New car review

Land Rover Discovery Sport review

Why has Land Rover released a major update to the Discovery Sport just four years after launching it?

Summary

More than a refresh of the Land Rover Discovery Sport, this is a comprehensive update, combining excellent refinement on the road with supreme ability off it.
Design
8
Comfort
8
Driving Experience
8
Value for money
8
Safety
9

Summary

More than a refresh of the Land Rover Discovery Sport, this is a comprehensive update, combining excellent refinement on the road with supreme ability off it.

60-second summary

What is it?
A mid-life refresh for Land’s Rover’s mid-sized offering, but with rather more than a typical refresh

Key features
New platform, new electrified engines, new interior, lots of new tech.

Our view
This is much more than a refresh of the Land Rover Discovery Sport. It is a comprehensive update all of which is positive for the model, which combines excellent refinement on the road with supreme ability off it.

The payback?  Adding hybrid technology to the engines improves the efficiency but there are rivals that score much higher in this area. But leave the beaten track, and long after they are defeated by the terrain, the Disco Sport will still be going.   

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Full review

Introduction

It’s only four years ago that we first got to try the replacement for Land Rover’s most road-friendly and thus highly popular and long-lasting model, the Freelander.

The Discovery Sport moved the game on substantially, using the underpinnings of the then equally new Evoque from its upmarket sister brand Range Rover, resulting in quality on the road but still plenty of capability off it.

Not surprisingly the Discovery Sport has enjoyed the same level of success as the previous Freelander – Land Rover sells 120,000 across the globe each year, matching the Evoque and with UK buyers taking 20% of them.

Now we find ourselves in the Lake District, testing what is supposed to be a mid-life refresh for the Disco Sport – except it seems somewhat churlish to call this a refresh when the recipe includes all-new and electrified engines on a new platform, with an equally new interior and lots of latest tech to excite.

There’s a good reason of course. There’s an all-new Evoque on the block, built on Jaguar Land Rover’s equally new ‘Premium Transverse Architecture’. And following the example of its predecessor by making use of the sister model’s underpinnings opens up lots of possibilities for the Discovery Sport.

The question is should you buy this when you can get most of the hardware, and the perceived extra cachet of the Range Rover badge, on the actually slightly cheaper Evoque? Admittedly the latter is slightly smaller than the Disco Sport and offered only in five-seat format, not five plus two.  

The car’s chassis is both lighter and stiffer than its predecessor’s, which means greater efficiency and better refinement on the road. The major advantage, however, is that this chassis has been designed to accept electric additions to JLR’s latest Ingenium engines.

All car manufacturers are rushing to electrify their ranges, but especially those who make SUVs and who if they don’t get their average emissions down will soon be staring at big fines from the European Union. The Disco Sport launches with a range of mild-hybrid diesel and petrol powerplants (plus one non-hybrid diesel) while plug-in versions will join the line-up in 2020.

The new architecture also gives Land Rover the chance to let its designers loose in the interior, then pouring in lots of new tech released in the four years since the Disco Sport went on sale – some of which debuted a few months ago on, you guessed it, the Evoque.

What went unsaid in the Land Rover launch material, however, is that there was another urgent imperative to substantially upgrade the Discovery Sport. The original model suffered from horrendous reliability issues, many (but not all) relating to diesel particulate filter problems on Ingenium engines. These meant the particulate filter clogged up rapidly and resulted the car breaking down repeatedly, leaving thousands of customers stranded and irate…

Land Rover has always publicly denied there was a problem, but internal technical directives published in our forum and on other websites prove otherwise. The large owners’ forum website also has hundreds of complaints from disgruntled owners.

The Discovery Sport has regularly appeared at or near the bottom of new car reliability lists from the likes of Which? and What Car? magazines over the last few years, so hopefully this comprehensive update has managed to address a long list of quality and reliability issues.

  • Land Rover Discovery Sport review – front | The Car Expert
  • Land Rover Discovery Sport review – rear | The Car Expert

Buying and owning a Land Rover Discovery Sport

The latest Discovery Sport launches with six powertrain options, of which the 150hp diesel is both the only non-hybrid unit and the only power option available in front-wheel-drive.

All-wheel-drive variants (surely the only way to buy a Land Rover?) come in 150, 180 and 240hp diesels and 200 and 250hp petrols. The front-wheel-drive 150 diesel is sold with a six-speed manual gearbox, while all the others are only available with a nine-speed automatic. 

There are four trim levels dependent on engine, plus ‘R-Dynamic’ versions of all four with bespoke styling. The car ticks the box on safety, earning a five-star Euro NCAP rating back in 2014 – the standard safety specification includes autonomous emergency braking, a lane keeping aid, driver fatigue monitor and reversing camera, while on the options list are such useful extras as adaptive cruise control with a steering function keeping the car in the centre of its lane.

 You will pay £31,575 for the non-hybrid front-wheel-drive diesel, the first hybrid all-wheel-drive model being the D150 at £36,425. Petrol versions start at £36,775 with the P200, and range-topper is the petrol P250 R-Dynamic HSE at £48,575.

It’s an old adage that the vast majority of buyers of capable SUVs will never truly put their vehicle’s full off-road abilities to the test, but at least with a Land Rover you do get to discover what it can do. Every sale includes a half day at one of Land Rover’s Experience centres, of which there are nine in the UK.

At these, new owners are taken on an off-road course (in one of the centre’s vehicles, not their own), ascending and descending ridiculous gradients, ploughing through deep mud tracks and wading through rivers. Always useful to know what one’s vehicle is capable of… 

Inside the Land Rover Discovery Sport

Land Rover sells the Disco Sport as a ‘five plus two’ model but the third row of seats are optional, folding out of the floor, and very cramped – you wouldn’t want to travel far in them unless you are a very small child.

Far better to treat this as a five-seater – a highly spacious and versatile five-seater, especially in the rear. Clear evidence that Land Rover is muscling in on Range Rover territory is the attention given to passengers not sitting up front – there’s loads of adjustability in the rear seats which both slide and tilt, while the seat back is split 40/20/40, offering some 24 combinations.

  • Land Rover Discovery Sport review – dashboard | The Car Expert

Second and third-row passengers get their own individual heating controls, USB and 12-volt sockets, there is passenger wireless phone charging, a 4G wi-fi hotspot and even cupholders in the third row.

Boot space is impressive too – a gargantuan 829 litres, or more than 980 of you slide the second-row seats as far forward as they’ll go.

Anyone familiar with the outgoing Disco Sport and frustrated by its dash will find a revelation in the new one. Inspired again by the Evoque, the driver’s controls have been completely redesigned.

The centre console in particular is well thought-out, with the high-mounted infotainment system now based around a much larger ten-inch touchscreen with ‘swipe and pinch’ movements, in the process cutting down on the far too extensive number of buttons that were on the old car. And if you don’t like JLR’s own not-always-great navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone compatibility is included.

Under the screen the climate control and controls for such as the Terrain Response system are all neatly grouped together on a lower panel. In upper-spec models the driver also gets their own 12-inch digital info display behind the steering wheel, with a head-up display among the options available.

Generally the interior construction is of high quality, with lots of soft-touch surfaces, though some of the plastics, especially in the centre console, look a little shiny and cheap.   

Driving the Land Rover Discovery Sport

The new Disco Sport is as mentioned built around the latest PTA platform, producing a basic body 10% stiffer than its predecessor which aids refinement. It’s also specifically engineered to accommodate electric elements to the engines, either mild hybrids or the plug-in versions coming later. And the battery is carefully packaged to avoid eating up interior space.

As mentioned the hybrid variants will be on sale later in 2020, using a three-cylinder JLR Ingenium engine. For now the choice is between 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel or petrol units, all except one combined with a 48-volt mild hybrid system.

The mild hybrid format harnesses energy from deceleration, putting it back into the system like a traditional alternator but notably using it to aid performance – the energy is employed as ‘torque fill’, overcoming the lag that is typical of a turbo engine under initial acceleration. As with other mild hybrid vehicles, it can’t travel on electric power alone.

When braking at speeds under 17mph the system also stops the engine, which aids fuel economy – Land Rover quotes an 11% saving plus a 10g/km improvement in CO2 emissions. The range between fill-ups also increases by an impressive 123 miles.

While on the road, the AWD models make use of Land Rover’s ‘Driveline Disconnect’ system – effectively a smart transmission turning them into 2WD models for motorway progress and saving just a little in the economy and emissions stakes.

  • Land Rover Discovery Sport off-road test – front | The Car Expert
  • Land Rover Discovery Sport off-road test – rear | The Car Expert
  • Land Rover Discovery Sport off-road test – front | The Car Expert
  • Land Rover Discovery Sport road test – rear | The Car Expert

All of which adds up to an extremely refined performance on the road, so long as you don’t press on too enthusiastically. Do that and the car feels just a little like it’s aware of its weight (all that off-road architecture does come with some penalties) while the auto transmission, while smooth, is a little slow to decide on its next cog.

Mind you, this is no sports car and doesn’t pretend to be – its biggest talents lie in the scenery. Cruising on a motorway in our D180 test car proved a very relaxing experience, and meandering through a series of bends was an easy process – the car doesn’t need hustling…

Despite the hybrids and various eco and emissions-saving tricks, the Disco Sport doesn’t score too highly in these areas. Official figures of 40mpg and 183g/km for our 180 diesel is nothing to get excited about – again a drawback of carrying around all that weight.  

No-one needs telling that Land Rovers are completely at home off-road and our time with the Disco Sport at Land Rover Experience Yorkshire duly proved this. If anything, the new model is even better, with its latest Terrain Response software, impressive ground clearance, approach and departure angles, and even a wading ability increased by some 10cm to 60cm – that’s two feet in old money and useful in a world where flooding seems a more regular issue to tackle.

There’s more new tech to play with too, again nicked from the Evoque and generally useful stuff, though mostly on the options list and so an extra expense.

The camera-based Clearsight rear view mirror, with its 50-degree high definition image, vastly improves the view of what’s behind, whether keeping an eye on following traffic or unruly youngsters in the rear seats.

The Clearsight around view, which as its name suggests gives a complete view around the vehicle including underneath (effectively looking downwards as if the engine and floor aren’t there) is as useful for negotiating car park bollards as rocks on a quarry track.

There is even an aid to make reversing a trailer a piece of cake  – using a rotary control on the dash you steer the trailer and the vehicle automatically counter steers accordingly. Very clever…             

Verdict

This is a wide-ranging revamp of the Discovery Sport and the car is a lot better for it. All of the additions are improvements and result in a highly refined SUV that is a pleasure to drive along a motorway while confidence-inducing to tackle a highly-challenging off-road route in.

While the addition of hybrid technology improves the economy and emissions, the Disco Sport cannot match some rivals in this area. But none of them can come close to it in terms of sheer off-road ability.

Some will be tempted by that Range Rover badge and the slightly cheaper price of the Evoque, but the Land Rover Discovery Sport is worth the extra for its space and the fact that it is a truly versatile upmarket SUV.  

A key question that remains unanswered at this time is whether Land Rover has finally fixed the many reliability problems that plagued the original model. Only time will tell on that front, but many current Discovery Sport owners will be hesitant to splash out on another one or recommend the model to their friends and family.

Good points

  • New, more efficient engines
  • Top-level off-road ability
  • Better on-road refinement

Bad points

  • Still not great for economy
  • No telling whether past reliability issues have been addressed
  • Third row seats very tight

Key specifications

Model as tested: Land Rover Discovery Sport D180 SE
Price (on-road): £43,175
Engine: four-cylinder 2.0-litre diesel
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Power: 180 hp
Torque: 430 Nm
0-62mph: 9.7 sec
Top speed: 125 mph
Fuel economy (combined): 40.4mpg (WLTP)
CO2 emissions: 183 g/km (WLTP)
Insurance group: 32
Euro NCAP rating: 5 stars (2014)

Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is a road test editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.

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