Jaguar Land Rover’s decision to introduce the Discovery Sport last year with the old, Ford-sourced 2.2-litre diesel engine under its bonnet may have seemed a little strange at the time, given that the firm had already opened a new facility in Wolverhampton to build its own powerplants, but we always knew we wouldn’t have to wait too long for the existing unit to be replaced.
Besides, it has hardly held the car back in its first year on sale.
The Freelander-replacing compact SUV has gone on to become Land Rover’s second best-selling model after the Range Rover Evoque, shifting about 10,000 units a month on average, and it’s a car that, with some reservations, we’ve regarded as the best of its breed from the outset, ageing engine or not.
The arrival of the 2016 Discovery Sport, now fitted with the more efficient 2.0-litre diesel Ingenium engine, has served only to reinforce that view.
The very car you see here - which we’re running for a year - beat the Mercedes-Benz GLC 250d and BMW X3 xDrive20d in a £40k 4x4s comparison in the 27 January issue, cementing its ranking as the top choice in the class.
It’s a very well-rounded package now, with much more competitive fuel economy and CO2 emissions figures than the earlier model, although it still comes with a few reservations in areas such as engine refinement and the quality of some of its cabin materials.
Rather than picking up our car from a dealer, we were able to collect it from JLR’s Halewood plant in Liverpool, where the Discovery Sport and Evoque are built, and have a quick tour of the trim and final assembly sections of the production line.
Before handing over the keys, Halewood operations director Richard Else gave us an insight into the former Ford facility, which was on the brink of closing in the late 1990s but has been rejuvenated in the intervening period and now churns out around 180,000 cars a year, with 4200 staff making Evoques, Discovery Sports and now Evoque Convertibles 24 hours a day over three shifts.
It may be relatively quiet inside, but the place is booming.
The model we’ve gone for is a mid-range HSE with an automatic gearbox and its list price is £39,400. Opting for that transmission over the £1805-cheaper six-speed manual means you have only one engine choice: the more powerful, 178bhp version of the Ingenium TD4, which is backed up by 317lb ft of torque at just 1750rpm.
Perhaps unfairly, I can’t help but wish that I had more powertrain options from which to choose. I’d almost certainly have a plug-in petrol-electric hybrid version if I could.
Still, you can’t expect everything at once. Standard features at HSE level include front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, panoramic roof, 19in wheels, powered tailgate, heated front seats, keyless entry, xenon headlights with automatic high beam assist and the same 8.0in touchscreen multimedia system with navigation as you get in the Jaguar XE.
To that list we’ve added a heated steering wheel, spacesaver spare wheel, metallic paint, a black contrast roof, privacy glass, traffic sign recognition and upgraded connectivity in the form of InControl Connect, lifting the price as tested by a relatively modest amount to £42,222.
The combination of Scotia Grey (actually a soft metallic green) body colour, black roof and black leather interior may seem relatively conservative, but the effect is really very classy, and I suspect it reflects the way the majority of buyers actually specify their cars when practicality is a consideration, as it usually is with a car like this.
First impressions of the cabin are that it’s quite plain but the driving position and seats are supremely comfortable, there’s a generous amount of space in the second row thanks to the standard sliding/reclining function and the +2 seats that fold out of the boot floor might actually be usable, even for adults if necessary.
Given that it’s a sensible 4.6 metres long and relatively wieldy, the Discovery Sport strikes me as a clever piece of packaging. After we’d ended our tour of Halewood and were driving back to London in the box-fresh Discovery Sport, the first thing I noticed was how superbly the car deals with gnarly British roads.
It’s so smooth, controlled and quiet in its suspension movements when tackling the likes of potholes and speed bumps that you’ll be gobsmacked if you’re used to ‘foreign’ cars - and even most other SUVs. I suspect I’ve already discovered one of the main benefits of driving a car developed and built in the UK…
‘Comfort’ is a word that is probably going to crop up a lot in future updates on our Discovery Sport, and I reckon it’s one of the things I’m going to enjoy most about our time with this car. But not the only thing, I’m sure.
A year in a diesel SUV is going to be something of a change of pace for me, the Discovery Sport replacing a Volkswagen Golf R on my driveway, but with the world seemingly going crazy for this type of vehicle, I’m more than happy to be jumping on the bandwagon.
Car: Land Rover Discovery Sport HSE TD4 190 auto
Needs to: Be as comfortable off-road as it is on it, and usable every day
Run by Autocar since: March 2016
List price £39,400; Price as tested £42,222; Options InControl Connect £650; Scotia Grey metallic paint £600; Santorini Black contrast roof £500; privacy glass £350; reduced-setion spare wheel £287; traffic sign recognition £250; heated steering wheel £185; Economy 31.7mpg; Faults None; Expenses None