Land Rover Discovery Sport
Useful SUV signs off
During the past couple of years, we’ve run a number of practical, useful SUVS that have dealt admirably with the stuff that everyday life has thrown at them. The Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage spring to mind. But I feel confident in saying that none of them has been as versatile, or as universally adored, as the Land Rover Discovery Sport.
Now-departed production editor Mel Falconer summed up the car’s value best when, having borrowed it for a trip to France, she likened it to a star quarterback that the rest of the team turns to when they want a long-distance play. The Discovery Sport swiftly gained a reputation as the go-to vehicle for any journey, with or without family and friends in tow, not only because it was spacious and could seat seven but also because it was really, really good to drive and an exceptionally comfortable long-haul tourer.
At 4.6m long, the Discovery Sport is a ‘Goldilocks’ size: not too big and not too small. It’s compact enough to be easy to park and manoeuvre anywhere, aided by quick steering that makes it feel agile, yet it also manages to provide seven very usable seats and a terrific amount of flexible space for occupants and cargo. It’s a clever bit of packaging.
One of the main points of interest from the outset was how much of a difference Jaguar Land Rover’s new 2.0-litre diesel engine, developed in-house, would make in terms of performance, refinement and fuel economy compared with the old 2.2-litre Ford engine with which the Discovery Sport was launched. Certainly, a claimed average of 53.3mpg and CO2 output of 139g/km made it look reasonably competitive on paper against premium rivals.
As it turns out, the engine is one of the less impressive things about the Discovery Sport. With 178bhp, it’s a little down on power next to its German rivals and economy has proved disappointing in our hands, with an average of 33.2mpg. Having said that, I’ve always found its performance to be more than strong enough, especially at motorway cruising speeds, and it’s reasonably free-revving and refined for a fourcylinder diesel. It does tend to labour at low speeds, though, sometimes requiring a manual downshift to get the nine-speed automatic ’box into a more appropriate gear.
Of all the Discovery Sport’s attributes, the one I’ve come to value most is how fantastically comfortable it is. The spaciousness of the cabin helps a lot, but the seats and driving position are also among the best I’ve encountered, making it very easy to feel at home behind the wheel. With a fairly relaxed ride, low noise levels, excellent ground clearance and fatsidewalled tyres, the Discovery Sport also deals with bumpy British roads exceptionally well, for the most part.
Most of the time, the third-row
seats remained tucked away in the floor of the deep, capacious boot, but we were grateful for their presence at times – and not just for carrying children. On one occasion, picture editor Ben Summerell-youde drove from London to Devon and back with five other adults and a weekend’s worth of wedding and camping gear aboard, and their feedback afterwards was entirely positive.
With all of the rear seats folded flat, the Discovery Sport was also able to cart the rotting remains of a wooden garden shed to a recycling centre and then lug eight alloy wheels and tyres for a Mclaren to Anglesey circuit during our Handling Day. With thoughts of being smacked in the back of the head by a runaway wheel, I don’t think I’ve ever driven so carefully in my life.
Given how composed the Discovery Sport feels for 98% of the time, it’s a surprise to find that it isn’t all that comfortable with being driven hard. The rather abrupt onset of body roll, exacerbated by the quick steering, requires the driver to work relatively hard to keep the car balanced in corners. So when negotiating roundabouts on a dual carriageway, a very measured approach is required to avoid throwing the car’s occupants around uncomfortably.
Some people have argued that the cabin is a little plain and the quality of the materials isn’t quite what you’d expect of a £40k SUV, but I don’t have a problem with its clean, functional design. In any case, even with the practical black leather of our car, the Discovery Sport’s cabin has a certain robust character and warmth of personality that are somewhat lacking in its German rivals.
The Discovery Sport’s suitability as a long-term ownership prospect is cemented, for me, by how few things irritate me about it: pointless beeps and messages, stuff like that. In fact, all of its automatic functions and driver aids – from the engine stop-start system to the parking sensors and self-operating parking brake – worked as effectively and unobtrusively as you could hope for.
Although reliability was first rate, a couple of faults developed towards the end of the car’s time with us that brought us into slightly frustrating contact with local dealer Guy Salmon Thames Ditton. Even getting the car booked in was more difficult than expected, and the service department fixed only one of the issues – a clonk from the tailgate – while failing to do anything about a suspension creak that was the main reason for going to them in the first place. We ran out of time for a return visit, and it didn’t affect my opinion of the car itself, but I’d have hoped for better service from a prominent Land Rover dealership.
Living with a Discovery Sport, then, has been hugely satisfying. It’s a shame that its much-hyped new diesel engine hasn’t proved convincing enough to really set the seal on the Discovery Sport’s class leadership, giving buyers a reason to look at strong rivals such as the new Audi Q5 and Skoda Kodiaq, but as a package, it’s still highly compelling. That combination of comfort, space, sensible size, desirability and driving pleasure makes the Discovery Sport one of the most complete, versatile and likeable cars you’re ever likely to meet.
Of all its attributes, the one I’ve come to value most is how fantastically comfortable it is
Adult-friendly back seats have been usefu and are easy to erec
Discovery Sport proved ideal for a camping weekend
Muir (and everyone else) quickly felt at home at the wheel
Our Land Rover didn’t shy away from heavy lifting