Land Rover Discovery Sport: road test
What is it?
The Discovery Sport replaces the Freelander, and is the first of a new family of Land Rovers bearing the Discovery name. It’s a rival for the Audi Q5 and BMW X3.
How safe is it?
Very. The Discovery Sport has been awarded a five-star rating by Euro NCAP and comes with a comprehensive list of high-tech safety aids as standard.
Who should buy one?
Anyone looking for a mid-sized 4×4, especially if they need seven seats. However, it’s pricier than the old Freelander so you’ll need deep pockets.
DRIVING AND PERFORMANCE
Our test drive took place in Iceland, driving across snow and ice and through strong winds and blizzards. The Discovery Sport coped very well with such extreme weather, although the studded ice tyres fitted to the test cars have to take some of the credit.
In truth, the conditions were far removed from typical UK driving but it’s clear that the Discovery Sport drives differently to the old Freelander. It’s more agile with less lean when cornering, but this hasn’t been achieved at the price of an uncomfortable ride. The Discovery Sport’s suspension may not be as forgiving as the Freelander’s around town, but it feels smooth and well controlled at higher speeds.
Every Discovery Sport comes with Land Rover’s Terrain Response system. This alters the car’s throttle, steering, stability control and differential settings to cope best with whatever ground is being tackled. With a wading depth of 600mm and short front and rear overhangs, the Discovery Sport should take you further into the wilds than just about any rival.
Whether off-road or on Tarmac, the Discovery Sport’s engine packs plenty of punch. The 2.2-litre SD4 is familiar from the Freelander and the Range Rover Evoque, and delivers 187bhp and 310lb ft of torque. That’s enough muscle for the nine-speed automatic model to accelerate from 0-60mph in 8.4 seconds (the six-speed manual takes 1.4 seconds longer).
Rev the engine hard and it can sound a little strained, but with such a strong mid-range there’s really little need. At cruising speeds the engine is subdued and quiet, and there’s little wind noise, either.
Road noise will be easier to judge without the sound of metal studs drumming on the Tarmac, but even fitted with ice tyres the Discovery Sport wasn’t unduly loud.
For now the 2.2-litre diesel is the only engine available, but a front-wheel-drive eD4 model with a new engine will arrive later in 2015. Although not officially confirmed, expect 4×4 versions with this new, more efficient engine to be added to the range, too.
SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
Thanks to space-efficient multi-link rear suspension Land Rover has found room for seven seats in a car that’s shorter than most five-seat rivals.
Land Rover describes the Discovery Sport as a ‘5+2’, an admission that space in the third row is rather tight. However, the middle row slides forward on runners by as much as 16cm, so if passengers in these seats are happy to compromise then adults can be reasonably comfortable in the third row for short trips.
Most owners will keep seats six and seven for occasional use, in which case the centre bench can be pushed all the way back leaving lots of room for tall adults to stretch out. Land Rover says there’s 8.6cm more kneeroom than in the old Freelander.
Boot space has also improved. With the third row folded away the capacity varies between 479 and 689 litres depending on the position of the middle seats.
Up front, the driver and front seat passenger have plenty of room and a commanding view out.
The Discovery Sport has earned a five-star rating from the safety experts at Euro NCAP, with strong scores for adult and child protection, high-tech safety systems and pedestrian protection. One of the more unusual features is the pedestrian airbag which deploys from the base of the windscreen when sensors detect a collision with someone on foot. Other features include Autonomous Emergency Braking and Trailer Stability Assist for stress-free towing.
There are four trim levels; SE, SE Tech, HSE and HSE Luxury. Even the entry-level SE has part-leather upholstery, climate control, heated front seats, an eight-inch colour touchscreen, cruise control and a ten-speaker stereo with Bluetooth audio streaming. At the top of the range, HSE Luxury comes with a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled leather seats, ten-way electric adjustment with memory for the driver’s seat, Park Assist and loadspace stowage rails.
There’s been quite a price hike compared with the old Freelander. Whereas the Freelander started from £27,765, the entry-level Discovery Sport costs £32,395, although that should drop to below £30,000 when the two-wheel-drive model arrives later in 2015. Economy and emissions will improve significantly with the new engine. For now, official combined economy of 46mpg for manual cars and 44.9mpg for autos is easily bettered by a number of rivals.
The Discovery Sport is stylish, good to drive and impressively practical.
AT A GLANCE:
Performance: 0-60mph in 8.4 seconds
Economy: 44.9mpg combined
Insurance: Group 31
Tax: Band H (£290 first year)
Figures for the 2.2 SD4 HSE Luxury Auto