What is it?
Two things. To start with, it’s Land Rover’s replacement for the popular and capable Freelander. It’s also the first of the models from Land Rover’s new Discovery sub-brand that focus on utility, the same way the Range Rover line is about luxury.
The Discovery Sport is smart, well proportioned and interesting but doesn’t have the show value of something like an Evoque. Still, there’s a certain honesty to the chunky shape which, if you think about it, more than links the Sport to the Freelander. The Sport is 91mm longer than its predecessor and also sits on a wheelbase that’s grown by 80mm. These increments, and the incorporation of a compact multi-link rear suspension, have allowed Land Rover to fit in a third row of seats, giving the Sport somewhat of an advantage over its five-seat competitors – the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Volvo XC60. But Land Rover is being cautious and calling the Sport a ‘5+2’ rather than a seven-seater, simply because space in the rear is only suited for kids, given the poor access, the awkward seating position and limited space. Also worth noting is that seven-seat versions only get a space-saver spare tyre as opposed to the full-size spare the standard five-seat versions come with. To be honest, we’d suggest you save the Rs 1.5 lakh Land Rover wants for the additional two seats.
As on all modern Land Rovers, the Discovery Sport’s cabin is neat with a long-lasting feel to everything, though some plastics low down do feel quite ordinary. Angular cues dominate the dashboard and, once again, it doesn’t look revolutionary in any way; just very Land Rover. What does make a difference is the new touchscreen-operated infotainment system. It’s a step up from the older system offered on all Land Rovers, and is easy enough to use on the move. However, the interface is not the best or slickest around.
In the Discovery Sport, you sit at a nice height that'll give you a good view out. Front seat comfort is good. The middle row passengers get seats which are supportive and can be moved fore and aft to maximise legroom or free up knee room for the last row. Space, in general, is good while the large windows allow enough light into the cabin. Land Rover has also given the cabin lots of recesses for small items and thoughtfully equipped it with seven USB charging points, one for each occupant.
Land Rover has launched the Discovery Sport in India in four trims, with the the top HSE Luxury solely available with the more powerful of the two engines on offer. The base S trim doesn’t get all that much in equipment so if you are considering a Discovery Sport, it’s worth extending your budget to the SE version that comes with a panoramic sunroof, xenon headlamps, sliding and reclining rear seats, parking aids, two-zone climate control and 10-speaker audio system. HSE versions additionally feature full leather seats, electric seat adjust, rear view camera and park assist (it’ll parallel/ perpendicular park the car for you!). The pricey HSE Luxury car gets rear seat entertainment systems, 10-way powered front seats and a 17-speaker Meridian audio system. An adaptive suspension is also part of the kit.
What is it like to drive?
As mentioned, the Discovery Sport is available with two engine options. Well, it’s actually the same four-cylinder, 2.2-litre diesel engine offered in two states of tune – 147bhp and 187bhp; similar to what was offered on the Freelander before. In either form, the engine on the Discovery Sport comes mated to a nine-speed automatic gearbox.
We drove the lesser-powered ‘TD4’ version of the Discovery Sport and found it to be an SUV that’s quite well suited to average city and highway use, power deficit to rivals notwithstanding. Slight low speed grumble apart, refinement is good, power is delivered in a linear manner and there’s a steady build of speed. This version of the Discovery Sport is not fast but performance is still more than acceptable. However, those who’ve experienced the punch of modern diesel motors will find this engine unexciting. As for the gearbox, it functions well for the most part but at times, shifts aren’t as fluid as those on the more commonplace eight-speed units. The transition from first to second gear, at times, isn’t as seamless as it ought to be. Via paddleshifters you do have the option to take manual control but even in Sport mode, the system won’t let you hold gear. Left to its own devices, the gearbox keeps the engine spinning at the lowest revs where possible – 100kph in 9th gear on a steady throttle equals just 1400rpm!
The Discovery Sport actually works very well as a vehicle for long distance travel. The suspension feels beautifully damped at high speeds and body control is good. Add to this a well-weighted steering and what you get is a great feeling of control. Also, while the Discovery Sport may not be an X3 around the corners, handling is always neat and tidy. Unfortunately, the Discovery Sport also comes across as a bit stiffly sprung at low speeds. There’s that little bit of movement over all sorts of surface imperfections and even bumps you may not feel do register a noise at the tyres.
Off road, the Discovery Sport feels remarkably talented. We’ve driven the Discovery Sport on moderate off-road trails outside Mumbai and on ice and snow in Iceland before and can vouch for the efficacy of the Terrain Response System it comes with as standard. The system preps the steering, throttle, braking and centre coupling-based all-wheel-drive system for a variety of conditions. Due credit also to the Discovery Sport’s good approach, departure and ramp breakover angles, and impressive 600mm wading depth.
Should I buy one?
If good off-road ability is high priority for you, your search for mid-size luxury SUV should end at the Discovery Sport. It’s superbly capable and also small enough to enjoy in the rough. Pity the majority of Discovery Sports in India will never see the kind of terrains this SUV is built for. On other fronts too, the Discovery Sport impresses. It looks good, feels solidly put together and comes with plenty by way of goodies. You’ll also have little to complain about with the way it drives and rides.
Prices for the 147bhp Discovery Sport featured here start at Rs 46.1 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai) and top off at Rs 53.3 lakh. While the prices do put this version of the Discovery Sport in the same band as rivals, let’s not forget all of its rivals also come with more powerful engines. If you want more power, you’ll have to be prepared to pay Rs 62.18 lakh for the sole 187bhp model. In a spec-to-spec comparison, then, the Discovery Sport doesn’t quite shine.
But for the money, you get a remarkably well-rounded SUV with a personality very distinct from its contemporaries. To many, the latter bit alone should be enough reason to give the Discovery Sport serious consideration.