As an all-new challenger, the name change has been justified. But is it good enough to take market leadership? We try the Ingenium-engined HSE Luxury on a 1000-mile week to find out.
The Land Rover Discovery Sport was launched a little bit before it was ready. In 2014, the rounded Freelander replacement was lacking one very vital ingredient in its make-up – the all-new, Wolverhampton-built Ingenium four-cylinder engine. As such, the general consensus from magazine reviewers was that it was a good effort, let down a little by its off-the-pace power unit. In 2015, that was put right, as the new engine, which debuted in the Jaguar XE, made its way across to Land Rover.
Given this is our first sampling of the Discovery Sport, it seemed only fair to give it a fair crack of the whip with a 1000-mile week’s test. This would incorporate commuting, work, motorway driving and a fast dash to the other end of the country. As tests go, it’s a fair reflection of what today’s driver is going to put this car through. It came in HSE Luxury trim, with the 177bhp (180PS) version of the Ingenium engine, and being a press car, it’s generously optioned, too.
In terms of styling, it lacks the interior and exterior flourish of the Julian Thomson-penned Range Rover Evoque, and that’s intentional (just as the Discovery was never intended to step on the toes of the Range Rover when it was launched in 1989). Outside, it’s strangely anodyne, save for the interesting C-pillar design, but inside it’s chunky and cohesive.
The words ‘entry level’ seem odd to apply to a car that’s £43,000 in base form and £47,745 as tested – but it is generously equipped for the money. So, you get a leather interior, a panoramic glass roof, adaptive xenon headlights, keyless entry, heated rear seats and rear-view camera. How generously equipped is all about context – consider that the Lexus RX450h which followed this car through our hands was a mere £2500 more, and it’s significantly faster, better equipped and pretty much as economical in the real world. But then, that’s not a Land Rover, is it?
Here’s the crunch, though – the Discovery Sport is an appealing package, and not just on rational grounds. You can buy it in six-speed manual or nine-speed automatic form and, given the competence of the latter, we can’t see why you’d go for the former. As for the rest of its package, this is a mostly-new car – there are elements of the Range Rover Evoque forward of the B-posts, but it’s 8cm longer overall and comes with multi-link rear suspension that results in a flat floor which allows for the easy provision of a pair of additional optional fold away rear seats in the boot area.
First thing’s first, in town it’s a nice, easy car to drive, with light steering, good visibility and a myriad of cameras to help you through the tightest of spots when you’re lacking confidence. The test car rides on 20in alloys and that probably goes some way to explain why the low-speed ride can feel crashy, even if the damping is beyond reproach. There’s plenty of stowage space inside, there’s a heated steering wheel (yes, yes, but once you’ve had one, you can’t go back), slick integration with iPhone and Android and the driving position is commanding without being over-the-top lofty.
Get it out on to A-roads, and performance is excellent, given the combination of 1900kg kerb weight, four-pot turbodiesel and autobox. It lacks the pep of the similarly-engined Jaguar XE (as you’d expect), but it goes well enough not to raise complaint – and a 37mpg reading on the trip computer is acceptable enough, even if the fuel tank is too small to make it a truly long-distance effort for hardy non-stoppers.
As the miles pile on, the driver’s seat’s lack of comfort – it’s firm and well-contoured, but strangely unsupportive – does start to wear, but it’s all relative. As we head for the mountains, it’s hard not conclude that it’s another excellent result for the JLR chassis engineers. Despite its relative bulk, it has incisive handling, excellent steering weight and feel and bags of stability. This is perfect stuff for the motorway.
Of course, being a Land Rover, it should also be able to cut it off-road – and, given that it has Land Rover’s Terrain Response control, there are plenty of options to play with. We tried some limited green-laning while we had the Discovery Sport, which encompassed some impressively steep inclines – and the full-time four-wheel drive system with a Haldex centre coupling did its thing beautifully, never getting near to losing traction. We also tried the electronically-controlled Hill Descent Control (a Land Rover innovation), and it performed flawlessly.
That said, so it should. There’s no escaping the fact that this car is not great value for money. It’s expensive, and inside it does not feel that special, even if there are no obvious quality shortcomings. But it looks good, has class in spades and has that all-important feel good factor associated with it. There’s bags of dynamism in the way it drives – and, in our extended week-long test, it certainly had the ability to grow on us.
It’s not perfect, but it’s desirable – and, in the end, when you’re laying out your own money, that’s what really matters.
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