A new platform, face and innards serve the Land Rover Discovery Sport well but it can’t stay away from the carbs...
Take a guess at the average weight of a premium-midsize SUV equipped with a four-pot diesel. Less than two tonnes, surely? Well, we recorded 1 858 kg for a heavily optioned BMW X3 xDrive20d, a slightly portlier 1 937 kg for Audi’s Q5 2,0 TDI and an identical figure for the Mercedes-Benz GLC220d. Volvo’s XC60 – our reigning champion in this category in CAR’s Top 12 Best Buys awards – weighs 1 916 kg in D5 spec.
Now, you might wonder why we’re harping on about mass in a test on Land Rover’s extensively revised Discovery Sport, but there’s a very good reason. You see, when the British off-roading brand unveiled its new product, it highlighted the Disco Sport’s fresh “lightweight monocoque” Premium Transverse Architecture platform in place of the pre-facelift variant’s steel-heavy option that originally saw service as far back as the Freelander (effectively the Disco Sport’s forerunner).
Considering all the work Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) put into the fresh underpinnings, why did this D180 R-Dynamic HSE, the flagship diesel option, load CAR’s scales to the tune of 2 126 kg?
Excess weight in any vehicle places a persistent burden on the suspension and engine. Firmer springs and dampers are often required to control mass transfer, while the powertrain has to work harder to provide equivalent motive force to a lighter rival. In this Discovery Sport, the bulk is ever present but, to the credit of JLR’s engineers, not always to such a degree as to annoy.
Certainly, the mass is felt in terms of pure performance. Posting a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 10,33 seconds, the D180 is 1,61 seconds slower to the three-figure mark than the GLC220d. The chasm’s even wider through the gears, despite the Land Rover boasting a whole 30 N.m of torque more than the Benz and both making use of a nine-speed torque-converter automatic transmission.
In-town, there’s noticeable lag at low revs, dulling responses off the line. Urban driving is further compromised by one of the slowest stop/start systems we’ve experienced; it takes an age for the motor to fire up when easing off the throttle, long enough to get the occasional hoot from impatient Cape Town drivers at traffic lights.
However, once the Disco Sport is up and running, this fades into the background, much like the Ingenium engine’s clatter. JLR’s done great work in the years since this powertrain line was launched to improve refinement. In fact, the Discovery Sport is a fantastic highway companion: it’s hushed at 120 km/h; the ride on MacPherson-strut front suspension and a revised multilink rear-end is soothing; and the steering perfectly weighted not to feel nervous at the straight-ahead. Perhaps it has something to do with the weight but the Sport feels impervious.
Return to town and the ride quality continues to impress. Our test vehicle was equipped with the optional Adaptive Dynamics package (R12 300) with dampers adjusting 100 times a second to prevailing road conditions. Arguably the Sport doesn’t need this system even when appointed with these extra-cost (R31 600) 21-inch diamond-turned alloy wheels. (Land Rover smartly offers the option to downgrade the size of the wheels to smaller than standard.) Sure, there’s some pitter-patter but, overall, this is undoubtedly one of the best-riding vehicles in the segment.
It’s this loping gait that’s the smallest Land Rover’s real triumph. There’s clearly been little attempt to turn the Sport into a dynamic handler, a lesson other manufacturers could consider emulating. We were also impressed with the consistent weighting of the controls, an element the brand’s been getting right for years.
Still, there’s the weight... In our 10-stop emergency braking test, the Discovery Sport recorded an average time of 3,12 seconds, a disappointing result compared with the GLC’s 2,82 seconds and the X3’s 2,77. The Land Rover also needed at least four metres more road space to come to a halt. It affects consumption, too; the D180 posted a fuel-route figure of 8,1 L/100 km versus the BMW’s incredible 5,8 and 7,1 for the Benz.
Coinciding with the introduction of the new platform, JLR facelifted the Discovery Sport and expanded its standard-equipment tally. It looks smart and upmarket, but the team was split on the Namib Orange paintwork (11 other colours are offered). On the flagship R-Dynamic HSE trim, the Sport features 20-inch alloys, Premium LED headlamps with auto high-beam, a powered tailgate, keyless entry and start, PDC with a rear-view camera, lane-keep and blind-spot assist, plus adaptive cruise control.
The interior’s well equipped, featuring the brand’s tactile Ebony Windsor leather trim with 14-way electric adjustment for the front seats, an upgraded Meridian audio system with 10 speakers and a dual-channel subwoofer – the sound quality’s excellent, by the way – sat-nav, screen-mirroring plus a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot and digital instrumentation. Most of these features are extra-cost options on the Discovery Sport’s German rivals.
One feature we’re not convinced by is the ClearSight rear-view mirror with a wide-angle camera feed. Initially jarring, some members of the team eventually became used to the odd sight to their upper-left and others simply turned it off for a normal mirror.
Substantially more positive comments were made about the interior’s fit and finish. This test vehicle did not have a single obvious rattle or squeak, which is becoming a rarity in the premium market judging by our recent spate of creaky test vehicles across brands. Supple leather lines the dashboard and doors, the stitching is millimetric, the facia feels rigid and the controls are slick.
Meanwhile, the 10-inch touchscreen-equipped Touch Pro system is easier to use than ever – which isn’t saying much considering the low base that existed before – but not quite to the functional standard of the new Pivi Pro setup in the Defender. We also appreciate that not all the climate controls have been relegated to digital buttons, making adjustment on the move that much easier.
Elsewhere, the Discovery Sport’s interior is class-leading. There’s an abundance of leg and headroom fore and aft – the second-row bench slides through 90 mm and the backrests can recline – and the boot’s large, there’s minimal intrusion and the rear seats are a doddle to fold and tumble. Conveniently, Land Rover offers the option of a third row of kids’ chairs at R14 300.
The new Discovery Sport is unquestionably superior to its forebear. The interior’s leap in quality is notable; it drives better than ever without discarding those appealingly relaxed Land Rover qualities that draw buyers to the brand; and we think its design effortlessly balances the needs of appearing expensive but also likeably rugged. One tester summed up the Sport perfectly: “It’s disarming in the way it soothes daily stresses."
Nevertheless, it could be even better. Reducing the weight of its vehicles is a real challenge for JLR and we’ve been surprised at the scale reading of every Land Rover and Jaguar we’ve tested in recent memory. At the price, the middling performance and mediocre fuel consumption simply cannot be ignored. To that point, we’d opt for a lower-spec model to reduce the cost and the mass. Who knows, the smaller wheels and plumper tyres which are standard on more affordable models could elevate the already stellar ride to class-leading levels?
ROAD TEST SCORE
See Full Land Rover Discovery Sport price and specs here