The Land Rover Freelander, bless, is no more. The country cousin beloved of retired folk in their rural idyll has been replaced by an altogether different prospect that’s like replacing an ageing Spartacus with his smarter younger brother. The Freelander in second hand guise (or even the last of the new ones out there) remains a great used car buy as it can still give the trendy SUV usurpers a run for their money.
Slotting nicely in between the mighty, all terrain conquering Discovery and that trendy townie, the Evoque, the Discovery Sport is something of a tour de force from the Land Rover stable. For a start, bearing in mind what you get for the money, it is very well priced. There’s a full specification of the tested model below. It can attend to many of the tasks usually handled by the full fat Discovery whilst remaining very car-like in its comforts and driving dynamics.
This is thanks to the fact that the SUV shares a lot of components with the smaller Evoque. However, by utilising an all-new multi-link rear suspension set-up the company have been able to shoehorn in a third row of seats. You can see them flush to the boot floor in the image below.
At the time of testing the Sport was still powered by the tried and tested, but elderly, 2.2L 187bhp (310lb/ft) diesel coupled this time with the recently introduced and totally brilliant nine-speed auto ‘box, available as an option. A six-speed manual is standard. At the time of writing, Land Rover are on the cusp of introducing their new ‘Ingenium’ engine to this car which will no doubt make a difference to economy and emissions. Still, we saw fuel consumption of around 40mpg in some very mixed driving and emissions of 166g/km aren’t so bad.
The sleek Discovery Sport does away with the boxy Freelander shape and takes on a more curvaceous aspect. The approach of offering a close family resemblance seems to be common across the industry these days and if I do have a criticism it is that I would have liked LR to maybe be a little more revolutionary in design with the Disco Sport. For me it is too close to the Evoque in looks. There are four trim levels to choose from and your Sport can be customised to suit.
The interior fit and finish is as you would expect from Land Rover. Passengers were as one to say how comfortable the Sport was and we got a huge amount of stuff into the well-shaped boot. The lofty driving position gives a good command of the road and the toys on offer were spot on. Most of the kit comes, again, from the Evoque and that’s no bad thing with an extra gold star for the infotainment (how I hate that non-word) system.
The big 8-inch touch-screen is clear and easy to comprehend with navigation, DAB, climate and Bluetooth all simple to set up and use. Select the automatic, as in our test car, and you get a rotary gear selector that rises from the centre console. Once again coming from the Evoque (and the late, lamented Freelander), the Sport gets the simplified version of Land Rover’s genius Terrain Response. Choose, at the touch of a button, between Normal, Mud, Sand, Rocks and Snow modes, then let the vehicle do the rest. You also get a variable hill descent control, ample ground clearance and ramp busting approach and departure angles – just like a proper Land Rover. It will even wade through water. Is it any wonder that other manufacturers can only offer pale imitations.
The sad fact is though that most Sport’s sold will scarcely scratch the surface of that which they are capable. I can see them all around the land, perhaps towing horse boxes or ferrying Labrador dogs across fields, but mostly being driven on the rotting roads. The good news then is that on those highways the Discovery Sport is composed and agile. Although a big car it feels smaller in use. My other complaint – and you’ll see this is in almost all of my car reviews – is that the steering is too light. There’s no old-school feel. It works precisely though permitting intrepid driving and, interestingly, the Sport gets more comfortable and settled the faster you go. Up to a point obviously. The old diesel is a bit gruff but has enough power to allow confident overtaking and road noises are well suppressed.
Although I find the design a bit conservative, the Discovery Sport remains a very fine car and a worthy successor to the Freelander on which it improves considerably. The mid-level version we tested costs £37,565. That’s a lot of car for the money and the perfect all-rounder when the big-brother Disco exceeds your needs. For me, all SUV’s need to be like this. A benchmark indeed.Geoff Maxted