Driven: Land Rover's new Discovery Sport is posh and capable
It’s often a thought that crosses my mind when I see a “New” Land Rover Discovery. From the very first Discovery launched in 1989 through to the Discovery 4 Land Rover seemed to have their ducks in a row.
Then in 2017 they unveiled the New Discovery and it was met with about as much enthusiasm as a dad having to change a dirty diaper. From the off-centre rear number plate to the new fluid lines, traditionalists were up in arms, the fact that it was still immensely capable off road notwithstanding.
On the back of that they then discontinued the Freelander II but had the good sense to replace it with the Land Rover Discovery Sport, a “softer” version of the Discovery.
It found a strong following and continues to do so and has done extremely well for Jaguar Land Rover, in part because vehicle and conservation legislation as well as lifestyle choices have made the hardcore 4x4 market a lot smaller.
It’s also the only vehicle in the segment that has proper off-road ability and while a small percentage of owners are likely to put that in to practice, it’s nice to know that the option is there.
Which brings us to the new Land Rover Discovery Sport.
At first glance it may not look like it but there have been a number of changes, most notably inside and under the skin.
On the exterior though you’ll see new LED headlamps front and back and a redesigned front grill and bumpers.
The interior offers 24 different seating configurations should you choose the now (at a price) seven-seater option.
It’s substantially more premium than the outgoing model with quality stitching and soft touch surfaces throughout while it’s a technophobe’s worst nightmare with Land Rover’s newest Touch Pro infotainment system. It has the latest connectivity features including 4G Wifi hotspot, Apple CarPay and Android Auto and a wireless charging facility while Land Rover have installed 12-volt sockets in all three rows.
But as they say that’s not all.
There’s what Land Rover calls a ClearSight rear view mirror that’s basically a video of what’s going on behind you in your rear view mirror via a camera mounted above the rear door. It’s a bit disconcerting at first but a good idea should the back be loaded with gear or you have a tall passenger blocking your view.
ClearSight Ground View technology is equally disconcerting initially because it’s like seeing through the bonnet via a camera on to the touch screen and can be used to see what’s under you when driving over curbs and rough terrain.
Another new and very cool feature is what Land Rover calls an Activity Key. It’s a waterproof wristband that you touch on a sensor on the rear window allowing you to keep the key fob in the car while you are out and about doing all things healthy like cycling, swimming or spending time on the beach.
Land Rover has always had a proper 4x4 heritage and in this regard the Discovery Sport maintains that although it is now fitted with Driveline Disconnect, a power transfer unit at the front axle that disconnects power to the rear wheels when cruising in under 500 milliseconds.
But when you’re playing away from the black stuff, the second generation Active Driveline System and Terrain Response 2 will with a push of a button allow you to select various terrain options or alternatively let the car do the thinking for you by using the auto option.
With 212mm of ground clearance, a wading depth of 600mm and traction control, the Discovery Sport outscores all the segment competition when it comes to off-road work.
There are two engine options available locally, a petrol two-litre turbo that produces 184kW and 365Nm and a two-litre turbo diesel producing 132kW and 420Nm. Both are coupled to a nine speed auto box.
During the launch last week we got to sample the D180 in S and HSE guise although South Africans will have a wide range to choose from including Base and S trim levels and sportier R-Dynamic variants in S, SE and HSE.
Held in the pleasant surroundings of Riebeek Kasteel we did a bit of off-roading through the vineyards of Kloovenburg wine estate owned by Pieter du Toit who is also the father of Springbok rugby player and World Cup winner Pieter Steph du Toit.
Although the route wasn’t a serious track it was enough to showcase the car’s ability should you have to engage four-wheel drive.
Part of the route during the launch included a long stretch of dirt road and here the Discovery Sport really excelled. Significantly, the Sport is underpinned by Jaguar Land Rover’s Premium Transverse Architecture (PTA), which increases the stiffness of the structure by 13%.
Combined with a tweaked suspension, the car felt incredibly stable on the dirt and handled bumps and corners with ease, giving the driver a lot of confidence even at speed.
It’s the same on tar although there was some wind noise round the A-pillars but not intrusively so. Much of the route was straight stretches of road so we couldn’t get to test sharp curves and bends but given the overall feeling of the vehicle including giving it a few hard turns of the steering wheel when traffic and space allowed the Sport will handle that and road imperfections with ease.
Passing slower vehicles the diesel lacked a bit of oomph above the national speed limit. While it gears down effortlessly , the revs increase but the speed not so much. Especially fully loaded this will require a bit of planning from the driver when holiday traffic starts to build up.
Even so, the Land Rover Discovery Sport slots in perfectly as a comfortable everyday vehicle that will tackle some of the rough stuff with ease when you want to leave the competition behind.
It doesn’t come cheap but it is very much a premium offering in almost every way.