With stiff competition coming from the likes of the BMW X3, Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60, the new Land Rover Discovery Sport has its work cut out to impress in a busy market place.
With more than 3,400 orders placed before it went on sale, without people even driving it, it looks as though customers’ confidence in the Discovery Sport brand has seen it get off to a good start.
Sitting neatly between the firm’s premium Range Rover products and the workhorse utilitarian Defender, the Discovery Sport complements the full fat Discovery 4 as a compact SUV designed for the masses.
And while the Discovery Sport is a new model in the Land Rover family, it is effectively a replacement for the Freelander.
Underpinned using the Range Rover Evoque’s chassis and drive train, the Discovery Sport is available in four main variants – SE, SE Tech, HSE and HSE Lux. All share a 2.2-litre SD4 diesel engine producing 190hp, and all are available with a nine-speed automatic transmission courtesy of ZF. Apart from the top-spec HSE Lux, the other three can be specified with a manual six-speed gearbox.
Standard equipment includes six-way adjustable front seats, five plus two seating, 18-inch alloy wheels, 8in colour touchscreen, rear parking sensors and heated windscreen. Larger budgets, depending on spec, will see a panoramic roof, 19in wheels, sub woofer, 10-way adjustable seats with memory and parking assist added to the spec list.
To get a flavour of the new series, we tried a manual SE Tech and an automatic HSE.
Immediately noticeable is the smart use of space. Thanks to a clever compact design of the rear suspension, it means intrusion to load space, normally taken up by large wheel arches and strut towers, is reduced to a minimum. This results in a Tardis-like interior which can accommodate seven people in relative comfort – a USP the manufacturer is keen to point out compared to the five-seat-only competition.
The middle row of 60:40-split seats independently slides forwards and backwards making best use of leg space in front and behind. For extra comfort, face level ventilation is available on all rows.
And as for the intrusive armrest, it seems to be at just the right height for some elbow battering when changing gear in the manual version. That said, it is hardly noticeable in the auto model. And as the company says, it is likely to sell 80 per cent of the models with an automatic transmission.
ZF deserves every bit of praise it can get for the automatic transmission. It is absolutely sublime and makes full use of the available 190hp with almost seamless gear changes. It responds well too, with swift reactions to changing situations.
On paper, the 2.2-litre motor might sound small, but it does pack a decent punch. In combination with the transmission, it will effortlessly propel you to the speed limit with no fuss – an attribute which brings its own drawback that the car does things a bit too easy, so some concentration is required.
The firm says 46mpg is achievable on a combined cycle (manual SE tech model). We found it was nearer 39mpg with some careful driving, and this was with only two people on board.
However, it is off-road where its Land Rover credentials really shine through. On a challenging purpose-built off-road course, it showed just how clever its four-setting Terrain Response system is. Selecting the mud and ruts mode, it effortlessly dispatched steep gradients and deep water, helped by a wading depth of 600mm (2ft).
In addition, short overhangs on the front and rear wheels mean approach and departure angles are generous.
On-screen, you can monitor where power is being distributed along with what steering angle you have applied.
A revised hill descent control system means you can set lower target speeds, making descents much more controllable.
Electric steering is the icing on the cake, and works well compared to some other efforts, which lightens up for slow manoeuvres and firms up for higher speeds while still keeping a sense you are in touch with the road.
In all, the Discovery Sport is true to the Discovery heritage as a practical and versatile car. While you may not fully use its off-road credentials on a day-to-day basis, it is good to know it is more than capable should things get hairy on the school run.