Land Rover has re-imagined what its Discovery Sport SUV should be. Jonathan Crouch drives the top D240 version.
Land Rover's Discovery Sport has evolved considerably in this updated form, with huge engineering changes and a completely fresh interior. It remains a go-to choice if you're seeking a premium-badged model in the mid-sized 7-seat SUV segment - or if you want an SUV of this kind that can go where others fear to tread. Let's try it in top D240 diesel guise.
The name might suggest a sportier version of the brand's full-fat Discovery large SUV. Instead, this is very much a separate, smaller model whose 'Sport' moniker is intended to designate the kind of active lifestyle likely owners will probably lead, rather than suggest a particularly dynamic handling demeanour. Those potential buyers will usually be those with larger families who can't - or don't want - to stretch to a big Disco or Range Rover model. People typically frequenting the market for mid-sized 7-seat Crossovers like Kia's Sorento, Volkswagen's Tiguan Allspace, Skoda's Kodiaq and Hyundai's Santa Fe.
It's certainly a crucial car for the brand. No model in Land Rover's history has sold better than the Discovery Sport. Which was crucial in the 2016 to 2017 period which saw its JLR parent group make massive losses in the wake of a downturn in diesel sales and public uncertainty over Brexit. More recently, things in Solihull have begun to look a little rosier as the JLR conglomerate's £2.5 billion 'Charge & Accelerate' turnaround plan has begun to take effect. And this rejuvenated Discovery Sport is very much a part of that.
This improved Discovery Sport features some fundamentally different engineering in terms of its fresh platform and mild hybrid tech, but it's not the kind of thing likely to change the dynamic character of this SUV - nor should it. Set off and this car feels exactly as any Land Rover of this kind should, with a high-set driving position and a relaxed, loping demeanour offering ride quality that improves the faster you go. Refinement's excellent, helped by this enhanced model's much stiffer 'Premium Transverse Architecture' chassis, a platform which also makes possible the fitment of a fresh range of 2.0-litre petrol and diesel engines. We tried the top D240 unit, which makes 62mph in 7.4s on the way to 136mph and develops 500Nm of torque, so can tow up to 2.5-tonnes.
All the engines are slightly hobbled by this Discovery Sport's relatively heavy weight - upper-spec versions weigh in at just over two tonnes, which is a lot for a mid-sized SUV these days. But in some ways, the solid structure's hefty feel rather fits with this car's evolved maturity into more of a fully-fledged Land Rover product. Predictably, none of this model's competitors can hold a candle to this car's prowess on the rough stuff. You'll damage any one of them if you attempt to get anywhere near what this Land Rover can do 'off piste'. That's thanks to 212mm of ground clearance, 600mm of wading depth capability and an evolved 'Terrain Response 2' driving mode system which sets the car up perfectly for the type of ground you're travelling over.
At first glance, this improved Discovery Sport looks little different to the original model. If you take a second look though and you happen to be familiar with this car, the changes will become more obvious. Trademark Discovery design cues, including the clamshell bonnet, rising beltline and tapered roof remain, but the detail features have changed. For instance, there are re-styled signature LED headlamps at the front and rear, alongside an updated front grille and bumpers.
Inside, the standardisation of Land Rover's digital Touch Pro infotainment system and the introduction of more premium materials throughout makes a big difference. All the seats have been completely re-designed for improved comfort and versatility. And the second row bench gets 40:20:40 split fold and slide functionality, enabling a more flexible seating arrangement with up to 24 possible combinations. The brand says there's more luggage space too; with all the seats folded, there's now 1,794-litres of capacity. That's up from 1,698-litres previously. As before, the third row seats are strictly for small children only. But we like the way that the second row bench has been raised 5cms higher than the front chairs to give occupants a better view out.
In theory, Discovery Sport pricing starts from around £31,500. But that figure only gets you a base D150 diesel version lacking three things that most Disco Sport customers want, namely seven seats, automatic transmission and AWD. If you want all those things on a base D150, you're looking at a starting price of around £36,500 - quite a lot different. Add a premium of nearly £4,000 to that if you want the mid-range D180 diesel; or around £6,000 more if you want the top D240 diesel we tried. All AWD Discovery Sport models feature Land Rover's MHEV mild hybrid 48-valve technology.
Various trim levels are offered across the line-up - base 'Discovery Sport', then 'S', 'SE' and 'HSE', plus there's an 'R-Dynamic' option if you want something that looks a bit sportier. Even an 'S'-spec variants includes 18-inch alloy wheels, power-folding mirrors, rear animated directional indicators and an 'Adaptive Speed Limiter' that can set itself to prevailing speed limits courtesy of 'Traffic Sign Recognition'. Inside in an 'S'-spec variant, you get seats trimmed in your choice of either perforated grained 'Ebony' leather or the 'Ebony Luxtec' upholstery we tried, which features a rich 'suedecloth' finish. Either way, there's 12-way power adjustability at the front, plus you get an auto-dimming rear view mirror. There's also a 10.25-inch 'Touch Pro' centre-dash screen complete with smartphone-mirroring and Land Rover's 'Connected Navigation Pro' system.
You might, like us, find it a little difficult to get your head around that this improved Discovery Sport weighs significantly more than the Range Rover brand's much larger Velar model - a car that's a substantial 200mm longer. That partly explains why this model's mild hybrid tech hasn't been especially effective in helping this car achieve a class-competitive set of efficiency figures. The top D240 diesel we tried returns up to 38.8mpg and up to 168g/km. In our test, we averaged a mid-30's mpg figure and got around 300 miles from the now-larger 67-litre tank (which, usefully, is 20% bigger with this revised model). Going forward, all the diesel engines will of course now meet the current officially stipulated need for 'RDE2' 'Real Driving Emissions Stage 2' Euro emissions compliancy.
All of the fuel and CO2 figures we just quoted assume that you've chosen the most frugal of the four 'Terrain Response 2' driving modes - 'Eco' - for your trip, a setting that, as the name suggests, adjusts all of the car's systems for maximum efficiency. Beyond that, your driving is clearly going to play a crucial part in the efficiency process, something this Discovery Sport's technology wants to help you improve. The 'Touch Pro' infotainment screen's 'Eco Data' section offers a 'Driving Style' display to help here, showing you your recent efficiency success when it comes to three areas - 'Accelerator', 'Speed & Engine' and 'Brake'. There's also 'History' screen graphically showing how your running cost figures from recent journeys have stacked up and, rather cringingly, awarding you a little trophy for the most frugal one.
Embracing the adventurous spirit that has defined the Discovery family for the past 30 years, this enhanced Discovery Sport is a car we found to be a useful evolution of the original, especially in top D240 form. For years, it's been the market's only premium-badged 7-seat mid-sized SUV. The arrival of the Mercedes GLB gives Solihull some much-needed competition on that score, but otherwise, if you want a car like this, your only other choices lie either with a 5-seat mid-sized model. Or a volume-brand 7-seat SUV in this category that won't have this car's up-market feel - or its strong residual values.
It's true that some rivals offer a more engaging tarmac driving experience, but the Discovery Sport's greater emphasis on luxury and comfort is one we believe most likely buyers will prefer. We think the ride quality's class-leading. Sure, you pay for that - especially if you delve into the extensive options list, but this car's value proposition remains appealing in terms of its monthly finance figures, thanks to an excellent set of residual value predictions.
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