Car reviews - Land Rover - Discovery Sport - SD4 HSE Luxury
Land Rover models
Spacious and versatile cabin, car-like performance and handling, great looks, impressive off-road ability, frugal fuel consumption
Room for improvement
Touchscreen glitches, wide turning circle, no capped-price servicing, hesitant throttle response, noisy engine
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26 Nov 2015
By NEIL DOWLING
Price and equipment
While $69,000 plus on-roads might not sound cheap for a mid-size SUV, that’s now the price of most contenders in the prestige SUV arena and, given the spectacular waiting lists and sales volumes, one that a lot of Australians are prepared to pay.
The Discovery Sport is something of a mini-Range Rover with all the allure and composure of the bigger wagon yet at up to a third of the price.
Yet despite its name, it is more like the Range Rover than the Discovery.
The Discovery Sport sits alongside the bigger Discovery 4 to form one-third of Land Rover’s new and expanding family. Range Rover and Defender – and their future blossoming associates – each occupy a third of the pie chart.
So the new arrival angles its attention to buyers wanting prestige, comfort and space. Off-road acumen may not be as important as having a trendy and versatile wagon that can live comfortably in the city.
The seven seats is a good lure. None of its rivals have this family hook. But there is a catch – the extra two seats are a $1990 option. If you’re true to your children who will occupy these small seats (they are not adult friendly) you will also need to consider ventilation outlets. These are inserted into the C-pillar and cost an extra $1150.
So what is marketed as a seven-seat SUV has already cost an extra $3140 just by honouring its sales brochure.
The test vehicle is the top-shelf SD4 HSE Luxury that is $69,000 plus on-road costs.
The seven-seat option is one surprise and so is the paint. Only one non-metallic paint colour, white, is available and avoids the extra cost of the sparkling paint. Land Rover will charge $1300 for metallic paint and $2600 for a premium metallic paint finish.
There is a comprehensive options list but, thankfully, the HSE Luxury escapes much of that pain.
Buyers may wish to opt for the expansive panoramic roof and its cloth shade ($1800) but as the smiling sales person may say, the rest is for “free”.
Standard kit in the HSE Luxury includes a comprehensive list of safety equipment, perforated leather upholstery with vented and heated front seats, a second seat row that slides and reclines, satellite navigation on an 8.0-inch touchscreen that includes a connectivity suite, electric tailgate, 19-inch alloy wheels with a full-size spare, and a Meridian 17-speaker audio with digital radio.
The broadcast news for the Discovery Sport is its seven seats. It sets the wagon apart in the $60,000-plus segment though buyers seeking seating room with slightly less prestige can opt for something like a Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Kluger or Kia Sorento.
But they aren’t quite in the Discovery Sport’s buyer profile. So the Land Rover attracts with its elegant cabin styling, high-end equipment and good use of premium materials.
The HSE Luxury gets perforated leather seats with ventilation and heating for the first row. The second and (optional) third row also share in the leather which is offset with gloss trim.
There is sufficient space for up to five adults and, in the rear, two children.
There is a temptation to fold an adult into the third row, just as an experiment, but that wasn’t particularly comfortable for your correspondent.
Buyers will find the third row suitable for ages of up to about eight years.
There is some relief for longer-limbed passengers thanks to the sliding centre row.
The middle seat row, which splits and folds flat, also has a recline feature which we found handy for dozy passengers and to create a more relaxed position for the occupant of a baby seat.
Access to the rear is via an electric tailgate and there is simple mechanisms for erecting the third row.
The boot has a cargo volume of 981 litres with the third row flat, and 1968 litres when the second row is folded. That makes it quite a bit bigger than rivals including the BMW X3 (550-1600 litres), Audi Q5 (540-1560) and the Volvo XC60 at 495-1455 litres.
The driver’s compartment is reflective of Land Rover/Range Rover’s clean and simple design.
Instruments are large and clear within the binnacle, with an 8.0-inch touchscreen for climate, navigation and infotainment.
It’s perfectly located and shows all the merits of rivals though in practice is not efficient and the graphics are not as clear as, say, a BMW. The main problem is that it is slow to react to commands.
The second is that it is clumsily designed. For example, to turn on the heated seats you must first press a dash button. Then on the touchscreen, press again to turn on the function. Rivals just have the one button.
It is, however, a pleasant cabin. The driving position is excellent and, save for the overly-large A-pillars that can block vehicles from lateral view, visibility is good.
There’s plenty of electric adjustment in the seats plus tilt and telescopic for the steering wheel.
The gearshifter is inherited from sister company Jaguar, rising from its flat profile within the console and operating by twisting. There’s an electric park brake which leaves plenty of room for the Terrain Response switchgear.
Good storage space and a plethora of USB (there’s seven) jacks and 12-Volt points are welcome, especially for families carrying electrical equipment for the children.
Engine and transmission
Land Rover remains tied to engine suppliers until about the end of this year when its own range of engines fires up under the Ingenium label.
The Discovery Sport repeats the Evoque’s drivetrain inventory, consisting of a PSA (Peugeot Citroen) 2.2-litre diesel and a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol from its former owner Ford.
Land Rover (and Jaguar) is following the lead of Volvo, also previously owned by Ford, in designing and making its Ingenium engines and escaping any ongoing license costs from Ford.
The Ingenium diesel is claimed to get from 4.9 litres per 100 kilometres, probably as a manual and in the lower-spec 110kW version. It appears, on paper at least, an improvement on the 6.1L/100km of the PSA unit used in the test vehicle.
So until the Ingenium petrol and 133kW/430Nm diesel line arrives, the HSE Luxury here will be propelled by the PSA 140kW/420Nm 2.2-litre.
That’s actually not a bad thing. The engine is willing, torquey, doesn’t strain at a bit of high revving and even at 6.1L/100km, is very economical on fuel.
Performance on the road is brisk, pushed by the low engine-speed torque that hits its 420Nm peak at only 1750rpm and also by the broad ratios of the nine-speed automatic transmission.
The Discovery Sport is the second vehicle to hit the market with the ZF-made nine-cog box designed for front-wheel and all-wheel drive layouts.
It was eclipsed to the showroom by the Jeep Cherokee. Jeep and its parent Fiat Chrysler Automobiles plan further models with the nine-speed box.
It’s not, however, always the perfect gearbox. In the Cherokee, it is extremely difficult to make it select ninth gear given Australian state speed limits. It has been reported as being clunky and so far, in the US, has been the subject of three recalls to tweak the electronic software.
But interestingly, it hasn’t been a problem for Land Rover. Gearbox designer ZF said software is developed for individual clients, indicating that the Cherokee’s mapping is quite dissimilar to the Discovery Sport.
The gearbox also shines in the dirt. The Discovery Sport uses the breadth of the ratio spread to allow a low first gear which benefits slow-speed off-road conditions. When accelerating from rest in sand, this low gear transfers to the second gear without a large fall in engine revs so it can maintain momentum as it stays within its powerful torque band.
What also aids the Discovery Sport off the road is the Terrain Response technology. It has four modes – grass/gravel/snow mud sand and road – with a “dynamic” setting for sporty driving.
All work by altering the settings and response times of the electric steering, accelerator pedal, gearbox shift points, the torque-vectoring and ABS, and the way the Haldex all-wheel drive coupling allocates power to the front and rear axles.
It is very similar to other Land Rover Terrain Response systems and has proven to be a simple yet highly effective way of maximizing traction without overly taxing the driver.
Ride and handling
The new Discovery model sits on a modified platform used by the Evoque.
It has a stretched 2741mm wheelbase that is partially responsible for the comfortable ride and resistance to road irregularities at high speeds. The wheelbase also gives it the spacious cabin.
New for the Discovery Sport is a refined multi-link rear suspension that is more compact than the strut design used on the Freelander 2 and Evoque.
Land Rover said its use is more about increasing cargo space, though there are obvious benefits in ride comfort and handling. In fact, this is one of the best driving SUVs around in the sub-$100,000 segment, and will beat some of those above this price.
The handling is very confident with minimal body roll and a chassis tautness that shrugs off mid-corner bumps. The steering has a quick ratio to feel almost like a sportscar and though it’s a bit vague in the straight-ahead position, is as good as most hydraulically-assisted systems.
Other than the modicum of vagueness when driving down a straight road, the only other complaint is the large turning circle of 11.7m which makes shopping expeditions a bit tiresome and can make off-road exercises a bit more arduous.
Above all, the wagon always feels composed, quiet and with supple dampening control. Drivers will love it as much as passengers.
Safety and servicing
The arrival of the Discovery Sport marks more than a separation from its reclothed sibling, the Range Rover Evoque.
The Evoque has a four-star crash rating but the new Discovery Sport has been given the maximum five-stars by the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) and the European equivalent.
Seven airbags plus a bonnet-mounted pedestrian airbag – the first vehicle in its class with this feature – are strong starting points.
The Sport then adds front and rear park sensors, a reversing camera, lane-departure warning, heated and folding mirrors, emergency brake display and an extremely important autonomous collision avoidance system – similar to Volvo’s City safety – that works between 5km/h and 80km/h.
There are also electronic brake aids including one to minimise trailer sway and another to assist in off-road conditions such as hill descent and which ties in with the Terrain Response software to maximise traction in various road and dirt conditions.
Pleasingly, the off-road capable wagon has a full-size spare wheel.
Land Rover offers a three-year or 100,000km warranty with roadside assistance.
The service intervals are 12 months or a generous 26,000km.
The company has no capped-price service program or any pre-paid or menu-based programs. It is the only major manufacturer without any program, though Citroen doesn’t yet cover all of its models.
Glass’s Guide estimates that the Discovery Sport will retain 61 per cent of its purchase price after three years, less than the BMW or Audi but better than the Volvo.
It’s easy to see why this is such a hot seller. It’s the right size for the city and for families, has a frugal diesel engine with loads of performance, has the “go anywhere” Land Rover badge and can be bought for as low as $53,300 plus on-road costs.
But it can get devilishly expensive just by ticking a few option boxes – notably the steep price just for the seven seats that you thought were standard equipment.
Time will tell if there’s any glitches with the model (it’s happened before) and it’s also time for Land Rover to consider a capped-price service program or at least a pre-paid menu.
Otherwise, it’s a beauty.
BMW X3 xDrive 20d from $64,700 plus on-road costs
A recent X-Line upgrade adds more exterior and cabin trim detail to the X3 without any price rise. The five-seat wagon has a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel with 140kW/400Nm and an eight-speed automatic with constant AWD. In this company, the fuel economy is by far the least at 5.4L/100km. The X3 can tow up to 2000kg and has a 550-1600 litre boot area. Features include sat-nav, front and rear park sensors with a reverse camera, bi-xenon headlights with auto-dip, leather-look upholstery and 18-inch alloys with run-flat tyres. It has a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assistance. The annual service program has a cost-effective pre-purchase option. Glass’s Guide gives it a high 64 per cent resale value after three years.
Audi Q5 2.0TDI from $62,600 plus on-road costs
The most popular mid-size SUV in the over-$60,000 segment is also the cheapest in this comparison. The 2.0TDI is also the least expensive diesel in the Q5 range. Like the other two in this comparison, it is a five seater. It gets a 130kW/380Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine, mates it to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with on-demand all-wheel drive. Audi claims 6.1L/100km. It tows up to 2000kg and boot space is an industry average 540 litres to 1560 litres. Features include sat-nav, leather-mix upholstery, bi-xenon headlights with washers, eight airbags, electric tailgate and front-rear parking sensors. Audi has a three-year, unlimited distance warranty with roadside assistance but has no capped-price service program. It has a strong 63 per cent resale value.
Volvo XC60 D5 from $69,990 plus on-road costs
The safety features of the XC60 are only one of its drawcards. It has standard autonomous collision avoidance technology called City Safety plus six airbags, built-in child booster seats, front and rear park sensors, reverse camera, LED daytime running lights and headlight washers. It also has the most powerful engine here, with a 2.4-litre bi-turbo diesel rated at 158kW/440Nm yet averaging 6.9L/100km.
Features include sat-nav, 18-inch alloys, electric tailgate and leather upholstery. It also tows up to 2000kg and has a more modest boot size of 495-1455 litres. Volvo has a three-year unlimited distance warranty with roadside assistance. Volvo’s SmartCare pre-paid three or five-year service plan costs $1895 for three years and a more comprehensive plan is $2950. The resale is 56 per cent.
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