New Discovery Sport is more polished and practical than the old Freelander, but it might be worth waiting for the new engines

What is it?

People will tell you that the new Land Rover Discovery Sport is a replacement for the Freelander, but there’s far more to it than that. 

It is certainly another Halewood-built off-roader, and a £30k-£40k rival for the BMW X3 and Volvo XC60, but Land Rover has made it longer, fitted five-plus-two seating to its more spacious cabin, borrowed the styling heavily from the Evoque and redefined it as a member of the emerging Discovery family which stresses its versatility and practicality.

Even Gerry McGovern, Land Rover’s design boss and the chief architect of the new model’s sleek new shape agrees. “Others have great design,” he told us. “But Land Rovers need class-leading functionality."

There’s an interesting back-story about the Sport’s arrival. Land Rover’s range of 4x4s has come to be dominated by the Evoque, whose annual sales of 120,000 a year are more than double the originally planned volume.

The Freelander, closely related to the Evoque under the skin, was in danger of being glossed over, not least because its name has little cachet in the US or China. The company also need a more modern-looking model that could fight and beat the X3 and XC60 while continuing to use existing manufacturing processes and share many common components. Enter the Disco Sport.

What's it like?

Though closely related, the Sport is far from identical to an Evoque under the skin. It has the same front suspension and transverse-engined mechanical layout and the steel chassis is nearly identical back to the B-pillar, but there’s a completely new rear structure that extends the Sport’s length (by 91mm) and wheelbase (by 80mm) and introduces a sophisticated new multi-link rear suspension which, along with the extra length, helps preserve interior space.

This means the Sport’s second row of seats can move back and forth, either to make a huge boot or provide class-leading second-row kneeroom close to that of a Range Rover. 

For the first six to eight months of production, the only engine option will be the 188bhp SD4 diesel familiar from the Evoque and Freelander, and also shared with PSA and Ford. This was in our test car, driving through ZF’s silky nine-speed automatic gearbox. Traction has been enhanced by continued improvements to the Terrain Response system that configures throttle, gear selection, torque distribution and ABS/traction control in four different modes according to driving conditions. 

In less than a year’s time the Sport will adopt JLR’s advanced four-cylinder engine range made in its new Wolverhampton works, a move that should improve fuel consumption and cut CO2 emissions. At that stage a two-wheel-drive version will become available, and the entry price will drop from today’s £32,395 for a base manual model to just under £30,000 for the two-wheel-drive version. 

Two things strike you immediately when you slide behind the wheel of the Discovery Sport. One is that there are no reminders of the Freelander; the other is that without aping anything they’ve done already, the design team have made this an obvious Land Rover. Not a Range Rover, a Land Rover.

It’s nicely appointed rather than outright plush. There are three green elliptical badges visible and the theme is logic, not luxury. True, there’s a big centre screen that introduces a new infotainment system, but even that offers new levels of remote-control versatility without making an exhibition of itself. 

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The same observations are true of the ultra-comfortable front seats, the surrounding trim and the generously proportioned second row located high enough to give occupants an excellent forward view. The sixth and seventh seats are plainly for kids up to about the age of 12, and they fold into the boot floor when not needed. They appear to take up remarkably little space, though if you have them (and they’re standard on UK models) you have to compromise on a full-size spare wheel.

The ageing 2.2 diesel can be pretty vocal near idle, but it still has a wide envelope of torque expertly deployed with little hesitation by the nine-speed ‘box to give very high-geared (thus quiet) cruising, plus effortless acceleration. Throw in low road noise levels and you have a quiet-cruising machine which makes normal-tone conversation possible even between the first and third-row passengers.

Wind noise isn’t a problem below 100mph and even flat out at 122mph we found the car acceptably quiet. The only real intrusion comes when the diesel is exteneded through the gears. Oh, and there’s a low-rev rumble when pulling top gear on light throttle.

Even Evoque stalwarts admit the Disco Sport has better steering. There’s a new alertness and sensitivity near the straight-ahead, enhanced by the thick-rimmed wheel and further work to harness the subtleties of all-electric power steering. Land Rover engineers say the Sport’s steering purity is enhanced by the superior geometry of the new suspension. It's a bigger car, but the new model feels easier than an Evoque to drive in all but the tightest going.

This isn’t the softest-riding off-roader around; its firm damping does a fair bit to justify the 'Sport' part of the model's name. But it’s also acceptably supple, as we discovered on a section of Belgian pave, and later sprinting along a rutted beach in Denmark. Though the average Disco Sport will do most of its work on-road in towns, Land Rover’s test team say the Sport has even more traction and off-road capability than either a Freelander or an Evoque.

As usual, it feels far more capable off-road than owners will need it to be. We never stranded it in various bouts of sand driving, fording vertically banked streams or rock crawling. Even on motorway tyres the car has terrific traction. 

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At the other end of the spectrum, the Discovery Sport can charge along sinuous roads at a pace that belies its high-riding layout. Cornering grip is terrific. There’s a bias towards understeer near the limit but the Disco Sport mostly goes where it is pointed with little body roll, the quick steering helping its feeling of agility.

Should I buy one?

Makes sense to us. The Disco Sport’s fine combination of beauty, versatility and good driving characteristics looks like bringing a new sophistication to this class, and its polished interior, new infotainment system and impressive off-road ability create a pleasing all-round package.

With the old SD4 engine, the launch versions aren’t absolutely top-drawer for low-speed engine refinement and they don’t quite reach BMW X3 standards of low fuel consumption and CO2 output, so business buyers might be well advised to wait.

But it still strikes us that Land Rover’s biggest problem will be what to concentrate on making, when Evoque demand is still so enormously high. But Land Rover has been coping with this problem for three or four years, and it likes it that way.

Land Rover Discovery Sport SE

 Price £34,195; 0-62mph 8.4sec; Top speed 117mph; Economy 44.8mpg; CO2 166g/km; Kerb weight 1863kg; Engine 4 cyls, 2179cc, diesel; Power 187bhp at 3500rpm; Torque 310lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 9-spd automatic


Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
LR-Phan 9 December 2014


I have experience of a range of Land Rovers and have owned various Range Rovers prior to my current Freelander 2. I have driven across Europe, including Interesting 4x4 only roads in Iceland and the FL2 has been to the very north of Arctic Norway. Much if this represents challenging off-road driving and Land Rover capability and reliability has been great.

I am updating the Freelander and have decided to place an order for the new Discovery Sport for delivery in Spring 2015. I considered the case for waiting until the new 'Ingenium' engines are available. However, the first of these will be the 2WD only version - an option which is surely only of benefit to those whose primary motivation is for lower CO2 (laudable but then why buy a Land Rover at all?). The 4WD version(s) will follow but, so far as I'm aware no date has yet published so it could be towards the end of next year. And, although lighter and apparently more efficient, by just how much and will they offer the same or better power output? I'm also somewhat wary that there will be additional costs in terms of servicing to maintain the lower emissions.

The new Disco Sport will initially use the current SD4 engine used by the latest Freelanders and the Evoques which have sold in vast numbers and have a tried and tested pedigree. It is likely, of course, that the new engined cars will have some trade-in advantage some way down the line. But, since I expect to keep the new Disco for some years, this is unlikely to be much of an issue for me. By trading in now rather than much later (by the time the new engined versions are available for delivery) the value of my Freelander now is likely to be significantly higher; their value will surely fall once the Disco Sport replaces them in the showrooms. Although Land Rover have indicated that the new 2WD version will sell at sub £30k, no prices for the new engined 4WD models has been announced: will they stay the same?

Gerhard 9 December 2014

Isn't it obvious?

LR can't make the real Discovery economical enough to cope with tax and emissions laws and want to stem the flow of customers to Korean and Japanese competitors. This way they offer similar practicality to Disco owners who might otherwise go elsewhere. They also capture people who grow out of the Evoque or for whom the Evoque is too pricey and the Big Disco too costly. This is the car LR needs, and the engine is good enough in comparison with other 7-seat SUVs to last a year or so longer. Too many whingers here who can't see the limitations of LR's capabilities.
SirSidneyRuffdiamond 7 December 2014

A slightly different

A slightly different conclusion from AutoExpress, whose article comparing the new Discovery Sport with the BMW X3, Volvo XC60 and new (and comrpomised, with its terrible ride) offering from Lexus.
To be fair, the Disco (at least with its current ageing engine) did come in second to the X3. I think people should bare in mind that AutoExpress is (I think) ultimately German-owned through its parent company, though if I am wrong perhaps someone will correct me (with evidence).
Anyway, from AtuoCar's review it seems pretty clear that the new Disco is a very talented and versatile machine all round. I think, if I were in the market for such a vehicle, I might wait for those new efficient engines as suggested though.