New Land Rover Discovery Sport & Mercedes GLC vs Audi Q5

The Land Rover Discovery Sport lost its seat to the Audi Q5 in the 2017 election of posh large SUVs. Can it regain its place with major changes of policy? A previous outsider with a similar plan...

New Land Rover Discovery Sport & Mercedes GLC vs Audi Q5

The contenders

Audi Q5 40 TDI quattro S line 

  • List price - £43,395
  • Target Price - £39,602

Classy and refined, the reigning champion of posh large SUVs is back to defend its crown.

Land Rover Discovery Sport D180 AWD SE

  • List price - £43,175
  • Target Price - £21,557 

Subtle cosmetic tweaks hide a whole host of significant mechanical upgrades.

Mercedes GLC 220d 4Matic Sport

  • List price - £39,820 
  • Target Price - £36,355

Can a new diesel engine and an upgraded interior make the GLC more competitive?

Because it’s the season for silly jumpers, let’s talk about Val Doonican. Don’t worry, we’re not going to be reviewing some questionable crooning, but a certain song released back in 1964 will no doubt resonate with many car buyers today. If you haven’t already guessed the tune, the following lyric should do the job: “Walk tall, walk straight and look the world right in the eye.”

Yes, we’re talking about SUVs, and ones just as plush as a piece of Doonican’s knitwear. If you have your heart set on something large and upmarket, your choice has just got a whole lot harder. The Audi Q5 has been the dominant force in this market for the past few years, but a pair of refreshed rivals are challenging its crown.

Up first is the Mercedes GLC. Under its lightly tweaked exterior is a new 2.0-litre diesel engine that’s more refined and efficient than the clattery old 2.1-litre unit it replaces. You also get an updated interior complete with a 10.3in touchscreen for the infotainment system that can also be controlled via trackpads.

And then there’s a car that has something of a grudge against the Q5; you see, the Land Rover Discovery Sport was the SUV the Q5 beat to become our favourite. With its engine now sporting mild hybrid technology to boost efficiency, its underpinnings updated to improve how it drives and its interior gaining improved practicality plus a new infotainment system, it promises to give the Q5 its sternest test yet.

Audi Q5 driving

On the road

Performance, ride, handling, refinement

While all three have 2.0-litre diesel engines, it’s the 191bhp GLC that’s most muscular and the 178bhp Discovery Sport that’s the weakest. That might not seem like a big gap, but on our test track the GLC was more than three seconds quicker when sprinting from 0-60mph or getting from 30-70mph as swiftly as possible. As for the Q5, it’s around a second slower than the GLC, so it’s by no means slow.

To its credit, the Discovery Sport doesn’t feel overly sluggish on the road, but A-road overtakes and short sliproads are less stressful in its rivals. Not helping matters is the automatic gearbox’s hesitancy, which is especially noticeable when you’re accelerating from a standstill. That said, the Q5’s isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed; the GLC’s is the most responsive. All shift smoothly on the move, but the Q5’s has a tendency to be a little jerky at low speeds.

While we’re on the subject of refinement, the new engines in the GLC and Discovery Sport are far quieter than their predecessors. You’re aware that they’re diesels at tickover, but all three are virtually inaudible at a steady cruise. The Q5 sends the fewest vibrations through the steering wheel and is smoothest while accelerating, with the GLC not too far behind. 

Land Rover Discovery Sport driving

The Discovery Sport sounds the gruffest, but it’s still impressively smooth and there’s very little road noise. The Q5 is the quietest, with noise from the suspension, tyres and wind being well isolated, while the GLC kicks up the most wind whistle on the motorway. 

The mild hybrid tech doesn’t help with the Discovery Sport’s porkiness, though. That is not only a key reason for its so-so acceleration but also why it feels the most ponderous on a country road. Turn in to a corner quickly and it leans the most, while its stability control system intervenes sharply if you try to push hard. At least this tight electronic grip ensures that the car never feels wayward. The steering is precise but a little too aggressive in its response and keen to self-centre.

The GLC is more agile, feeling keener to turn quickly and holding the road tighter. You’re therefore less likely to trouble its limits, but the electronics are quick to intervene if you push hard. 

Mercedes GLC driving

There are no such issues with the Q5; it feels more like a well-sorted hatchback than a big SUV. Yes, it leans a bit, but it finds the most grip and has the most precise, naturally weighted steering. If you enjoy a brisk drive, it’s the best by a fair margin.

The trade-off is that the Q5 has the firmest ride, although you’d never call it uncomfortable; while you’re aware of imperfections and bumps passing beneath you, the blows of even vicious potholes are softened. The GLC initially feels softer, but it slams more noticeably over broken roads and isn’t as composed over crests. 

However, the master of waft is the Discovery Sport, which is exceptionally comfy, particularly on the motorway. The only caveat is that it’s more prone to thudding over potholes than the Q5, but then that’s partly down to our car’s optional 20in wheels (£965).