Land Rover Discovery Sport SUV (2014 - ) review
The Discovery Sport replaced the long-standing Freelander, giving the company a rival for models like the Audi Q5 and BMW X3The Auto Trader expert verdict: 4.0 The Land Rover Discovery Sport has class-leading practicality, a nice interior, exemplary safety credentials, and it’s good to drive. It's easily one of the best SUVs in the class.
- Practical seven-seat cabin
- Classy interior and strong image
- Good balance of ride and handling
- Unproven reliability
- Third row of seats rather cramped
- Engine a little unrefined when worked hard
At a glance
A lot of people buy Land Rovers as much for their rugged style as for their on- and off-road ability, and that’s something that’s unlikely to change with the Discovery Sport. The front-end styling has something of the Range Rover Evoque about it, with the slim headlamps and coarse-mesh grille giving an instant impression of desirability. The rear end has a more functional appearance than the front, with squarer, boxier lines and less flamboyant details, but it still looks extremely smart and does nothing to dent the car’s visual appeal. All versions come with smart alloy wheels and a variety of aesthetic trims and exterior finishers, but as you progress up the range, the wheels become bigger and the adornments more plentiful.
Land Rover interiors have always done a good job of mixing ruggedness with classiness, and the Discovery Sport is no exception. Most of the surfaces and finishes have a dense, high-grade feel, which gives the cabin a real air of quality. Only a few bits of switchgear let the side down - namely the nasty manual gearknob, and steering wheel controls. Finding the right driving position is a doddle, too, thanks to plenty of adjustment for the seat and steering wheel, and most of the various controls are logically laid out and easy to find. However, the menus on the touch-screen infotainment system could be more intuitive and, due to a small back window and chunky rear pillars, your rear view could be clearer.
This is where the Discovery Sport has a big advantage over rivals like the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 with which it competes on both size and price: TD4 180 versions have seven seats rather than five. True enough, the extra pair of chairs are pretty snug on space, and are only really suitable for children over any great distance. That said, a six-foot adult can fit in emergencies, provided they’re prepared for their hairdo to brush the ceiling and for their knees to press against the seat in front; and, that sliding middle-row seat will need to be set all the way forward to give those in the third row any chance at all. Getting there takes some dexterity, too, as the opening you climb through is small and awkwardly shaped. However, most buyers will normally use the car in five-seat mode, and in that format, it’s as practical as any small SUV. There’s generous cabin space for five lofty adults, and a big, well-shaped boot. If you do decide to fold down both rows of seats though, then they don't lie entirely flat, and you'll need to slide the middle row back to ensure there's no gap.
Ride and handling
Being a Land Rover, the Discovery Sport has permanent four-wheel drive and a range of off-roading gadgetry that’ll get it further into the countryside than any of its rivals. We drove the car in arctic conditions, and it was scampering up snowy hillsides with barely a hint of objection. The car also behaves pretty well under less extreme conditions, too. Although the ride is on the firm side for this type of car, the Discovery Sport stays comfortable on most surfaces, and soaks up the worst punishment doled out by UK roads. What’s more, the car changes direction with reasonable crispness and accuracy thanks to decent body control and nicely weighted steering. It's not as precise or grippy as, say, a BMW X3, but grips and handles well given its size and weight disadvantage.
When the Discovery Sport was launched, it came only with a 2.2-litre SD4 diesel, and it was a disappointment. However, that has now been replaced by the TD4, which is a good thing. A very good thing, in fact, as it's better in every way: stronger, more refined and simply much more pleasant in everyday use. It's available in two power outputs - 148- and 178bhp - and we're big fans of the more powerful unit, which comes with a nine-speed automatic gearbox. The engine pulls really strongly from 1,700rpm, getting this SUV moving with surprising speed without any great effort, and most of the time it works pretty well with the automatic 'box. True, it's not perfect - the gearbox is occasionally a little slow to respond to your demands, and the engine is noisy when you accelerate flat out and hit the upper reaches of the rev range - but overall, this is a combination that compares favourably with anything you'll find in any of the car's rivals. We certainly prefer it to the less powerful option, which comes with a manual gearbox. The relative lack of power is noticeable, and the engine doesn't rev as sweetly, making progress a bit more hard work. Don't get us wrong, though: it's not bad, and it's nothing you couldn't live with (especially given the low running costs), but the 178bhp version is worth the extra it costs.
The Disco Sport costs a similar amount to buy as its premium rivals, and resale values should be just as strong as the competition’s, but the real good news comes in the shape of the TD4 engine. Even the stronger unit with the automatic 'box averages well over 50mpg, meaning it's at least a match for any of its competition. However, if you go for the less powerful version of the engine, it averages almost 58mpg and emits just 129g/km of CO2 - figures that put the car at the very top of its class.
Land Rover’s reputation for reliability is fairly torrid, and although the company claims that things are steadily improving, we’re not seeing a whole heap of evidence to support that. The brand is still rooted near the bottom of the manufacturer standings in Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index, and while the Discovery Sport’s predecessor, the Freelander 2, was the firm’s best-performing model, its record is still far from ideal. What’s more, many other surveys and studies make for similarly grim reading. We hope the new InControl touchscreen system also proves to be sturdier than the crash-prone unit it replaces.
This area is one in which the Discovery Sport does incredibly well – not many cars at any price have as much safety kit as this. You get all the things you expect, like stability control, Isofix child seat fixings and driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags. However, another airbag protects the driver’s knees in a smash, and there’s another that pops out from under the bonnet to protect pedestrians. What’s more, you get a lane-departure warning system and a collision mitigation system that applies the brakes automatically if the driver doesn’t react to the warning of an impending collision. Even more impressively, all these ingenious safety gadgets are standard throughout the Discovery Sport range.
The entry-level SE-trimmed car comes with reasonably generous kit, including part-leather upholstery, climate control, a heated windscreen, cruise control and a 10-speaker stereo with touch-screen interface, DAB radio and Bluetooth. However, we reckon it’s worth upgrading to SE Tech trim for its sat-nav, front parking sensors, powered tailgate and automatic lights and wipers. HSE trim cranks up the luxury a notch with full leather upholstery, a panoramic roof, keyless entry and an even meatier stereo, while HSE Luxury cranks it to the max with multifunction seats (electric, heated and cooled), a heated steering wheel, a parking assistant and configurable mood lighting.
Because you like the style and image of a mid-size SUV, especially one with a Land Rover badge, and you like the idea of having an extra pair of seats for emergencies. What’s more, you’ll get a high-quality cabin and class-leading safety, along with impressive comfort and control on the road and supreme capability off it.