It’s usually several years after a car goes on sale that the manufacturer starts making improvements. With the Discovery Sport, though, there have been some pretty major updates after barely six months.
They were needed, too, because when Land Rover’s replacement for the Freelander was launched earlier this year the only engine – a 2.2-litre diesel that had its roots in the late 1990s – fell short of the efficiency and refinement standards we expect from a modern SUV. In fact, it was one of the main reasons the Sport lost out in a head-to-head against the rival BMW X3.
Well, the old 2.2 engine has disappeared from the line-up completely, with a new 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel (available in 148bhp and 178bhp outputs) taking its place. It’s effectively the same motor that powers the new Jaguar XE, and not only does it bring huge reductions in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, it’s also much more refined. More on that later.
The 148bhp ‘E-capability’ version is the more efficient, with CO2 emissions of 129g/km. The catch is this engine isn’t available with seven seats or an automatic gearbox; if you want either of those things, as most buyers will, you’ll need to go for the 178bhp version, although that still keeps emissions down to 139g/km – less than any X3 or Audi Q5 can manage.
What's the 2016 Land Rover Discovery Sport like to drive?
It’s this more powerful version we’re testing here, and you only need to push the ‘start’ button to begin noticing the improvements. There’s less of a shudder when the engine fires into life and less of grumble as it ticks over. Pull away and you’ll also feel less vibration through the soles of your feet. Despite all this, and the fact the new engine has slightly less power than the old one, performance is just as strong as ever.
Land Rover’s latest nine-speed automatic gearbox did feature on the old 2.2-litre motor, but it works much better with the new engine. It responds more snappily when pulling out at junctions and roundabouts and seems to shift that bit more smoothly at low speeds. It’s a no-brainer over the standard six-speed manual.
In other respects the Discovery Sport remains as impressive as ever. It’s great to drive – not quite as sharp as some versions of the X3, but plenty agile and grippy enough. The Land Rover has more natural-feeling steering than its rivals, too, which is quick enough to make light work of town manoeuvres, but not so aggressive as to make the car feel nervous on the motorway.
The one remaining imperfection is the ride. It’s that bit more fidgety than we’d like at low speeds, although our test car’s 19in alloys (standard only on range-topping HSE Luxury versions) probably didn’t help matters. Thankfully, things never get too bumpy or jarring.
What's the 2016 Land Rover Discovery Sport like inside?
The Sport is more practical than its premium rivals at this price, too. Land Rover has been careful to describe it as a ‘5+2’ rather than a proper seven-seater, presumably to manage customers’ expectations. However, the rearmost seats are fine for a couple of small kids; adults will fit at a squeeze, although it wouldn't be recommended for longer journeys. The middle row of seats also slide back and forth, which is more than can be said for a BMW X3’s.
With all seven seats in use the Sport's load bay is predictably tiny. However, with the two rearmost seats folded away into the floor the boot is actually quite large and usefully square in shape. An X3's boot is slightly wider, mind, and there is an annoying gap between the edge of the Land Rover's boot floor and its middle-row seat, which items can fall down between. Mind you, this is a small price to pay for the extra practicality of the seven-seat layout.
You'll have no issue finding a comfortable driving position. There's plenty of adjustment in the wide, supportive seats and the steering wheel moves a long way in and out to accommodate varying leg lengths. The Land Rover's dashboard is mostly clear and user-friendly, too, although the touchscreen infotainment system isn't quite as intuitive as a BMW's iDrive.
For the most part, the Discovery Sport's interior is suitably premium – particularly in the higher trims. The switchgear feels reassuringly weighty and the dashboard is built from dense, soft-touch materials. In fact, our only complaint is that some of the interior panels don't fit together as snuggly as they do in the best German rivals.
Should I buy one?
So, with the biggest reason not to buy a Discovery Sport now one of its strengths, and the rest of the package as strong as ever, this is finally the car it should have been from the beginning.
It's practical, great to drive and now more, rather than much less, efficient than its key rivals, while Land Rover's strong desirability should see to any concerns about heavy depreciation.
A new HSE Black trim level has been added to the range, but we still think the cheaper SE Tech and regular HSE versions represent the best value for money.
What Car? says...
Land Rover Discovery Sport TD4 180 auto
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Price from £34,200
Torque 317lb ft
0-62mph 8.9 seconds
Top speed 117mph
Fuel economy 53.3mpg