L-R Discovery Sport

German beater, on and off the road

ALEX INWOOD

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

EVEN before you turn a wheel in the Discovery Sport, thereís much to like. Not only is its $53,300 starting price cheaper than its rivals (Audi Q5 and BMW X3), but itís prettier, stunningly practical with optional five-plustwo seating, and has Land Roverís bulletproof off-road reputation.

Disco Sport is the long-awaited replacement for the eight-year-old Freelander 2. Itís 89mm longer, but thanks to a faster version of Land Roverís Terrain Response System, is more capable off-road. Think of it as a rugged, seven-seat Evoque, with which it shares its platform.

Things only improve for the Disco Sport on the road.

Its handling, even on slippery switchback tarmac, is surefooted and predictable, helped in part by all-new multi-link rear suspension design that improves ride quality and, due to its compact design, packaging as well.

Well-weighted and direct steering imparts a distinctly sporty flavour, while a luxurious interior treads the fine line of feeling premium yet suitably hardwearing, courtesy of heavyduty floor mats and durable plastics. Itís practical, too. The rear seats slide fore and aft 160mm to boost luggage space, and the optional ($1990) third-row seats fold completely flat.

Three engine choices are offered, two 2.2-litre diesels Ė TD4 (110kW/400Nm) and SD4 (140kW/420Nm) Ė and a 177kW 2.0-litre Si4 turbo-petrol. All use a smooth-shifting nine-speed auto, while the more popular diesel variants have the choice of a Getrag six-speed manual.

Equipment levels are split across base SE (all drivetrains), HSE (diesels only) and HSE Luxury (SD4 only) variants, all with extensive standard kit: reversing camera, lane-departure warning, autonomous emergency braking, rear parking sensors and an electric tailgate. Thereís even a pedestrian airbag in the bonnet, which is a first for this segment.

Itís off-road, though, where the Disco Sport trounces its rivals.

Even without a low-range gearbox, itís capable of conquering terrain that would give a Q5 or X3 the cold sweats, with class-leading approach and departure angles, 212mm of ground clearance and 600mm wading depth.

Yet itís not perfect. Even in high-output SD4 spec, the diesel feels sluggish and distinctly lastgen, which it is; all-new 2.0-litre Ingenium engines arrive in 2016.

Yet thereís no denying the Discovery Sportís appeal. Its combination of class-leading offroad ability, refined road manners and pleasing performance makes it one of the finest premium SUVs smart money can buy. nomous ki d

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Land Rover Discovery Sport SE SD4 2179cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, TD 140kW @ 4000rpm 420Nm @ 1750rpm 9-speed automatic 1775kg 8.9sec (claimed) 6.1L/10km $56,500 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Noisy, sluggish turbo-diesel engine range must live on until 2016 Handsome looks; on-road manners; off-road ability; practicality; price

4WD only for Oz

THERE are plans to build a front-drive Discovery Sport, but it wonít be coming to Australia. Local chiefs told Wheels that, given the dismal sales of the front-drive Evoque, a two-wheel-drive Disco Sport doesnít fit into their product plan.

Instead, SD4 variants will be offered with the same Active Driveline as Evoque, which for $1620 seamlessly disconnects the four-wheeldrive hardware at speeds above 35km/h to drive the front wheels only. The result is all-paw grip when needed, yet less friction and better economy when itís not. f d i Di S

THE DISCO TEST

Use the free viewa app and scan this page to watch the Disco Sport in action