Land Rover Discovery Sport D180: long-term test review

Final report: fuel economy aside, we’ve been impressed with our practical and upmarket Land Rover Discovery Sport

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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The Discovery Sport was used mostly for short urban trips during its time with us, keeping the fuel economy as low as the overall mileage. But running costs aside, it impressed with its practicality and a premium cabin finish – backed up by that renowned go-anywhere ability that only really comes with a Land Rover.

  • Mileage: 1,857
  • Economy: 28.5mpg

Our mission of discovery in the Land Rover Discovery Sport is at an end, but it felt only fitting that the baby Land Rover should get the chance to go out on a high with an expedition to meet one of its larger relatives. That’s what took us deep into proper 4x4 country, to the Land Rover Experience Centre at Eastnor Castle in the heart of Herefordshire, for a long and muddy goodbye.

Eastnor is one of nine Land Rover Experience Centres dotted around the UK where Land Rover customers can introduce their cars to the kind of terrain that the firm engineers all of its vehicles to tackle.

Over the years, Eastnor, nestled in the Malvern Hills, has lent its 5,000-acre estate, criss-crossed by miles of rutted tracks of various gradients and severity, to the development of a succession of Land Rover products. It seemed the perfect location
for our Discovery Sport to get together with the all-new Defender.

The Defender is a formidable machine that makes apparently effortless work of Eastnor’s trails. And yet the rough edges that characterised its long-serving predecessor are all but gone. On the road, the levels of comfort and refinement seem almost spooky when you’ve just witnessed its ability through the rough.

The challenging tracks that were open for the Defender were well and truly closed to our Disco Sport; it lacks the low-range gearbox, the adjustable air suspension and the all-round body protection that stop the Defender coming to expensive grief. But it does have that same Land Rover DNA.

Of course, people probably aren’t going to buy a Discovery Sport to regularly drive off road, but when asked to do so, it can. The proving ground has various formidable-looking obstacles that this mid-size family SUV easily overcame. Many of its competitors would have been spinning their wheels impotently or grounding out with an agonising crunch.

This, of course, was the first and last time that we’d do any serious off-roading in our Discovery Sport. Our limited mileage over six months came through short urban trips, as the unique circumstances of 2020 and early 2021 allowed, plus a few longer motorway journeys.

This is a £50,000 car, so it’s very much at the premium end of the mid-size SUV class, but it brings qualities more readily associated with mainstream models into bat against the mostly German rivals. With seven seats and a sturdy interior that has loads of handy storage options, it stands out in posh company. Yet the cabin certainly has that sheen of quality that’s essential in such circles.

Our car’s dated infotainment system is a big drawback, but this has been thoroughly improved on the latest model. For comfort and practicality the Disco Sport outclasses the premium options, while running the big mainstream seven-seat SUVs close. 

The driving experience is that of an SUV unashamed to be so – high-riding, comfortable, relaxing and not particularly dynamic. It’s not fun to drive fast and the diesel engine is a little gruff at low speeds, but it is hushed at a motorway cruise.

What it isn’t is economical. In this day and age, an mpg figure in the high twenties isn’t great from a mild-hybrid diesel powerplant. The official 39.6mpg has remained well out of reach.

This is probably the Disco’s biggest single drawback and is at least partially down to the Land Rover’s tall shape and weighty all-wheel-drive system – elements which are otherwise two of its strengths. If you can see past the thirst, this is a family SUV of real quality and utility that offers something very different to most of the alternatives. That’s the Land Rover DNA at work. 

Land Rover Discovery Sport: second report

  • Mileage: 1,791
  • Economy: 29.8mpg

Lots of people still actively hate SUVs. Despite these vehicles accounting for 25.4 per cent of the UK car market in 2020, there are still those who assign them a level of contempt that the rest of us reserve for motorists who drive in the middle lane of empty motorways. 

Why is this? Well, I think it’s rooted in the outdated idea that people are buying big, heavy off-road vehicles and using them to do nothing more than the weekly shop. I say outdated, but this feels like exactly what I’ve been doing in the Land Rover Discovery Sport – ignoring the ‘buying’ part. 

In the thick of lockdown, even that staple of the urban SUV, the school run, was closed off as an avenue to get behind the wheel. We’ve still had essential journeys together, it’s just that an unusually high percentage of them have involved buying groceries. 

The haters will believe otherwise, but car buyers have realised that SUVs are no longer the giant gas-guzzlers of legend and are actually great for family life. Indeed, the Discovery Sport is probably the leader in the premium mid-sized SUV segment, if we’re looking purely at practical considerations. It has seven seats, which is never a bad start, and is actually pretty rare among the premium-badged alternatives in the class. 

The two seats in the third row are small and there’s only a sliver of boot space left behind them, enough for a couple of soft bags to be squashed in. I can confirm that an adult can get into the seats, but they probably shouldn’t. Small kids will be more than happy, as will larger ones if you slide the middle row forwards a little.

As an extension of a general theme running throughout the Discovery Sport, the seats feel solid and robust when you’re folding them and sliding them about. The mechanisms aren’t the lightest to use, but there’s a sense of durability to the way they operate. Switches in the boot let you fold the second-row seat backs without having to lift the catches, and of course the Discovery Sport has a huge boot in five- seat mode. Even the supersize lockdown supermarket shops have barely touched the sides of the 840-litre load space.

If you’re going to be strapping kids into those second-row chairs, you’ll appreciate some of the easiest-to-access Isofix points I’ve ever encountered, as well as seatbelt clips that sit proud of the seat base, making them easy to grab when a toddler’s trying to insert a crayon into your eye socket. For adults, legroom is generous with the middle row slid back, or very tight if you slide it right forward. The choice is yours. 

The seats in our model have perforated ‘suedecloth’ centre sections with something called Luxtec on the side bolsters. It looks a bit like leather from a (quite long) distance and feels nice enough to the touch, but the fine weave means that dirty marks don’t brush off easily – a damp cloth or cleaning spray is called for. There’s more Luxtec on the dash and elsewhere, but it’s the rear seats, with their proximity to sticky fingers and muddy shoes, where the material choice is an issue. So too the plastic seat backs which, I’m ashamed to say, have picked up a few scratches on our car. 

Storage in the Discovery Sport is superb. Each seat gets a door pocket that can hold a 750ml water bottle or a tablet computer. There’s a big bin in the centre of the cabin, a cubby with wireless charging under the centre of the dash, a couple of big cup-holders in front of it, and a usable glovebox. 

On top of all this, access, loading and forward visibility are all helped by the way the SUV template raises the whole car that bit higher off the ground. The view out the back isn’t helped by the rising window line or the thick B and C-pillars, but Land Rover offers the clever ClearSight digital rear-view mirror, which is very useful when people or stuff are blocking your rearward view, although I must admit that I use the normal mirror most of the time.

It’s just a shame that some of our Disco Sport’s other tech, such as the infotainment, is a little off the pace. I guess that’s why Land Rover has replaced it with the newer and much slicker Pivi Pro set-up in its latest cars.

Land Rover Discovery Sport: first report

  • Mileage: 1,480
  • Economy: 29.3mpg

The temperature is hovering around zero, the nights are still long, the weather’s wet and the roads are slippery – could there be a better time for the new Land Rover Discovery Sport to appear?

Those two words – Land Rover – mean that the Disco Sport has a full suite of 4x4 tech under its skin. First and foremost though, it’s a family utility vehicle with a giant helping of utility.

There are seven seats in our SE model, or a 5+2 arrangement as Land Rover modestly refers to it. Among the highlights, you also get a powered tailgate, electric front seats, a WiFi hotspot, auto high beam assist for the LED lights and a digital instrument panel, rounding off an equipment list that’s far from disappointing, even on a £44k car.

But this isn’t a £44,000 car. There’s around £7,000 worth of options, including the orange paintwork (nearly £1,000). I think it looks great with the black exterior pack that adds another £580. The two big-ticket items, however, are the Technology Pack for just over £1,000 and the Driver Assist Pack at just over £2,000. The former adds a head-up display and the clever ClearSight Rear View Mirror that can show a video feed from a camera rather than the traditional reflection. It’s already proved handy when the back seats have been occupied or I’ve piled the boot high.

The Driver Assist Pack is, as the name suggests, full of electronic driver aids, including a 360-degree camera, adaptive cruise control and autonomous braking. This being a Land Rover, you also get a ‘Wade Sensing’ function to stop you fording more swollen river than the Disco Sport can manage.

So, this car costs just shy of £52,000, except that its D180 2.0-litre diesel mild-hybrid engine is no longer available new. It’s been replaced by more mild-hybrid diesel options, so the closest buyers will get to this model is a version that’s a few months and miles old – probably at around the £40k mark. For that money and given the Land Rover’s capabilities, it feels like a lot of car.

First impressions are that it’s an SUV families will appreciate. The build quality feels robust, there are lots of large storage cubbies and device-charging options in the cabin, plus there’s plenty of space.

The seats that flip up from the boot floor are small, though. Having crammed my six-foot frame into them, I can confirm that adults won’t want to spend any time back there. The middle row slides to free up enough room for 10 or 12-year-old kids to sit in comfort in the third row, but that’s the limit.

In five-seat mode, you can sit adults in the back very comfortably and the boot is a vast 840 litres – way more than in a BMW X3 or Audi Q5.

However, even at this early stage with the car there are downsides. It isn’t quite as slick as the German alternatives in terms of design, and while the infotainment system in our model is usable, it still feels clumsy and slow compared with the technology in rival models.

The diesel engine, with a nine-speed automatic gearbox, lacks punch off the line. Then there’s the Land Rover’s off-road ability. We hope to put it to the test, but how many buyers will do the same?

Our journeys in the Land Rover so far have suggested that its strengths lie away from the dynamic side of things. Instead, it’s all about comfort, convenience and that easy-going nature that the British brand does so well. Living with the Disco Sport through the colder months of the year should bring its qualities into focus.

Model:Land Rover Discovery Sport D180 AWD SE
On fleet since:November 2020
Price new:£44,170^
Engine:2.0-litre 4cyl turbodiesel, 178bhp
Options:Premium metallic paint (£970), black roof (£610), black exterior pack (£580), 20-inch wheels (£670), Technology Pack (£1,040), Driver Assist Pack (£2,160), heated electric seats (£205), two-zone climate control (£205) 
Insurance*:Group: 33 Quote: £484
Any problems?None

*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points ^Price for new model when available.

^Price for new model when available

Group website editor

Steve looks after the Auto Express website; planning new content, growing online traffic and managing the web team. He’s been a motoring journalist, road tester and editor for over 20 years, contributing to titles including MSN Cars, Auto Trader, The Scotsman and The Wall Street Journal.

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