Gareth Butterfield is left thoroughly impressed after spending a week in Land Rover’s versatile new Discovery Sport
SO this is the new Land Rover. For reasons I can’t fathom it’s called the Discovery Sport, which is odd because it should really be called the Freelander – the car it technically replaces.
Freelander is a nice name, but Discovery Sport is a confusing name because it suggests it’s a sporty car. It’s not. A Porsche Boxster or a Lotus Elise is a sporty car, this is a four-wheel-drive, seven-seat go-anywhere family workhorse. How is it in any way sporty?
In fact, this reminds me of something that winds me up about naming the many sectors in the motoring industry. SUV stands for Sports Utility Vehicle. I’ve heard it said the Range Rover is an SUV but, frankly, my grandmother is sportier than a Range Rover.
Anyway, there’s been a big waiting list for this car, and hundreds of people ordered one before they had even sat in it. Some might call that blind faith but I’d say it’s a sign of confidence in just how good the current Land Rover line-up is.
That and desperation. This has been a long time coming and the Freelander was long in the tooth and completely outclassed. The Discovery Sport isn’t.
In fact it feels wonderfully fresh, modern, taut and reassuringly solid in the way all new Land Rovers feel. It feels like a small Range Rover Sport or a Large Range Rover Evoque. Which is basically what it is.
I ONLY had a quick go in the Discovery Sport yesterday but it’s now the weekend and we’ve got to get to Hertfordshire today for reasons involving the mother-in-law.
My test car is quite a high spec but, with a motorway run ahead of me I’m disappointed to find it doesn’t have Land Rover’s brilliant adaptive cruise control fitted. Not to worry, it does have a full-length glass roof, full leather seats and a fab new infotainment system. It should be a nice drive down.
As I’m loading the car with all the suitcases her ladyship requires for a 24 hour visit to the south I notice it’s got a powered tailgate. I’m not a fan of these at all.
I understand it’s supposed to make it easier to load shopping but they’re always so slow and ponderous. You’d have to put one handful of shopping down to operate the open switch anyway and, if you were trying to use one to shut your dog in, there’s no way it would slam in time to stop the dog leaping out again, wondering why you made its escape so easy.
Never mind, it’s a massive space with a low loading sill and plenty of room for a family’s bags or a large, well-trained dog.
The drive down is comfortable, thanks to its big seats and excellent suspension and we have chance to play with the infotaiment system. Land Rover’s on-screen controls have been given a work-over for the Discovery Sport and it’s better than ever. Very simple to find your way from function to function.
Before we set off back to Derbyshire I take the father-in-law out to have a look round the Discovery. I’ve not yet had chance to play with one of its cleverest features – its hidden extra row of seats.
As we both stand awkwardly waiting for the boot to open I realise for a moment that I might be about to make myself look like a complete buffoon as I fumble with catches and levers, trying to work out how to move things round without looking like I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing.
However, it turns out the process is remarkably simple. Once you’ve heaved out the load compartment cover and figured out where to put it you simply tug on a strap to haul each rear seat from its cavity – then flip up each head rest.
The middle row of seats can fold down – in my test model at the touch of a button – and they can also slide back and forth and recline. Father-in-law and I am instantly impressed at how simple all this is.
The middle seats, incidentally, have two Isofix points and literally every seat in the car has a USB point and a share of a 12v cigarette lighter socket. This is the first car I’ve been in that has more USB points than 12 sockets and it’s a welcome sight.
There’s even separate air-conditioning controls and vents for the rear seats which, obviously, are better for children or very small adults. Also, the boot space is basically all gone once they’re up but the seats do have proper seatbelts which is an important touch.
I’VE realised today I’ve been paying absolutely no attention to the fuel economy in the Discovery Sport. I’ve been distracted by how good the interior is and how well it drives.
Mine has a manual gear box linked to the only diesel engine offered at present, a 2.2-litre, four cylinder lump familiar to many owners of Jaguars and Land Rovers. And it’s not very good.
I didn’t like it in the Range Rover Evoque, I hated it a bit less in the Jaguar XF and it’s not bad in the Discovery Sport, but this car deserves better. More worryingly though, my average MPG is reading at just over 36MPG and that’s not good because inferior cars such as the BMW X3 will better it. What a shame.
MY commute to work consists of a brief burst of dual carriageway, a monotonous stretch of rural A road and then a spot of town driving. It’s a varied test run and the Discovery Sport is very good at all of it. I’m starting to see why there’s so many of them on the roads already because just about everything impresses me. I’ve learned how to stir the slightly awkward gear shifts to time with the slightly lethargic engine and now I’ve mastered it I’m driving more efficiently and even warming to the engine.
I love its car-like driving position and its full length glass roof, the sure-footed handling and the well-put-together feel it exudes.
This being a Land Rover, it also has an array of modes to help you out if you take it off road. There’s a button for driving past Christmas trees, another one for driving past a cactus and one which, I assume, helps you dodge giant snowflakes.
Land Rover politely asks journalists not to take their cars off-roading without an instructor next to you so I can’t test any of these capabilities but I really don’t need to. I know its pedigree and I know it will out-perform all its rivals on the rough stuff.
THIS week I’ve realised I’m driving one of the best new cars of the year. There’s hardly anything to dislike about the Discovery Sport. So I set about finding things to pick fault with.
The sliding cover on the central cup-holders is made of a cheap plastic that has rough edges, which is a shame. You get quite a lot of wind noise from the rear view mirrors when at speed and the touch-screen system, although responsive, is a bit far away from the driver and passenger for my liking. And my test model has a keyless, push-button start but you still need to use the key to open the car. So you’ll have to get your key out of your pocket or bag to get in, but it’s completely redundant once you’re in the car. This sounds silly, but finding yourself having to force the key back into your pocket once you’ve sat down is annoying and finding a place for it in the car feels like something you shouldn’t have to do. If you see an option box for keyless entry tick it, trust me.
None of these things should put you off buying the Discovery Sport though. Every car has its minor flaws and I’ve had to dig very deep to find them.
IT’S time for the Discovery Sport to go back and I’m obviously thoroughly impressed. I’ve realised it doesn’t just replace the Freelander, it makes it look like a rubbish old Dinosaur. I quite liked the Freelander but stepping out of one and into a Discovery Sport would be like stepping off a skateboard and on to a hoverboard.
We already know from its instant sales success that Land Rover has a success story on its hands and I’ve really enjoyed finding out why.