THE name Land Rover conjures many happy memories from my childhood. Friends with ancient Landies and Toyota FJ40s crawling up the highway bound for Fraser Island fishing trips. The ancient Landy had bullet holes in it from where Glen’s dad had a mishap with a gun while dealing with a snake. They regularly had to be plugged with house putty then touched up with green paint. The seats were little more than canvas slings and the heating was as useless as a chocolate tea pot. The fresh air vents were flaps under the windscreen which let in the rain, and the engine had the performance of a slightly moist stick of celery.
[showads ad=MREC]Things have changed much since then. The climate control is automatic and engine feels brisk. There are electronic nannies to assist on road and a full suite of options once the tarmac is no more. The gears change all by themselves and the windows operate via electric buttons. The thing that hasn’t changed is the Landy’s tough and rugged feel despite the slight whiff of gentlemen’s club.
The Discovery Sport has a brand new platform, flash new exterior, and delicious slightly-retro interior. It is the latest offering from Jaguar Land Rover and a very nice one, too.
From the outside, you might be confused about exactly which Land Rover you’re looking at. Some thought we were in an Evoque, some thought it was a new Ranger Rover Vogue and others thought it was a Discovery.
The light clusters have the family likeness with a hint of Range Rover Sport, a soupçon of Range Rover Evoque, and if you hold your head just right, a smidgen of Jaguar. The Tonka-toy charm appeals to the mud-play in all of us. It’s classy, and in dark colours, looks beautifully menacing especially on 20-inch alloys.
Entering the vehicle via the smart entry/start system means no more fumbling in dark corners. You step slightly up into the cabin giving you the regal superiority you modestly reject but secretly desire. The caramel and black two-tone leather in the test car felt like a suite of art deco luggage. There are touches of brushed stainless and leather throughout. The perforated leather seats are (optionally) heated and cooled and look sensational, and can be controlled via the command centre touch screen. Our luxury model came with a top-shelf sound system so the touch screen interface is not the latest Land Rover offers. Apparently the system and speakers are not yet compatible. It does mean the response and menu feels a little clunky but it’s a small price to pay for a million watts. It makes you feel like you’re in a private box at the Opera House. The sound is sublime with every top note crystal clear and every bass note deep and visceral.
It has to be said that with the driver’s seat set for my position, there is a bit of a reach to get to the buttons either side of the screen. Much functions can be controlled by the auxiliary steering wheel buttons, so it is no real problem. We had trouble streaming our iPhone but Land Rover says the cable must be original Apple issue, and you can’t bluetooth stream with the USB plugged in. There are other USB charging points available if you decide you want to stream and charge simultaneously. Another thing which took getting used to were the window switches. They are high up on the door, but like most things, become familiar with use.
Should you lose your mind and decide to go bush-bashing, the terrain controls are just below the climate controls. There are settings for sand, mud, rocks and a hill descent control. Everything is thoughtfully laid out and clearly labelled on big buttons. I’d imagine this is handy when you’re bumping along uncooperative goat tracks.
There are models which have an additional row of seats in the cargo hold, but doing so appears to forgo many handy optional features. The cargo hold (sans third row seats) takes three or four full-size suitcases. The rear seats’ backs have easy access handles and can adjust to several positions and are covered in more luscious caramel leather.
With the panoramic roof open, the cabin feels even more cavernous. The rear seat passengers have plenty of leg room especially with only four on board. You could easily do a decent road trip without feeling sardined into a shoe box.
The overall ambience is comfortable, approachable and luxurious but not so precious that you wouldn’t want to use the Discovery Sport for its intended purpose. Having said that, as in most luxury off-roaders you probably wouldn’t want to go play in the mud then drive home without showering. However, you can stow muddy things in the back where rubber mats keep most of the schmaltz off the carpet. No doubt most will never see anything more challenging than a gravel drive.
The push button start is one of my favourite features on any new car especially when it is combined with smart entry. It means you can keep your key in your bag or pocket and never again utter the phrase “honey have you seen my car keys?”
The 4pot diesel fires up and unlike almost every other car on the road, sounds right at home in the Land Rover. After all, what serious Landy has anything else? Despite the size, the Discovery Sport feels agile. There is only the tiniest bit of hesitation while the turbo spools up which is easily managed by not mashing your foot straight to the floor.
After a few hours in the saddle you start to appreciate the engineering. It feels comfy and solid and because you feel like you’re in a lounge room, you have little concept of how fast you’re going. At 110km/ph you feel like you’re hardly above city speed. It is disconcerting at first but perhaps a great asset on a road trip. You have to watch yourself around town though, as it’s easy to creep over the limits set in the CBD and around schools.
In city traffic you might expect a certain amount of difficulty. At the end of the day you’re driving a vehicle weighing 2500kg that is 4.6m long and 2.1m wide, but it doesn’t really feel like it.
The Discovery Sport drives like a car, but not a sports car. It is extremely smooth in an almost regal kind of way. It wafts along the highway like a limosine and has oodles of space. The steering and brakes are responsive without feeling scarily tight. It is graceful and capable in the city, and relaxing on the highway. You can still do a brisk corner without feeling like you will tumble into the shrubbery, and the acceleration is sufficient.
I like this car very much. It is elegant inside and out. Priced between $53,300 and $66,500 (plus on-roads), it is in the Evoque price range but offers more space. It isn’t so crazy expensive that you wouldn’t want to try a bit of adventure but still feels and looks like it costs way more than it actually does. Of course, you could easily add 10 grand by going mad with the pen on the optional extras page, and if you have the money, why not? I’d like to see some of those features standard and no doubt in future will be. Things like blind spot and lane departure warning, and autonomous emergency braking should be on every car sold, off roader or not.
Would I buy one? Yes.