The versatile Discovery Sport typifies the brand's resurgence and, off-road, leaves the German rivals behind
The latest Land Rover is a discovery process for the brand and for buyers.
The Discovery Sport is aimed at everything from top-end Subarus to BMWs, with a package that fits more in to the compact SUV than its rivals can match.
That breadth of capability extends from its off-road ability to its seven-seat option and highlights the rapid improvements to the Land Rover line-up since it reinvented itself with the launch of the Range Rover Evoque.
The Disco Sport is based on the Evoque platform but trades the Range Rover's fashion-led features for versatility.
To enjoy a sporty drive, add $3470 to the list price of the Disco Sport.
The active driveline that uses on-demand AWD and includes the very competent torque vectoring is a $1620 option; adaptive dynamics, which uses metal particles in the damper fluid to help keep the car flat through the corners and includes a "dynamic" drive mode is $1850.
These are reserved for the high-output diesel and petrol engines.
The vast majority of buyers will part with another $2500 for the nine-speed automatic. The auto is standard only on the $59,000 petrol model and that is sold only in Australia in base SE guise.
It is the performance pick of the range, easily eclipsing its diesel stablemates in terms of sprint times.
Not many will go for it — the take-up on the petrol is expected to be only slightly higher than those who want to shift gears for themselves.
As Jaguar Land Rover spokesman Tim Krieger notes, "this is a diesel segment".
Other options include a pair of third row seats at $1990 (air vents for those seats add another $1150), blind spot and reverse traffic monitor at $1150, metallic paint at $1300 — or if you must, "premium metallic" paint at $2600.
The range starts at $53,300 for a manual TD4 turbo diesel. Stepping up to HSE trim level costs $57,900. Opt for the higher-output SD4 diesel and the price is $56,500 in base guise, HSE is $61,100 and ,top-spec HSE Luxury starts at $66,500.
SE versions are fitted with a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, autonomous emergency braking, cruise control, leather upholstery, lane-departure warning, powered front seats, an eight-inch touchscreen with SD card satnav and the four-mode "Terrain Response" software that adapts steering, gearshifts, throttle response, the centre diff and braking.
The HSE adds xenon headlamps, front parking sensors, 19-inch wheels, air-quality sensing climate control and ups the number and quality of the speakers.
The SD4 HSE Luxury has higher-quality leather, Meridian 16-speaker audio with CD/DVD tray and digital audio and nine-spoke 19-inchers.
First impressions: the Discovery Sport has more initial body roll than an X3 and whether in petrol or diesel is no match for the BMW rivals in a straight line.
Then we hit the gravel and that tarmac tilt is forgiven and forgotten as the Land Rover serenely powers over corrugations that would have the BMW's occupants airborne.
It is an extraordinarily capable backblocks blaster
It is an extraordinarily capable backblocks blaster and can confidently be driven at highway speeds on horrendous surfaces. The torque-vectoring can be felt helping the compact SUV to tighten its line around corners and the stability control unobtrusively kicks in when required. The electric power steering is direct and well-weighted and conveys reassuring feedback.
Most buyers won't do more than travel down a well-graded gravel road but they won't miss out on a refined ride. Noise suppression is good and the nine-speed auto is slick heading up or down the cogs — using the paddle-shifters for manual changes isn't as convincing, with a moment of lag on shifts.
And the nine cogs are effectively eight on road.
Interior space is good in any seat
First gear is reserved for low-speed off-road manoeuvring and, in combination with the hill descent control, will restrain the vehicle's pace down steep inclines. It works without fuss and can be overridden by using the accelerator if needed.
Interior space is good in any seat, with the sliding rear pews ensuring plenty of legroom for 180cm travellers. Opt for the third row and there's room — just — to accommodate adults, providing the second row is fully forward. They're best left to smaller kids on longer journeys.
Some of the interior plastics, such as the panels along the top of the doors and down the side of the centre tunnel, don't feel premium but there are soft-touch surfaces on the dash top and door armrests.
One quirk of the model range is the fact the range-topping HSE Luxury makes do with the last generation infotainment set-up because the new version isn't yet compatible with the Meridian audio. It'll be fixed for the next model year but for now it's a case of second best for the best vehicle.