The first time we saw the Land Rover Discovery Sport it was on an 80-metre barge floating past the Eiffel Tower. Now we have been given the chance to personally test drive Land Rover’s new compact SUV on the varied and beautiful terrain of Iceland.
With more than 20 active volcanos, glaciers and boiling hot geysers in its path, Land Rover’s new compact sports utility vehicle certainly has its work cut out. We donned our thermals, steeled ourselves for the lack of sunlight and drove into the wilderness to find out if this vehicle, destined to replace the Freelander, is the only off-roader you will ever need.
The Land Rover Discovery Sport is the first member of the new Discovery family. In layman’s terms it’s essentially a larger version of the Evoque, a car it shares a platform with – albeit in a highly modified form.
Looks wise, the Disco Sport has elements of the Range Rover, Evoque and Freelander about it, which means it’s about as stylish as you can get for a large box on wheels. It has menacing eyes and a permanently angry look about it, while the gently swooping roof line helps disguise the sheer size of it, with the spoiler overhang and twin exhaust exits at the back giving it a sporty appeal.
It’s more than just a pretty face. This car is 24kg lighter than the Freelander 2 thanks to an aluminium bonnet, roof and tailgate, which gives it the edge in efficiency and performance.
The Discovery Sport is smaller than a Range Rover Sport, but larger than an Evoque. Specifically, it measures 239mm longer, 83mm wider and 89mm taller, which gives it more room for passengers. Unlike the Evoque, the Discovery Sport can seat up to seven people in a family-friendly 5+2 seating arrangement (a five-seat-only option is available but not in the UK).
There is ample leg room in the front and middle row of seats, which are remarkably comfortable, while the third row can accommodate a modestly sized adult in short bursts, or kids on longer voyages. Said rearmost seats can be folded away completely when not in use, giving you full access to the boot.
Performance & handling
The Land Rover Discovery Sport has one engine option at launch, and it’s not from the new Ingenium family debuting in the Jaguar XE. The 2.2-litre SD4 turbodiesel is the same as you’d find in the Evoque or Freelander. It’s a solid unit, developing 190PS with a hefty 420Nm of torque, while spewing out 162g/km of CO2 emissions. 0 to 62mph takes 8.4 seconds and the top speed is 117mph.
A six-speed manual or ZF nine-speed automatic are available, the latter costing an extra £1,800 for the privilege. We drove the car with the auto box and found it to be a great engine and transmission combination. It proves very refined at any speed, with almost seamless gear shifts enhancing the luxury feel. The engine only betrays its diesel heritage when the vehicle is at a standstill, where it is a tad grumbly if the stop-start is not active.
There are plenty of systems to help make the Discovery Sport a doddle to drive, including Hill Descent Control, Gradient Release Control, Roll Stability Control, Engine Drag torque Control and Dynamic Stability Control. More than enough controls in there, we think.
On the road it is incredibly well behaved, more so than the Evoque. It glides over Tarmac beautifully – not quite as silkily as the Range Rover, but more so than anything else in the family. The cabin is quiet, too, even when rumbling over the rough stuff on studded tyres.
Off road, the Discovery Sport excels. We spent the majority of our time with it ploughing through an Icelandic snowstorm and it barely batted an eyelid. Its 4×4 drivetrain means it’s inherently well suited to driving over just about anything, while extra computers – in the form of Land Rover’s Terrain Response system – automatically calculate what type of surface you’re on, how slippery it is, and how much torque you will need to get over it in the most composed fashion.
The Hill Descent Control feature is especially impressive, as it lets you drive nose first down seemingly impossible inclines without using the brake at a controlled 5kph – slower than the previous generation system allowed.
Economy & environment
The Discovery Sport’s SD4 diesel promises 44.9mpg so it’s fairly impressive at keeping fuel bills down considering a kerb weight of 1,817kg. There is, of course, the problem of real-world figures being much less generous. We shall have to drive it on less challenging roads to see how close it gets to that claimed figure.
The low CO2 emissions (162g/km) means it will be relatively cheap to tax, while all those seats will ensure you can do most journeys with one car, which is less costly and more efficient than using multiple vehicles or taking multiple trips.
Equipment & value
There are four trim levels to choose between, starting with SE, then SE Tech then HSE. In the case of the 9-speed 2.2-litre SD4 Diesel, there’s an even higher HSE Lux option.
All models get a new infotainment system with an eight-inch display, which can be upgraded to SD card-based navigation as part of the SE Tech spec and above. There are also daytime running lights, 12 different paintjobs and Land Rover’s usual excellent build quality and pleasing aesthetics.
Optional extras include four 12v charging and six USB connections so passengers can charge up their gadgets as they travel, 20-inch alloys for the rapper look, full leather (instead of part-leather), panoramic roof and a centre armrest cooler for carrying champagne to that picnic.
There are a surprising number of seven-seater compact SUVs on the market, arguably the most impressive being the Hyundai Santa Fe, which starts from £28,910 for an equivalent engine. An Audi Q5, meanwhile, starts from £32,615 and is generously specced. A BMW X3 is £32,995 if you can stomach a smaller, less powerful diesel and fewer seats.
The Discovery Sport is, therefore, not bad value at all.
Good news for you and your loved ones: The Land Rover Discovery Sport scored a full-fat five-star Euro NCAP rating, with particular praise levied towards autonomous emergency braking as standard. Yes, this car will brake for you if your attention is diverted and a child or other object crosses your path.
Spend a fair few extra quid and there are various other systems to further improve safety, including road sign recognition, Lane Departure Warning, Park Assist and Parking Sensors. Bottom line, though, is this is a Land Rover – if you collide with something, you’re likely to walk away with barely a scratch, unlike whatever you run into.
Actually, that’s not strictly true. The Discovery Sport has an airbag on the bonnet as standard so if you do hit a pedestrian, there’s more of a chance they will live to tell the tale.
It can be difficult to justify a big 4×4 when polar bears are watching their homes melt. But the Discovery Sport is so versatile, so pretty and so capable it’s almost impossible not to love. Sure it may inherit the same image problems as its big brother but this is a car that can carry up to seven people in luxury, and has respectable fuel economy and emissions. It’s a car that can wade through rivers more than half a metre deep, carry tons of shopping and pick up all the kids up from school without skipping a beat. It’s also great fun to drive and relatively affordable. Need we go on? The new Discovery Sport is, in a word, epic.