REVIEW | One week with the 2020 Land Rover Discovery Sport
One of my most treasured possessions as a youngster was a 1:24 scale model of a three-door Land Rover Freelander. It was simply fantastic, replete with a removable rear top that was true to the configuration of the real deal.
I am not sure what became of the beloved specimen, but it was probably subjected to the same fate that befalls most childhood assets. That is either lost, broken or eventually stored among other goodies in a dusty and forgotten corner before being bequeathed for the enjoyment of other tiny hands.
In 2015, the Freelander nameplate was retired, supplanted by the Discovery Sport as the entry point into the Land Rover family. In June that year we received our test unit for evaluation – and the occasion called for a visit to the treacherous Hennops Pride off-road trail in the part of our province that is more North West than Gauteng.
The test was brief because, after a short while in, it seemed the junior Discovery was not particularly happy with jagged rocks and ruts. So we turned around and drove to the popular chicken pie joint near Lanseria instead.
My underwhelming excursion did not change the fact that this baby Rover was well-poised to cash in on an audience that wanted space, cachet and ability for the odd, light gravel road.
Interestingly, it is not the product that gets the most love from buyers in the Land Rover stable. Consider that in February, when the local market was relatively normal, 26 units of the Discovery Sport were sold. In comparison, 65 Range Rover sport units found homes and 85 copies of the Evoque were snapped up. They even sold more examples of the regular, large Discovery, with the tally at 51.
Just before lockdown, an updated Discovery Sport was launched and, as you may have guessed, is the subject of scrutiny here.
Aside from the design revisions, the manufacturer claims the body of the vehicle is 13% stiffer than before, thanks to sturdier sub-frames that improve comfort and bolster occupant safety in a collision.
It was not an unattractive machine before this enhancement, but the styling upgrades rolled out on the 2020 car add an extra dollop of allure. No doubt it has a certain charm, which is important given how crowded this premium enclave of the medium-sized sport-utility vehicle market is. Need a reminder? Well, you could have an Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Jeep Cherokee, Lexus NX, Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class or Volvo XC60.
What was glaringly different on the inside was the extent to which the cabin has been digitised. Most of the button-based switchgear has been replaced with smartphone-like, soft-touch keys, although thankfully there are rotary dials for the audio and ventilation.
The latest guise of the Touch Pro infotainment system is a doddle to use with its large icons and clear display. But those earlier-mentioned soft-touch keys can be set off with the lower part of your palm while indexing around the main screen. I inadvertently set off the automatic climate control while browsing radio stations, for example.
While we are addressing gripes, the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged-diesel exhibited noticeable lag around town. In freeway conditions, it came into its own, however, with a relaxed cruising manner – provided you temper your kick-down acceleration requirements.
The unit produces 132kW and 430Nm, transmitted to all corners via a nine-speed automatic. While claimed consumption is 5.8l/100km, the readout on our car after a week of driving was 9.2l/100km. Granted this was mostly in urban conditions, with two highway loops between.
The perceived quality and plush feel of the Discovery Sport deserves a special mention. For front occupants all the major touch-points are trimmed in swanky, delicate materials. Great driving position, too: elevated and commanding, with clear sight lines and an assertive sense.
It almost mimics the sensation you get from the other, larger vehicles in the line-up, especially with its chunky steering wheel and substantial door sill ledges.
Looking at the price list, there is no mystery as to why the Discovery Sport sells in such modest numbers. For a smidgen more, buyers can have the added appeal of Range Rover ownership in the form of the Evoque. And it really is a smidgen more: the Discovery Sport kicks off at R788,100 while the Evoque begins at R794,800.
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