It’s also smart, practical, safe - and rugged enough to go a lot further than its rivals off the beaten track. In short, there’s nothing else quite like it.
Set off and this car feels exactly as any Land Rover of this kind should. The high-set driving position and excellent all-round visibility do a fine job in compensating for the fact that as compact SUVs go, this Discovery Sport isn't actually very ‘compact’. The facts are that it's actually both longer and wider than the original first generation Range Rover, something you particularly realise in urban parking situations. Despite that though, on the move it’s a vehicle that’s easy to place with confidence through the turns.
Much of the reason why centres around the steering. Gone is the vague, wishy-washy helm you used to get in a Freelander and in its place, there’s an alert and natural-feeling set-up providing for the kind of precise and accurate corner turn-in that allows you to make good use of the Torque Vectoring by Braking system.
This car’s permanent intelligent 4WD arrangement continuously varies the torquesplit front-to-rear depending on conditions and is, as before, mated to Land Rover’s excellent Terrain Response system which, via a control panel on the centre console, allows you to select a drive programme to match the sort of off-road conditions the car is experiencing. Once you’ve chosen a mode, you’ve only to leave the car’s electronics to work out how best to dole out power and maximise traction, sniffing out grip where none seems to exist and turning the Discovery Sport into an impressively capable off-road tool.
Prior to this model’s arrival, family 4x4s with space for three rows of seats looked boxy and boring. The Discovery Sport is different, disguising its size really well. The smart front end helps here, with sleek, wraparound corners that reduce the visual bulk of the front overhang and are embellished by careful little touches of design.
But style of this kind I expected. My greater concerns in approaching this car always lay – as yours might – in the luggage space accessible beyond the rear hatch. Any vehicle that bills itself as being in any way ‘compact’, yet which claims to offer space for seven people would, you’d think, surely be compromised here.
In the event, the issues aren’t insurmountable, mainly because of the key engineering feature that under the skin, sets the Discovery Sport apart from its Range Rover Evoque showroom stablemate. Though the two cars share the same front end structure, this car’s unique from the B-pillar backwards, is 80mm longer and gets its own very compact multi-link rear axle which frees up space for the fold-out third row seating and ensures that the rear suspension turrets make minimal intrusion into the luggage area. As a result, there’s a class-competitive capacity of around 500-litres measured up to tonneau cover-level – or as much as 829-litres if you load up to the roof.
Time to take a seat up-front in the so-called ‘Sports Command Driving Position’, a pleasant perch from which you realise just how far the designers of this car have come since they created the Freelander. The big buttons and utilitarian plastic surfaces of that car are here replaced by soft touch rotary controls and tactile buttons set in gloss-black surrounds.
The key cabin feature though, lies in the centre of the dash. At last, Land Rover has delivered a state-of-the-art infotainment screen to its volume buyers. The 8-inch display is clear, easy to navigate around and very informative.
Time to move rearwards and experience the car from a passenger perspective, one enhanced by the way that the middle row’s so-called ‘stadium’ seating is slightly raised by
50mm, giving occupants the kind of very good view out they always appreciated in the old Freelander.
Back here, you really appreciate the extra 80mm of wheelbase this car enjoys over its Range Rover Evoque stablemate, something further aided by the cut-outs in the backs of the front seats that free up more space for your knees. If you need more, then the seat base can be slid backwards by up to 160mm to create as much as 112mm of kneeroom and 1,011mm of legroom – which could make this rear seat almost as accommodating as that in a Range Rover.
You won’t want to be pushing this second row bench back though, if you’ve passengers above pre-school age sat behind you in the fold-out third row. Land Rover calls this car a ‘5+2’-seater, which probably clues you into the fact that these extra pews are for occasional child use only.
Once again, Land Rover has looked at a market that many thought was packed to bursting point and spotted a significant gap, into which it's parked the Discovery Sport. What other car of this kind can seat seven, set off in the Serengeti and slot right in as easily in Sloane Square as it will in the tightest multi-storey carpark space? No other premium compact SUV can do all this.
It all means that for once, the advertising tagline for this model works for the product it’s supposed to promote. ‘Above and beyond’ was the objective in developing this car. In considering the end result, you’d have to say that mission’s been accomplished.