A STARTLING DISCOVERY
NEW LAND ROVER BEST VEHICLE IN ITS CLASS
PRESS the start button and as the engine fires up, a rotary knob arises from the central console, like a scene from Dr Who.
It left no doubt there was a lot to discover in the Land Rover Discovery.
For starters, there are quite a few of the classy compact to choose from: two with 2.2litre diesel motors, one of them a high performer, and one with 2.0litre turbopetrol power.
The diesels have manual or auto shift and the petrol with no choice. You have to make do with the automatic, but it's a rather special one: a ZF nine-speeder, (yes!) with paddle shift.
Then there are the spec levels. One diesel can be had in SE, HSE or HSE Luxury trim, the other in just the first-mentioned two, and the petrol is in SE form only.
That's the one we got, the cheapest, and quickest, of the lot.
Its full title is Land Rover Discovery Sport SE Si4 and it's priced at $59,000.
Ours came with some optional gear that lifted the numbers to $65,000.
Very few of these cars leave the showroom in standard form, and if buyers want, they can spend a vast amount more to 'indi- vidualise' their steeds.
But it's a pretty complete package as is and includes sensible items as diverse as an accident-avoiding autonomous braking feature, seven airbags, satnav, an 8-inch colour touchscreen with app functionality, 10-speaker audio system, powered front seats, leather trim, reversing camera, loads of USB ports, Terrain Response with five drive modes, and the list goes on.
The auto braking feature is especially impressive. It senses impending impacts and automatically applies the brakes at speeds between 5 and 80km/h.
The latest Discovery is a well-finished, good looking machine, a very far cry from the Freelander, which it replaced a while ago.
It has space for five adults, plus rails on the floor to squeeze in another two seats, if needed.
The interior is very impressive, cleanly presented, with excellent comfort and visibility, superb instrumentation, and legroom in the back – in five-seat configuration – to more than cater for the tallest of the Wildcats.
Under the bonnet is a veritable powerhouse 2.0litre engine that whacks out 177kW and 340Nm, and it can run the 1775kg vehicle to 100km/h in 8.8 seconds. That's very quick for a compact SUV. It's a delight to drive, with instant drivetrain response and the (optional) heads-up speed display keeps the driver constantly informed of the rate of velocity.
We didn't go off-road, certainly not with the $1500 metallic paint option and those lovely heated Powerfold exterior mirrors with built-in indicators and approach lamps. But less sensitive colleagues who did were rapturous over the Discovery's prowess.
It runs on 18-inch alloys, has a 212mm ground clearance and all those electronic doofies that make it adjust to any surface put it in a class of its own.
Fuel economy is pretty good too. It claims 8.3litres/100km, but we were happy with the 10.5 we recorded in the real world.
Verdict: Overall, probably the best vehicle in its class.
Top of its class: Land Rover's Discovery Sport.