The everyman’s Land Rover

It’s the Freelander replacement, but looks like the more expensive Range Rover. Fitness First mag test drives the new Land Rover Discovery Sport.

The Land Rover Discovery Sport is the much-awaited successor to the Freelander, the fun lifestyle 4WD that was the most affordable way to park a Land Rover in your driveway. But where the Freelander looked “entry-level”, the Discovery Sport resembles the more expensive Range Rovers, and is also infused with styling cues from the ultra-successful Evoque.

It’s a styling bulls-eye. The wedge-shaped silhouette creates the illusion of a tapering roofline, while the shortish overhangs give it that “purposeful stance” that makes it one of the sexier SUVs in today’s market.

But the effectiveness of the design goes deeper than its exterior. For an SUV that’s right on the borderline between compact and mid-size, the Discovery Sport feels like a huge car inside. This is complemented by the fact that you can optionally add a third row of seats into the rear boot space, for a 5+2 seating configuration. On front and back seats the leg room is very generous and tall adults will find the Discovery Sport very comfortable to sit in.

The dashboard’s Spartan feel also contributes to the sense of spaciousness, while the understated interior tends to play down the impressive list of technology in the car, which ranges from the sophisticated, such as the  autonomous emergency braking (which brakes the Discovery Sport if it detects that a crash is imminent) to the expected, such as rear parking assist and a camera. It’s almost the opposite of what you’d expect to find in a German car, in which the idea is to create something that looks like a fly-by-wire cockpit. We loved the stark simplicity of the gear shift for the Discovery Sport’s nine-speed transmission, essentially a radio knob at the top of the centre console.

One of the Discovery Sport’s little luxury touches is the powered tailgate, in which you hit a button and the tailgate closes under its own power. Maybe losing 3-4 seconds every time you have to put the shopping down and close an unpowered tailgate is a “first world problem”, but it’s sure nice to just press a button and walk away.

Another little touch, which will make a big difference to anyone ferrying teenagers, is the option for adding USB ports for every row of passengers in the car — even those in the optional third row, if this installed.

The Discovery Sport has a very soft, very comfortable ride, but it can get bouncy if you hit bumps at speed. This is the price you pay for having a luxury 4WD whose suspension and road clearance are designed to take it off road for real. There’s no question that on bitumen the Land Rover Discovery Sport doesn’t feel as taught and as pin-sharp as a BMW X5, for instance (the last SUV Fitness First mag drove before the Land Rover), but it leaves the X5 behind should you take it off road, staying faithful to the Land Rover heritage. Although we expect the most challenging off-roading faced by this SUV will be the vineyards on weekends, you could take it into more difficult terrain and make it back with ease thanks to the off-road technology it packs, such as Terrain Response and Hill Descent Control.

Given all its qualities, the Discovery Sport is surprisingly affordable, coming in variants that range from $53k to $69k, powered by a range of 2.2 litre turbocharged petrol and diesel engines.

So is there anything you need to watch out for? We drove the $69k SD4 SD and noticed an occasional wheeziness before the turbocharger kicked in, mostly in stop-start traffic. If you’re hoping to zip in and out of lanes you’ll need to do some forward planning with the accelerator in order to launch it into gaps. But, once the engine is fully spooled up, the acceleration is impressive and the Discovery Sport is a superb highway cruiser.

In all, this is an imposing compact to mid-size SUV with many luxury features for the money. But mostly, it’s an affordable way of parking a Land Rover badge out the front.