IF you found yourself drawn to the stylish Range Rover Evoque but then found it rather small and impractical for your needs, then Land Rover has the answer.
It’s the new Discovery Sport, which bears no relation to the larger vehicle of the same name.
To the headturning looks of the Evoque, it adds space, a seven-seat option and the offroad cred you’d expect from the brand.
It replaces the slow-selling Freelander and gives Land Rover the ammunition to launch a twin-pronged attack on Audi and BMW for dominance among mid-size luxury SUVs.
Land Rover designer Gerry McGovern has struck just the right balance between style and substance with the latest generation of Land Rovers, and there’s no disputing the fact the new Discovery Sport has a presence on the road.
Our top-of-the-range HSE model looks menacing and modern, with optional 20-inch wheels, bi-xenon headlamps, LED daytime running lights and (again optional) black roof — who would have foreseen two-tone making a comeback?
Inside the Discovery Sport has the usual mix of chunkylooking knobs and switches, leather-lined luxury and abundant creature comforts.
It’s not all good news, though. Below eye-line, the plastics are hard and, on our car, there’s more than one blemish in the leather finishes.
The infotainment screen is also fiddly to navigate — our version gets the old setup because the new one isn’t compatible with the car’s topnotch Meridian audio. It doesn’t really cut it against the likes of Audi. The mood lifts noticeably at night, thanks to illuminated tread plates on the door steps and a cabin mood lighting package that can be customised to white, blue, pink or red.
The third row seats are a kids-only affair and access is a bit awkward.
The Discovery Sport may be designed with dirt tracks and water crossings in mind but it feels at home in carparks and cul de sacs.
Standard gear includes a powered tailgate, satnav, reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors for tight spots.
There’s also a clever split screen in front that allows the passenger to watch television while all the driver can see is the satnav or screen menu.
Our press vehicle bristles with almost $16,000 worth of options, among them a $5500 rear seat entertainment package — that would buy a lot of iPads.
Autonomous braking operates between 5km/h and 80km/h, applying the brakes if you fail to do so when distracted in traffic.
ON THE ROAD
Despite its off-road prowess, the Land Rover feels impressively car-like on the open road. There’s little of the lean through corners or floatiness you’d expect from a high-riding offroader and the steering is accurate and well weighted, if not sports-car sharp.
It rides comfortably, though there is the occasional thud over sharper edges and road joins.
Off-road it has Land Rover’s terrain response to match the car’s setup to the job at hand — just dial in mud, sand or snow — as well as hill descent control, wade sensing for river crossings and engine drag torque control for slippery conditions. Ride height is 212mm.
The Jaguar-Land Rover group is working on a new generation of engines. Unhappily for the Discovery Sport, they weren’t ready for its launch so it makes do with what are essentially carry-over engines that aren’t on the cutting edge of diesel technology.
The HSE uses the more powerful of the 2.2-litre diesels and it has a decent amount of urge, albeit with some lag off the mark.
It isn’t the quietest or most refined of engines, though. Noise and vibration make themselves known both at idle and under acceleration, while the stopstart function doesn’t kick the engine back into action as smoothly as rivals.