Land Rover Discovery Sport

A hot new contender in the premium compact SUV class

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

THE just-right proportions of Land Roverís latest have been skilfully clothed and adeptly detailed to create a premium compact SUV thatís prettier than the rest. This much is instantly obvious. But are those who cannot resist the Discovery Sportís visual charms destined for disappointment?

Much tried and true hardware is used in the Discovery Sport.

Think of it as an enlarged, improved and more practical Range Rover Evoque (itself built on the Freelander 2 platform).

Both use the same transversemounted 2.0-litre turbo-petrol and 2.2-litre turbo-diesel fours, share basically the same front suspension and front-end body structure and are made in the same factory.

Mechanical differences begin at the B-pillar. Aft of this point the wheelbase has been lengthened by 81mm compared to Evoque and Freelander 2, and altered to accommodate a new multi-link rear suspension. The Discovery Sport is 89mm longer overall than its Freelander 2 predecessor, and a whopping 234mm longer than the style-slave Evoque.

Itís only when you climb inside the Discovery Sport that you find Land Rover has achieved more than expected. Thereís optional ($1990) foldaway third-row seats that donít reduce the volume of the cargo bay. And the excellent second-row bench slides fore and aft 160mm to shuffle the ratio of passenger to cargo space.

Ahead of the driver and front passenger, the Discovery Sportís instrument panel adheres to Land Roverís trademark look. Itís nicely finished and features a big new capacitive touchscreen front and centre. The driving position and front seats are good, but the passenger-side footwell isnít spacious and the switchgear could be more user-friendly.

Land Rover chose wintry Iceland to present the Discovery Sport. Itís a magical place, but the snow and ice limits what can be learned. All the Discovery Sports lined up for us outside Reykjavik airport wore studded tyres. Good for finding grip on ice, but noisy on snowless bitumen.

There will be a front-drive version of the Discovery Sport, but for now itís AWD only. The engine line-up comprises TD4 (110kW) and SD4 (140kW) turbodiesels, and Si4 turbo-petrol (177kW). All are available with a nine-speed auto, the diesels also with a six-speed manual.

Equipment grades are base SE (all drivetrains), HSE (diesels only) and HSE Luxury (SD4 only).

Diesels are expected to account for the majority of sales in Australia, so we focused on the SD4, in top-line HSE Luxury auto form. While the 140kW engine is noisy but strong, the nine-speeder is hard to fault.

The Haldex-clutched on-demand AWD system is quick to find traction, and experimenting with the Terrain Response modes, we found that the Sand setting often worked best on the snow and ice.

Land Roverís engineers have done great work on the electrically assisted steering, which has more feel and weighting than the typical compact SUV. Ride comfort, too, seems better than average. The Discovery Sport is responsive and well balanced on slippery surfaces, and it may feel equally competent on bitumen.

In Australia, Discovery Sport will undercut its rivals by a decent margin, priced from $53,300 (TD4 SE manual) to $68,990 (SD4 HSE Luxury auto). It delivers fine flexibility, great space and driver appeal to back its winning visuals.

In fact, thereís every chance that Discovery Sport could turn out to be the best of its breed.

JOHN CAREY

PLUS & MINUS

Engines will soon be replaced by new Ingenium family Style; interior design, space and flexibility; dynamics; prices

01 HOLLOW VICTORY

Lower arm and knuckle of the compact new multi-link rear suspension are made from lighter-than-it-looks hollow-cast aluminium. Itís also designed to deliver greater wheel travel than the competition.

02 TERRITORIAL

Is it just us, or does the Discovery Sport look more than a little like a Ford Territory from a rear three-quarter view? Especially around the C-pillar.

03 WADERS

Optional $540 Wade Sensing system uses sensors in door mirrors to measure the depth of water obstacles. Info is displayed on the Discovery Sportís centre touchscreen and an audible tone rises along with water depth.

Ingenium soon

WITHIN two years, the Discovery Sport will have new engines. Both the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel (shared with Ford and Peugeot-Citroen) and 2.0-litre turbo-petrol (a Ford Ecoboost, related to that used in Falcon) will be replaced by 2.0-litre turbo fours from JLRís new Ingenium modular engine family, promises Murray Dietsch, the Australian engineer whoís in charge of vehicle programs using the companyís transverse front-engine D8 architecture. The Jaguar XE will be the first model to go Ingenium.

OR TRY THESE...

Audi Q5 2.0 TDI quattro $62,600

CLOSE in price, performance and efficiency, but the Disco Sport looks and steers better, and also beats it for space and practicality.

But until new Ingenium engines arrive in the Land Rover, the Audi does have the better diesel four.

BMW X3 xDrive 20d $64,400

THIS so-called ĎSports Activity Vehicleí isnít the best thing in BMWís current line-up, lacking style outside and class inside. The 20dís drivetrain is efficient and strong, but the slower and less expensive Discovery Sport SD4 HSE seems likely to muster more all-round appeal.