Want the classiest and most capable compact 4x4 on - and off - the road? Then you probably want a Land Rover Discovery Sport, June Neary decides
Will It Suit Me?
In the compact four-wheel drive sector, the Japanese used to have it all their own way. Until Land Rover entered the fray with the Freelander, a car which went straight to top of its class. Now we have its successor, the Discovery Sport, a car which must reassert the brand's authority in this marketplace The kids just love it when we have a 4x4 to test out. They can't wait to get in the car to go to school (nice change) and they lord it over school friends as we loftily pass by. Sadly, I don't need the four wheel drive capability of a Discovery Sport for the school run but who cares? It's as at home in suburbia as in the Serengeti and has the advantage over most of its rivals that you can order it with seven seats. Plus this is the only compact family-sized quality 4x4 that's really rugged enough for weekends and holidays off the beaten track.
For day to day driving, the Discovery Sport was ideal for me. It made the daily chores that much more fun, yet for all its chunky dimensions, it handled well in tight corners. The interior finish, too, is more car-like than you might expect, so you don't have to forego any creature comforts out in the wilds. Taking a seat up-front in the so-called 'Sports Command Driving Position' positions you in a pleasant perch from which you realise just how far the designers of this car have come since they created the Freelander. The big buttons and utilitarian plastic surfaces of that car are here replaced by soft touch rotary controls and tactile buttons set in gloss-black surrounds. Many of these are borrowed from Land Rover's other compact model, the Evoque: as with that car, the circular gear selector for automatic models glides up from the centre console on start-up. Here though, the overall theme is logic rather than luxury, an approach that might at first seem a little less premium than that championed by this car's German rivals. But then that's appropriate. This car is, after all, more family-orientated. In any case, it is smart in its own mature, under-stated way, with the cabin appealingly dominated by the striking intersection between the bold vertical lines of the centre console and the slimmer horizontal elements of the instrument panel. You view this through a smart three-spoke leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel, the binnacle housing deeply-set twin analogue dials separated by a 5-inch colour TFT display delivering key data on things like fuel levels, gear position, temperature and the chosen Terrain Response mode.
Behind the Wheel
Being higher up than in a car is great for driving, whether you're in a town centre traffic jam or out on the dales. 4x4s are renowned for a sometimes less than composed ride but the Freelander isn't too bad in this respect. It corners without too much drama and long journeys don't present a problem, even though you will notice any bumps in the road more readily than in a standard family hatchback. On to engines, which are Land Rover's advanced 2.0-litre four cylinder Ingenium TD4 units, shared with the Range Rover Evoque and designed to deliver improved efficiency, along with class-leading torque and power. The most affordable TD4 unit in the range comes with 150PS and 350Nm of torque, but it's only offered with this car in five-seat form. Here, 62mph from rest occupies 11s on the way to 112mph. Most though, will want the 180PS variant which comes only with the seven-seat layout and delivers a much lustier 430Nm of torque. Here, there's a maximum speed of 117mph, while 62mph from rest takes 9.4s, though you can reduce this figure by a second if you take up the option of the slick nine-speed ZF auto gearbox many owners will want. More importantly, this variant has enough pulling power to permit a towing capability of up to 2,500kgs when the optional Tow Pack is fitted. Both the TD4 powerplants come mated exclusively to 4WD. This, by the way, is a proper permanent set-up rather than the less effective 'on-demand' AWD system that this car's less capable competitors use - and which Land Rover itself offers on this model in other markets.
Value For Money
In the Freelander era, there was always quite a price gap between Land Rover's compact and full-sized SUVs. Part of this Discovery Sport's remit is to narrow that, this car there to push the brand's compact SUV offering up-market, which in turn makes room for the company's new-generation Defender model to slot in beneath. That explains pricing that sits in the £33,000 to £43,000 bracket for mainstream models which are powered by the brand's latest 2.0-litre TD4 'Ingenium' series diesel engines. There's a choice of two - a 150PS unit you can only specify if you're happy to have this car in five-seat form with a manual gearbox. Or a 180PS unit that only comes with the seven-seat layout and provides the choice of either manual transmission or a nine-speed automatic that's offered at an £1,800 model-for-model premium. Across the range, buyers are offered the choice between four trim levels - 'SE', 'SE Tech', 'HSE' and 'HSE Luxury'. Whatever your choice, all variants come with permanent 4WD.
Could I Live With One?
Easily. The Discovery Sport is great fun, an excellent companion on the school run and perfect for high days and holidays.