– Clean styling inside and out
– Fair cabin trim and features
– Decent comfort and handling
– Pricey with options
– Not particularly quick
– No low-range gearing
The first-generation Land Rover Freelander was actually a bit of a best-seller in Europe after it debuted in 1997, but it didn’t take long for the name to become synonymous with reliability issues. The second-gen model that debuted in 2006 was better, and even had a new name — known as LR2 in most markets — to get rid of the previous model’s stench. However, it wasn’t a particularly good car and we said so a decade ago. Therefore, Land Rover’s compact 4×4 offering starts afresh with a new name again — this time called the Discovery Sport — and it is a much better car than those before it. Third time lucky then?
Land Rover has got the styling right. Borrowing cues from its pricier Range Rover siblings, the handsome Discovery Sport can pretty much pass for a bigger brother to the Evoque, with which it shares a basic platform. It easily looks better than many of its indirect luxury-badged rivals, with mildly flared wheel arches and generous use of LEDs in the front and rear lamps, aside from the usual rear roof spoiler and optional big 20-inch wheels.
Inside, the Range Rover effect continues to a certain extent, with a stitched-leatherette dashboard, clean control setup and minimalist detailing. There are soft-touch surfaces on the upper doors, while hard plastics reign below the fold, but that’s standard for the class. Nice touches include the metallic trim, covered cup-holders and a gear-selector dial.
The front seats are moderately bolstered, power-adjustable and ventilated in our tester. Rear headroom is great, while legroom is decent for adults. Our car did not have the optional third row, which we can imagine is probably tight. Boot space is good for a compact SUV, although no replacement for a proper midsizer. There is a proper boot cover, and the rear seats slide and split-fold for more space. There’s no shortage of door pockets and cup-holders.
It’s properly loaded tech-wise, with a touchscreen for the multimedia, phone and navigation systems. The capacitive screen is easy enough to use, although the multitude of redundant buttons on the steering wheel can be confusing. Other available features include a panoramic glass roof, smart keyless entry and start, a full set of airbags, ESP, cruise control, electric parking brake, basic power accessories, decent stereo and a good auto a/c with rear vents in the B-pillar.
Powered by a Ford-sourced 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder that also does duty in the Range Rover Evoque, it makes 240 hp at 6000 rpm and 340 Nm of torque from 1900 rpm, sending the juice to all four wheels via a paddle-shiftable 9-speed automatic. We timed it at 8.5 seconds, not particularly quick, but it’s generally more than enough for the daily grind especially with the respectable low-end kick.
The 9-speed also helps, as the Disco Sport has good mid-range acceleration in situations such as overtaking manoeuvres where jumping from 80 kph to 120 kph is required. However, the gearbox is hesitant to downshift at times, preferring to stay in the higher gears. There is also obvious turbo lag below 2000 rpm, aside from a noticeable throttle lag between pressing the pedal and the engine responding. But the motor pulls strongly once the turbos spool up.
The turbo-4’s fuel consumption was expectedly more than a typical naturally-aspirated 4-banger but less than a V6, at 12.5 litres/100 km in mixed street-driving conditions.
The Discovery Sport offers a reasonably quiet ride, slightly on the firm side but generally smooth on most road surfaces. There’s no floatiness on uneven surfaces, while body roll is fairly limited. The little trucklet is somewhat entertaining to drive, even with the minimal feedback from the well-weighted steering. Grip is decent from the 245/45 tyres wrapped around 20-inch alloys, with good brakes and clean understeer creeping in at the limit.
In keeping with the Land Rover name, the Discovery Sport offers some semblance of offroading, though nowhere near the capabilities of a proper 4×4. While it comes with gimmicks such as a selectable terrain-response system to alter throttle, gearbox and ESP sensitivities on different surfaces, as well as hill-descent control and a quick-acting all-wheel-drive system, there is no low-range gearing should you dig into the sand, while the front and rear overhangs are sizeable. Still, it has better ground clearance than most crossovers so, with the ESP off, it is possible to play on soft sand and mild dunes if you’re skilled enough.
The Land Rover Discovery is a very attractive vehicle on most fronts. It raises the bar for crossovers in its price range in terms of aesthetics and refinement, even if the drive experience is still uneven. For the money you get some basic offroad cred as well as the appearance of a Range Rover in the rear-view of the car ahead. And that accounts for a lot in our market.
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