Who would have thought all of those years ago, that the Discovery would prove to be not only a sales success, but desirable enough to be spun out almost into a brand in its own right.

Back in 1989 when Land Rover nailed bits of old Range Rover, Marina and a Maestro together, along with some decidedly dodgy British Leyland-era bits in between, all of this was just a pipe-dream.

But today, the Discovery is on track to become a multi-model range.

The first of these new models to arrive is the Discovery Sport. Think of it not as a replacement for the boxy and still popular full-fat Discovery, but rather a progression of the Freelander.

That’s backed up by the styling, which carries forward almost none of the Discovery’s design cues – there’s no stepped roof-line, for instance, which is likely to be reserved for the forthcoming non-Sport model previewed by the Discovery Vision Concept.

In reality, it’s a look that shares far more with the Range Rover Evoque in the eyes of most people, and our only criticism of the design would have to be that on the road, a passing Evoque and Discovery Sport are difficult to tell apart.

The interior, too, will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s spent time in a baby Range Rover, although compared to its luxury-minded brother, the Land Rover seems to have to make do with distinctly lower-quality materials in a few key areas. Our test car, not eight months old and showing less than 10,000 miles, exhibited several rattles throughout its cabin, too.

Land Rover’s latest iteration of touch-screen media system makes an appearance, and although it provides access to most functions you could want – navigation, DAB digital radio, etc – we found it both somewhat sluggish to respond to user inputs and a touch temperamental. Several times during our testing the system froze or left us staring at a blank screen, a situation even stopping the car and restarting failed to resolve, requiring instead an overnight rest before normal service was resumed.

Overall the system could use some refinement: the back button, for instance, doesn’t return to your previous position in a list or the home screen, and the voice guidance instructions sounded strangely tinny and harsh, as if piped through a single tiny speaker. We would also point out that the screen itself is a bit of a stretch to reach from the driver’s seat, and the sound quality wasn’t as we’d hoped, with bass tracks causing plenty of rattling and booming from the door panels.

Still, there are some commendable details in here. Headroom in the rear is good, even with the huge glass roof, although the optional third row seats are a struggle even for kids to climb into. Some of the more useful features aren’t standard equipment, such as the additional USB charging points throughout the cabin (£100 for two), or the air vents for third row passengers (£400).

Boot space is a practical 829 litres, and this can be increased by sliding the second row seats forward or folding them flat altogether, giving a total of 1,698 litres. The removable boot floor, though, doesn’t seem to fit properly and wobbles about annoyingly.

The car Land Rover supplied for our testing was powered by the old 2.2-litre SD4 diesel engine, initially the only unit available at launch. It has since been replaced by a new 2.0-litre Ingenium unit with 150 or 180hp.

That’s just as well, because the SD4 is disappointing. It clatters like an old Transit at idle (that’s not surprising, because it’s a Ford-derived unit), grumbles once on the move, and transmits vibrations into the cabin through the floor and pedals.

Our test car mated this to the firm’s ZF-sourced nine-speed automatic gearbox, but this combination unfortunately revealed some short-comings of its own.

The more serious among them included a habit of failing to engage a gear altogether after restarting the engine at traffic lights (resolved only by turning the ignition off and starting again), and a startling degree of lethargy on initial pull-away that made attempts to accelerate into fast-moving traffic a little heart-stopping.

Although the transmission can downshift two gears at once, ask it to shift more than that – as you might to gain engine braking for a steep descent – and you’ll be stuck in neutral for several seconds while the gearbox sorts itself out. During this time you’ll be coasting towards the car in front and picking up speed rapidly, unless you’re ready with the brakes.

In slow-moving traffic, lifting off the accelerator pedal would often initially result in the transmission changing into a higher gear rather than disengaging drive, with the result that the Land Rover lurched towards the car in front instead of slowing as you’d expect.

And on occasions where the stop/start restart procedure worked correctly, it was often followed by an uncomfortable jolt because by the time drive was engaged the driver’s foot had naturally started to depress the accelerator; a simple smoothing algorithm in the drive-by-way throttle system would make a welcome addition here.

These issues are rather disappointing, particularly given the syrupy experience we’re used to from Land Rover, but we will point out that we made similar observations of the nine-speed unit in the new Honda CR-V.

We’ll take comfort from the fact this engine is no longer available, but unfortunately this also means we can’t offer an assurance that the new 2.0-litre unit is any better, as we’ve not been offered the opportunity to drive one.  Its on-paper figures certainly suggest it’s more economical, recording 53.3 mpg on the government tests compared to the 44.8 mpg of our SD4 car (or the 33 mpg it achieved in real-world testing).

However, if you can look beyond the drivetrain’s issues, the Discovery Sport is a decent drive.

It’s not perfect by any means: there’s perhaps a touch too much initial body-roll given its ‘Sport’ moniker, body movements stray a little close to the bump-stops over larger undulations, and the ride often degenerates over rougher tarmac surfaces, with the suspension transmitting unwelcome degrees of noise into the cabin, particularly over sharp ridges and manhole covers.

For the most part, though, the Sport is the comfortable conveyance we’d expect from Land Rover. Its upright driving position, ability to cover great distances in comfort, and generally excellent wind- and tyre-noise suppression are what make it so appealing as an option for classy family transport.

We will sound a note of caution, though, that the Discovery Sport’s natural cruising speed is quite high: use your senses to determine a comfortable pace and a glance at the speedo will reveal a double-digit licence-losing number probably beginning with a ‘9’ such is the Land Rover’s ability to insulate from the environment around you.

Should you feel the need to venture off-piste, the Sport uses a Haldex-based four wheel-drive system to distribute torque front to rear, and while ground clearance of 212mm beats the Jeep Cherokee, it’s still short of the 230mm offered by the Volvo XC60.

Prices start at £30,695 for the basic 150hp TD4 SE model, while a more likely choice of a 180hp HSE auto will set you back £39,400.

Although the Discovery Sport firmly occupies the space vacated by the Freelander, its launch echoes that of the original Discovery more than 25 years ago. That car was constructed from what could kindly be called left-overs, and it’s a shame this new car wasn’t held back for what is undoubtedly a better engine.

However, early indications are that the new Ingenium engine is worth waiting for, and we hope Land Rover has used the extra time to tweak the software in the infotainment system, optimise the transmission’s responses, and perhaps address a few of the interior rattles.

If we get the chance to test one, we’ll update this review accordingly.

Tester’s Notes

  • Low quality plastics in places, with some trim rattles, particularly from door panels during bass tracks
  • Boot floor doesn’t fit properly
  • Media system sluggish to offer UI response feedback, frequently freezes and fails to recover on vehicle restart
  • Some UI/UX improvements needed – ‘back’ functionality should be more intuitive
  • Voice guidance sounds tinny – only piped through driver side tweeter?
  • Touchscreen’s angle makes it a stretch to reach from driver’s seat
  • SD4 engine vibrates through the floor and pedals; slow to restart after stop/start
  • EPB doesn’t release automatically on some hill starts
  • 9AT gearbox lethargic to pull away; re-engages violently after stop/start; cannot achieve multiple (3+) down-shifts, leaving the driver descending steep inclines in neutral; shifts into higher gear on lift-off in slow-moving traffic, leading to unintended acceleration towards vehicle in front
  • Suspension noise transmission into cabin
  • Large undulations occasionally cause excessive body movements
  • Impressive wind and road noise suppression
  • Practical touches for multiple occupants – charging points, air vents, etc.
  • Excellent long-distance ability
Entry-level Price £30,695 Price as tested £40,315
Engine 2.2-litre 4-cyl diesel Transmission 9-speed auto
Power 190ps @ 3,500rpm Torque 420Nm @ 1,750rpm
0-62 8.9 secs Top speed 117 mph
Economy 44.8 mpg CO2 166 g/km
Dimensions 4599 x 2173 x 1724 (LxWxH) Kerb Weight 1863 kg

Alex Kefford

Editor

Freelance journalist, ex-offroad driving instructor and long distance road-tripper. If you have any questions about this piece, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.