkwardly shaped, so you might struggle to find a comfortable position for your left foot.
A high level of equipment is standard, including heated seats, part-leather upholstery, climate control, alloy wheels, Bluetooth connection and a DAB radio. That’s SE trim and it’s adequate, though we’d stump up the extra for SE Tech, which adds automatic lights and wipers, and a convenient electronic tailgate.
HSE trim adds full leather upholstery, electrically adjustable seats, a reversing camera, a panoramic sunroof and keyless entry. And spec up to HSE Luxury and you get heated and cooled front seats, rear heated seats and a natty self-parking function. In the upper two trim levels the Discovery Sport really does feel every bit the premium SUV.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Land Rover’s infotainment system is the real highlight in terms of ease-of-use, although the graphics aren’t the most cutting edge you’ll ever see. 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 remarkable dual-view technology that allows the front seat passenger to watch a movie while the driver is using the navigation is an option, too.
The Discovery Sport’s standard 10-speaker sound system includes Bluetooth audio streaming and good sound quality, and for £200 an 11-speaker unit with a subwoofer can be specified. However, the optional 17-speaker Meridian system offers remarkable volume and sound clarity.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
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 set-up, engineers have managed to create space at the rear for third row seats. (That said, the 148bhp e-Capability model comes without these chairs, to save weight.)
Where they are equipped, the two individual rearmost chairs can be pulled out of the floor of the boot 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 third row for short journeys – this is not quite in the Volvo XC90 league for space.
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With the rearmost seats stowed the boot boasts a massive 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 cup holders and the availability of up to seven USB sockets – so everyone can charge their smartphone at once.
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.
Add all that to the fundamentals of good passenger head- and legroom (for the first five of them, at least), and it doesn’t take long to realise a lot of thought has gone into the Land Rover’s family-friendly layout.
The Discovery Sport might look a little rear heavy in profile, but, in fact, this seven-seat SUV is shorter than the five-seat Lexus NX. It’s shorter than the Audi Q5, too. That’s testament to how clever its packaging is.
It is relatively tall, though that doesn’t really make it feel any bulkier from behind the wheel – in SUV terms, the Discovery Sport seems relatively compact, especially given its carrying capacity.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
The additional height compared to rivals endows the Discovery Sport with a feeling of space for all occupants – especially HSE models equipped with the panoramic glass roof.
The middle row comprises three proper seats, and although the middle chair is a little thinner, the middle passenger won’t feel hemmed in. All three get plenty of knee and foot space because the floor is flat thanks to clever packaging of the transmission tunnel, and because the row can slide by up to 16cm backwards and forwards. The relatively flat chairs are soft and comfortable.
Access to the rearmost seats is easy because the back doors open almost to 90 degrees and the middle row tilts forward in one easy motion to reveal a wide access. Clearly, room is limited in these two chairs, but they’re fine for short distances.
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The 981-litre boot is big compared to, say, he Audi Q5’s 540-litre space – though, again, that measurement includes the space above the parcel shelf too. With all five rear chairs down that goes to 1,698 litres, which gives us a fairer like-or-like size comparison: the Audi Q5 offers 1,560 litres on this basis.
All of the Sport’s space is usable because the chairs all fold completely flat, meaning the car is a dream for the regular visitor to Ikea. The remotely operated electronic tailgate of SE Tech models and above is very useful when loading, but even without that, the boot is very well thought out – from basics like a square shape and flush lower lip, to the myriad hooks and optional rail system.
Reliability and Safety
A five-star Euro NCAP rating tends to be a given these days with bigger cars, and sure enough the Discovery Sport scores five stars. What’s interesting though (and reassuring) is that in the occupant and pedestrian safety sections of the test the Discovery Sport scored higher than the Range Rover Evoque.
Standard safety kit includes nine airbags, electronic stability programme, two ISOFIX points in the middle row, automatic collision prevention braking and anti-lock brakes. What’s more, the standard all weather tyres combined with four-wheel drive mean handling is more assured in all conditions compared to many family cars – and the Discovery Sport is especially confidence-inspiring in inclement weather, thanks to the various settings of the Terrain Response system.
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While the Discovery Sport is all-new on the outside, under the skin it has plenty of parts from other models, so reliability shouldn’t be a big issue. The platform is the same as the Evoque’s, as is much of the switchgear. That said, the 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel is new, and so relatively unproven.
Other than that, 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 24th out of 31 in our Driver Power 2015 survey, which despite an improvement on 2014 is still some way from its 15th place 2013 finish. A major criticism for Land Rover owners was poor workmanship and high prices, although fixed price servicing deals can mitigate that.
The Discovery Sport comes with a three-year manufacturer warranty and roadside assistance package as standard, regardless of mileage. Thereafter the company offers an extended warranty, though the corrosion warranty lasts six years.
A pre-paid £499 servicing deal for five years or 50,000 miles (whichever comes first) on the Discovery Sport will help keep costs in check, and it’s transferable to other owners. Service intervals are 12 months or 16,000 miles. Land Rover’s UK manufacturing base means parts supply is steady and fast, while its extensive dealer and servicing centre network means you shouldn’t need to travel far.