The Land Rover family is a complex and ever-burgeoning dynasty. At the top end are the exclusive Range Rovers, then it’s the practical Discovery and then the agricultural Defenders. All three bear the overarching Land Rover moniker and also borrow a few elements from each other. Confused? There will be a test at the end.
To add to the confusion, the Freelander has now gone, and in its place is the new Discovery Sport – nothing to do with the larger Discovery. Could Land Rover not have made this a bit easier for us? Blame it on countries such as China and the US, where the Range Rover and Discovery are hot sellers, but no one knows what a Freelander is.
So, in an attempt to leverage as many sales as possible from these two iconic names, we welcome in the Land Rover Discovery Sport.
The good news – despite its identity crisis – is that there’s a lot to praise. Land Rover has taken the best-selling Evoque, stretched it and added two more seats, plus a totally new rear structure that extends the Sport’s wheelbase by 80 mm and its length by 91 mm. And, to this reconfigured chassis, they have added a compact (and effective) new multi-link rear suspension that, along with the extra length, helps with interior space – and overall ride comfort.
Much of the rest of the car is similar to the Evoque. But that makes sense. The brand’s top-selling model continues to fly off show-room floors and the only criticism – concerning space and ride comfort – has, according to Land Rover, been addressed with the Discovery Sport. Time to find out.
From the outside, the Sport is rather conventionally handsome, rejecting the very flagrant modishness of the Evoque. The characteristic descending roofline is actually a trick of design here: the rear section of the car ‘comes up’ to meet the roof in a series of etched creases, rather than the other way around. Clever. This results in a bit more interior space and a lighter feel. Inside, though, the ‘value’ badge of the less expensive Discovery is evident. The dash and centre stack console are more upright, with a more functional, rather than designer, feel to them. That said, the differences are mostly visual – functionality is pretty much the same: from the extremely user-friendly infotainment screen to the Jag-inspired rise-up-and-reveal gear selector. On test, over and over again, the less politically correct suggested, just by looking at it, that the Evoque is for girls and the Disco Sport for boys.
This is nonsense of course, as with all the extra room inside, the Disco Sport is a winner as a family car. Especially in the seven-seater version (there is also a good value five-seater available at R545 901), where the two extra seats in the back fold into the floor when they’re not in use and the second row of seats can slide fore and aft, which offers exceptional leg room in the back. It’s a great set-up, except for one flaw – there’s no option of a full spare wheel in the seven-seater – a problem in SA.
Once you start the Disco Sport, even if – like ours – it’s the venerable 2.2ℓ diesel version, two things become clear. Firstly, this is not an agricultural Discovery, but rather, it’s a suave urban chariot with excellent sound-dampening qualities. Secondly, it is as desirable as the Evoque, possibly even more so.
Why? Well, for starters, it is airier, less claustrophobic and certainly more comfortable. A major criticism of the Evoque is that it has a hard suspension and, although there is still a rather firm element to the Disco Sport’s ride, this suggests that the ‘Sport’ badge is not just for show.
This is more than evident when the road opens up and the car stretches its legs towards the Bainskloof Pass in the Western Cape.
The nine-speed automatic gearbox is one of the best out there, and the car stays remarkably quiet, barely letting in any intrusive road, wind or mechanical noise, right up to the legal limit. At the same time, it has a sense of purposeful tautness, which gives the impression that when the going gets twisty, the Sport won’t get bent out of shape. This was confirmed again as Bains grew even more challenging at the summit; the Disco Sport was unruffled.
Steering, in particular, is exceptional and, again, better than in the Evoque. The all-electric system works well with the tweaked Discovery suspension geometry and is an absolute pleasure to use – it’s heavy enough, but alert and responsive as well.
The Disco Sport is supposed to be all about ability, on- and off road, and in the soggy expanse of the Brandvlei Nature Reserve and the heights of the Hawequa range on the other side of Bainskloof, we really pushed it to perform to the best of its ability. With approach and departure angles of 25° and 31°, respectively, and a wading depth of 600 mm, it did not disappoint. We were mightily impressed that even with on-road tyres fitted, it was very much at home and felt more like its bigger namesake, the Discovery 4×4.
You can control the Terrain Response system through the infotainment inter-
face, so you’ll be able to prepare for a multitude of scenarios, such as slippery, rocky or sandy conditions, as well as see wading and descent angles through the various onboard cameras.
Yet, despite all of this technology, the most notable aspect was definitely the fuss-free way the Sport goes about the business of laying rocky, soaked terrain to waste. It is unlikely that this kind of punishing daily slog will be common, but it’s nice to know it can handle it.
Land Rover has a real winner here, with only one fly in the ointment. New four-cylinder engines are due out on the international market soon and these units will reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. But it’ll take a good long while for those to get here, with global demand being what it is. Can you wait?
In a nutshell
Land Rover Discovery Sport SD4 HSE
An Evoque without the poser status, hugely capable off road, quiet and effortless
on road, manageable size, roomier inside, seven seats
No full spare wheel on the seven-seater, new engines won’t be here anytime soon, still a bit hard on bad roads
- Engine: 2 179 cc 4-cylinder in-line diesel, turbocharged
- Power: 140 kW @ 3 500 rpm, 420 Nm between 1 750 rpm
- Performance: 0–100 km/h 8.9 sec, top speed 188 km/h
- Tyres: 18” alloys, 235/60 tyres
- Economy: 6.3ℓ / 100 km
- Gearbox: 9-speed automatic
- CO2 emission: 166 g/km
- Price: R697 020 (range starts from R545 901)
BMW X3 xDrive20d xLine
Excellent diesel engine, good on-road manners and efficiency. 0–100 in 8.1 sec, top speed 210 km/h, power 140 kW / 400 Nm R605 229
Volvo XC60 D4 Inscription
Unique, very safe, excellent in the dirt. Noisy,
less engaging than rivals, horrible interior. 0–100 in
8.1 sec, top speed 210 km/h, power 140 kW / 400 NmR576 300
Mercedes-Benz GLC 250d 4MATIC
Chic, excellent engine. Off-road ability decent but unlikely to be used. 0–100 in 7.6 sec, top speed
223 km/h, power 149 kW / 380 Nm R622 260