2020 Land Rover Discovery Sport review

Read Paul Horrell’s 2020 Land Rover Discovery Sport Review (International Drive) with price, specs, performance, ride and handling, practicality, safety, and verdict.

By Paul Horrell
Article from Unsealed 4X4

2020 Land Rover Discovery Sport Specifications

Price From $67,500+ORCs Safety Five-Star ANCAP Warranty 3-years, 100,000km Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel Power 177kW at 4000rpm Torque 500Nm from 1500-3000rpm Transmission nine-speed automatic Dimensions 4597mm long, 2173mm wide, 1727mm high, 2741mm wheelbase Angles 25-degrees Approach, 30-degrees Departure, 20-degrees Rampover Wading Depth 600mm Ground Clearance 221mm Spare Full-Size Alloy Boot Space 157L-1794L Fuel Tank 65-67L Thirst 5.5-8.0L/100km claimed combined

Disclaimer: Before the hate mail arrives, no, the Discovery Sport doesn’t have low-range, but we’ve covered it off here because it’s a genuine all-wheel drive and will go a lot further off-road than its around-town looks suggest.

Don’t sneer. Small crossovers tend to be heavily biased towards the city and suburbs. It’s only Land Rover, along with Jeep, that even try to give theirs any off-roadability. The Discovery Sport is also a seven-seater, which makes it pretty much unique among the small premium vehicles that are prepared to get their feet mucky.

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It has just had a mid-life makeover. The changes are a whole lot deeper than you might have spotted. Bizarrely, while the sheet metal and glazing is as before, almost the entire underside of the vehicle is new. Huh? Yup, the platform, the suspension, the interior electronics, some of the seating, the crash structure and engine mounts – all new. Powertrains – heavily revised. Seems like a massive load of trouble to go to when on the outside they changed only the lights, grille and bumpers.

Three reasons. First, the Disco Sport comes down the same production line as the Range Rover Evoque, which has just had the same new parts. So it made sense to simplify things by giving the Discovery Sport those foundations. Second, they needed to get the Discovery Sport’s fuel consumption down, and this new powertrain allows space for batteries, whether mild-hybrid (now) or plug-in hybrid (2020).  And third, the entertainment and connectivity were well off the pace compared with German rivals, so that’s had a solid modernisation.

There are side results too, most notably vastly improved refinement on the road. It moves like a luxury vehicle now.

WHAT’S IT LIKE OFF-ROAD?

Amid all this, the off-road capability hasn’t been neglected. We took it through some reasonably challenging trails in Northern England at the international launch. That meant steep gradients and side-slopes, wading, and super-slippery wet surfaces of mud, grass and polished rocks.

The Sport can wade to 600mm, which matches the standard non-snorkel ability of the old Defender. But it doesn’t have the wade sensing feature of the big Discovery, nor air suspension to raise you higher. Ground clearance is 212mm which is too low for a touring off-roader. On cross-axle obstacles, it soon cocks a wheel, because the suspension travel is limited. But reassuringly there’s not a squeak from the body or trim, and the doors still open and close smoothly even when you’re dangling a tyre, or even two. This is obviously a very rigid bodyshell.

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Then you’re relying heavily on the electronic traction systems to keep going. And these are sophisticated, not just in spec but in their tuning and development. The upper-spec versions also get a torque-vectoring rear diff system using independent left and right clutch packs.

It’s amazing how you can be in a situation where just one or two wheels have traction, and it’ll take a couple of seconds figuring out what tyre can do what, then smoothly drive you out. We even attempted a test section of zero-grip rollers, facing up a fairly steep hill. Two left wheels on the rollers, two right wheels on wet grass, come to a stop. Give it a little throttle, get the feeling that it’s all gone wrong and we’re going nowhere … then feel it block the spinning wheels, gain purchase and smoothly set off up again. Much more smoothly than rival systems. And again, it makes us wonder whether electronics can make up for less aggressive all-terrain tyres when you’re off-roading.

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The Terrain Response II has the usual modes (grass/gravel/snow, mud/ruts, sand, comfort) and also an auto mode that figures out what’s underneath and configures things accordingly. As usual, ‘things’ includes throttle aggression, transmission programming, traction control and diff. By the way, if you’ve got the optional adaptive dampers, there’s also a ‘dynamic’ Terrain Response mode.

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Hill Descent Control is paired with All-Terrain Progress Control, a feature I like. It keeps the vehicle trucking along at the (low) speed you set, without the jerkiness of your foot bouncing on the throttle pedal.  Max down or up gradient is 45 degrees and side slope 35 degrees. You’ve got plenty of actual mechanical control because even though there’s no low box, the nine-speed transmission has what amounts to a crawler gear (think: Volkswagen Amarok). I ought to stress every obstacle you see in these photos was done on the standard road tyres it’s supplied with.

One headline-grabbing feature is the Clearsight camera system. Three images are fed from cameras below the front bumper and under each door mirror. They’re stitched together on the central dash screen to give a picture of the ground as if the bonnet and engine were transparent, with just an overlay of the front tyre position. It’s sold as a feature to enable you to steer around boulders and ruts. People will use it to squeeze between car multi-storey park kerbs.

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The Discovery Sporty rated to tow 2500kg braked, as before. What’s new for the facelift is LR’s Advanced Tow Assist, which projects guidelines on the centre screen rear-camera image, and lets you steer using one of the console rotary controllers. This is designed to make it feel like you’re steering the trailer, as it rotates same-sense as opposed to having to counter-steer with the actual steering wheel. To be honest, anyone who’s had much practice at trailer manoeuvring might find it hard to un-learn their technique, but it’s handy if the trailer has an axle position you’re not used to.

WHAT’S THE PERFORMANCE LIKE?

I drove two versions. The P200 is one of two petrols, and it makes 147kW. There’s also a P250 making 184kW. The lower-power one had to work pretty hard up steep hills, even when it was just me on board. Some 369Nm makes itself available, which sounds enough except it’s pushing against about 1950kg with fuel and driver. But I was in a hurry.

Anyway, it’s much quieter than in the pre-facelift car, and the nine-speed auto hands out the ratios sensibly and smoothly –  again a huge improvement from when LR introduced that transmission.

The diesel was the D180, the middle one of three, with 132kW. Even more than the petrol, there’s a huge improvement in refinement and quietness versus the pre-facelift car. So it’s now fully competitive with rivals. Ditto the transmission. Again you can find yourself wishing for a little more poke, in which case go for the D240. The P200 and D180 do zero to 100km/h in the nine-second range, while the top-power engines cover it in the mid sevens.

Land Rover claims that the 48-volt mild hybrid system saves five to 10 percent fuel in urban running, when the engine shuts down before you’ve actually come to rest, and re-starts super-smoothly. But out on hilly twisty country roads, I’ve got to confess to 14L/100km in the P200.

WHAT ARE ITS ROAD MANNERS LIKE?

They might call it Sport, but it ain’t a sports car. That said, among seven-seat crossovers – let alone other vehicles with this sort of off-road capacity – it’s a pretty good steer. The reason is the intuitive, progressive and consistent way it reacts to your inputs. The steering is nicely fluent, and even offers a bit of feedback as you get to the tyres limits on say a tight wet corner.

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Body lean in bends is more than you’d get in a ‘sporty’ crossover. That’s how come off-road traction is so capable of course. But the dampers keep a good eye on body movements, or at least they did in the test conditions of undulating roads driven briskly, but with no load. So it doesn’t oscillate like a boat – you go through a sharp corner or over a crest, and it simply deals with it. And the optional adaptive damping system does it even better.

Yet amid all that, you’ve still got a ride that smooths off the edges of bumps, even big sharp ones. It’s not pillow-soft, but then with the potential to carry several kids staring at device screens, you probably don’t want the sort of floatiness that’ll bring on sickness.

HOW PRACTICAL IS IT?

At just 4.6 metres long, the Sport was always a bit of a packaging miracle, fitting in seven seats, as well as the 4WD underpinnings. As before, the third-row seats are kids-only, and when they’re used you’ve got only meagre boot space behind – just 157 litres. But the rear row is two individual seats that fold into the floor, so with just six people aboard you can drop one and get a decent boot. With both dropped in five-seat mode it’s 754 litres.

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New for this version, the middle seat is split 40:20:40, and it also slides forward a bit to give the people in row three a bit more legroom. Independent climate controls and even seat heating can be specced for row two. Newly redesigned bins have tablet-size space under the front armrest, loads of handy trays and nets for phones and the like, and cup-holders in all rows. Up to eight USB outlets, a wireless charge pad and onboard wi-fi keep the gadgets nourished.

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Although the outgoing Disco Sport was a brilliantly packaged vehicle, one thing that did get squeezed in the engineers’ game of 3d Tetris was the fuel tank. The new one corrects that, bringing the tank up to 67 litres in the petrol version and the diesel 65L plus 17L of AdBlue fluid.

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DRIVING ERGONOMICS AND INFOTAINMENT EXPLAINED

New front seats can even be had with massage function, which might be nice after a long day in the bush. Or the highway. They’re certainly good and supportive. The Discovery Sporty doesn’t get all the digital screen-ery of the Evoque, but what’s here is enough. The centre screen has good definition and will do its own connected navigation, or phone mirroring. Off-road, you can use the same screen to keep an eye on the traction features, or use it for the camera function.

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Below that screen is a black panel that lights up when the ignition’s on. It includes touch-button climate controls, plus a pair of useful multi-function pull-push-twist knobs. On the road, you use them for temp and fan, but off-road the right-hand cycles to become the Terrain Response control or the reversing control in Advanced Tow Assist.

WHAT SAFETY GEAR DOES IT GET?

The updated Discovery Sport will carry on with its five-star ANCAP rating including autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with steering assist which will guide you back into your lane if you begin to wander. Then there’s the Clearsight camera system which allows you to look through the bonnet. And new on the updated Disco Sport is the Advanced Towing Assist which allows you to reverse the vehicle using a knob on the centre console.

WHAT’S THE PRICE?

The entry-level S variants are offered in P200 guise (2.0-litre petrol – 147kW and 320Nm) and priced from $60,500+ORCs and D150 (2.0-litre turbo diesel – 110kW and 380Nm) from $62,450+ORCs. The SE offers a choice between the P250 (2.0-litre petrol – 184kW and 365Nm) for $67,852+ORCs and D180 (2.0-litre diesel – 132kW and 430Nm) for $67,910+ORcs. The top-spec HSE is only offered with the D240 diesel engine which makes 177kW and 500Nm, and costs $79,700+ORCs. An R-Dynamic package can be added for around $2500–$3000 depending on the variant. Unlike the old model, the 5+2 is now a standard-fit set-up (previously a $2000 cost option).

SO, WHAT DO WE THINK?

The Land Rover Discovery Sport will never be a first choice touring rough roader but it’s refreshing to drive an SUV that can actually get its feet dirty without falling into a heap in a puddle. Sure, it’s not a Discovery, but the Discovery Sport ground clearance and wheel travel aside, is likely to be just as capable in the rough stuff as some supposed touring 4X4s and that’s because technology is fast taking over as an equaliser. And this is a claim we’ll be putting to the test in the coming months. Stay tuned.

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