This review is going to be… different for this website.
Because the Land Rover Discovery Sport doesn’t equate itself with the small, tyre-shredding, sports cars and howling 42-litre V391 engines.
The Discovery Sport is a more sedate proposition. It is the sort of car you’re more likely to see doing the school run than featured amongst the annals of “Help, I’ve Binned My Car in the Nasho“. Although Your Humble Correspondent is sure that assertion is already false.
Your Humble Correspondent put the Discovery Sport SE through its paces hauling the family from Sydney to Dubbo and back over the Easter weekend.
We would travel from a Secret Government Facility to, via an overnight stop in Bathurst and on to Dubbo. We would spend the weekend there. Monday, an elongated trip home would include detours to Parkes, Boorowa and Crookwell (on the advice of the in-laws as to the location of a good driving road). We would rejoin the Hume Highway at Goulburn, and from there power our way north and to, to sleep.
Total distance for the journey would be nearly 1000km by the map. With some extra driving required to do things like take the photos, the tripmeter read just over 1200km by the time we pulled back into the driveway.
Over that distance we did everything. We sat in heavy Sydney traffic, took on stunningly dull motorways, explored a few back roads and even found a bit of dirt to see how that went.
Our journey begins, as you would expect, on a Wednesday night at a secret location in the vicinity of Botany Bay.
Words and images: Matt Hatton
Co-pilot: Joel Riley
Look and Feel
The rounded-square look of the Discovery Sport suits the car a lot better than Land Rover’s translation of a similar look onto the big brother Discovery. Even in the dim light of a suburban back street the car has presence, without being obnoxious.
Pulling the door handle unlocks the cabin thanks to the proximity key, revealing an inside that borrows heavily from the Jaguar, Land Rover and Range Rover divisions that make up the creatively named Jaguar Land Rover.
The leather front seats feel good, the dashboard layout is clean and plastic parts scattered around are unobtrusive. You forget about them completely once you start driving as all the touch points feel nice.
Cruising down the M5, the Your Humble Correspondent went to engage the cruise control. Surely it is the little button with the speedometer on it. Press that. Hit the “set” button at 100km/h and… the car started to slow down…?
Apply the accelerator and without trying our speed returns to 100 but goes no further.
Some people pride themselves on their ability to hold a constant, unwavering speed on the motorway. But sitting nearly at 100 without any variation at all seemed more than a little off.
Consultation with the manual later revealed the error. The speedometer button is the speed limiter. To engage cruise control you simply press “set”.
It is a design choice that permeates the JLR world but, while weird, is hardly going to get noses substantially out of joint. Anyone living with one of their products would file that knowledge into the muscle memory bank, they would get used to it and that would be that.
With the drive home complete it was time to collapse on the lounge as it was well past bed time. Tomorrow, the true test begins.
Thursday – To Bathurst
Have you ever packed a car for a weekend away for three people? One of whom is a two-year old?
If you have, you will know what’s coming.
If you haven’t, it would completely bewilder you at how much stuff you need.
You would think that going away from Tuesday to Monday requires little more than a few changes of clothes, maybe a jumper if the weather forecast is looking dodgy, a toothbrush and your favourite pillow. The pillow is important because while you can deal easily enough without sleeping on your own bed, there is nothing – I repeat, NOTHING – like your own pillow. In the experience of Your Humble Correspondent, all pillows that are not your own pillow are bad pillows.
But I digress.
For three people when one of them is a toddler, you have a lot of stuff. We somehow ended up with half a dozen bags, Bub’s tricycle, pillows, backpacks and a few other odds and ends.
Most of it fit into the Discovery Sport’s 981-litre boot with relative ease. A bit of boot-space-tetris got it all to the point I could pull the soft luggage cover over the top and latch it in place. Seats down, the boot space is a huge 1698 litres.
Installation of the car seat for the two-year old was simple. There are two ISOFIX spots, and top tethers for all three rear seats.
Speaking of the two-year old, she came to dub the Discovery Sport the “Tomato Sauce Car” due to the unusually bright colour JLR had chosen for it (Firenze Red, according to the spec sheet). As you’d expect, this colour costs $1370.
With the car packed and the child safely bolted into her carseat, it was time to set off.
The inclusion of an iPhone cable meant the availability of Apple’s CarPlay system. CarPlay is good. So good, one cannot suggest in good conscience that you purchase a car that doesn’t include it or the Android Auto equal if you own a smartphone.
Hitting the road proper also resulted in the instructions for the cruise control being discovered. In thinning traffic as we climbed the Blue Mountains it was discovered this system had something of a flaw.
When the Discovery Sport hits anything beyond the most gentle of inclines with the cruise control engaged, you will lose 10-15km/h on your target speed before the system realises what is going on and boots the accelerator.
The big problem with that is there are more than a few inclines as you scale the mountain range to Sydney’s west.
You do tend to wonder that a car with seemingly an endless arsenal of sensors and computing power cannot seemingly discover the world that exists beyond the immediate six inches in front of it.
It is made more annoying by it being coupled to Jaguar’s 2.0-litre petrol engine, as there is absolutely nothing wrong with that at all.
Producing 177kW and 340Nm of shove, it is quiet, smooth and (once you are cruising) responsive.
It is just unfortunate the cruise control does more to hamper than utilise it.
(The rest of the stats for the numbers people are that it will reach 100km/h from a standing start in 7.4 seconds and claims it’ll drink 8 litres of petrol for every 100km of driving should your driving style match perfectly with the theoretical “combined” cycle they use to come up with these numbers).
The other odd thing we spotted, this time descending the mountains towards Lithgow and our overnight stop at Bathurst, was the behaviour of the auto-dipping high-beam headlights.
The premise, if you are unfamiliar, is that one of the car’s bevy of sensors is one that detects oncoming traffic and dutifully flicks the high-beam mode of the headlights off until the the road ahead is clear before flicking them back on.
When it works, it is brilliant.
When it gets confused by reflective signs with white backgrounds so the twisting road ahead suddenly disappears from sight, it is less good.
Friday – Back Way to Dubbo
Friday. Good Friday, to be exact, began has any good day on a road trip should – with a healthy* breakfast buffet at the hotel you’ve spent the the night.
(* Well as healthy as a small mountain of bacon, eggs and fried potato can be)
With the car packed, our driving day began negotiating our way out of the parking space.
This required the use of the Discovery Sport’s reversing camera, which is one of the best in the business. Coupled with the solid centre-display in the dashboard, the picture is crystal clear, and the wide angle gives a great view of what’s happening behind the car.
And with the car park left behind us, we continued. Today’s driving would take us from Bathurst, via Orange through to Dubbo.
The intention was to just charge up the Mitchell Highway to Dubbo. However, Apple Maps had other ideas.
We were directed off the highway, without realising, and onto Burrendong Way. The back way was on roads of varying quality, twisty and took us over more than a view hills and through a couple of towns that you would never know existed.
We would discover the towns of Mullion Creek, Stuart Town and Mumbil on our sojourn.
This unexpected exploration of the back roads of central NSW provided an opportunity to see how the Discovery Sport drove on roads that did not largely comprise of dual-carriageway highway.
And it excelled.
Feel from the steering wheel is excellent. It gives you a solid feeling of what’s happening with the front wheels.
While Your Humble Correspondent may have initially thought the suspension felt a tad on the firm side, the front passenger offered a contrary analysis, saying it was actually quite smooth and they were not feeling many of the road’s endless imperfections.
The back roads, and using the paddles on the steering wheel, revealed that Jaguar Land Rover’s build-quality issues, while improving on what they have been previously, aren’t fixed entirely.
The glue holding both halves of the up-shift paddle had either failed or not been applied in enough quantity such that the two halves could come away from each other.
It was not enough to cause a concern, but was noticeable, especially when it pinched the tip of one finger.
It is not the sort of bite you expect a car to have.
Our unplanned trip across the back roads came to an end just outside the town of Wellington, where we rejoined the Mitchell Highway.
From there, after a short stop to stretch the legs and locate something to drink, (a challenge, on Good Friday) it was the final hop into Dubbo.
Upon arrival there was unpacking, relaxing and a crispy cold one.
Saturday – The Zoo
Saturday would see the Discovery Sport undertake a different sort of challenge: Taronga Western Plains Zoo.
Taking the Discovery Sport to the zoo is a bit like running it through a week of day-to-day use in a couple of hours.
Easter Saturday, it turns out, is an insanely popular time to go to the zoo. The roads in were becoming clogged and once you got inside the park it was more of the same, with the added fun of people everywhere.
Manoeuvrability around the myriad parking areas and through traffic was a breeze – helped by the previously mentioned superb reversing camera.
Getting the two-year old in and out of her car seat was also a breeze. Even when she insisted that she do it herself, the Discovery Sport was easy for her to climb in and out of.
In the car, from her car seat, she had great visibility out the rear windows – something that is not always a given.
Sunday – The Road Test
Easter Sunday. A day of chocolate bunnies and egg hunts all in the name of a bloke that was nailed to a cross for having some groovy opinions on how people should treat each other.
Easter Sunday is also the day Your Humble Correspondent was up at the crack of dawn and took the Discovery Sport out for a photoshoot and the opportunity to explore some of the surrounding area while the rest of the family did what you are supposed to do on holidays and sleep in.
The location chosen was the town of Geurie, about 25 minutes back down the highway towards Wellington. We had driven through on Friday and it looked like the perfect location to show off the bright red Discovery Sport in a properly country town setting.
The photos were mostly taken out the front of some grain silos that were situated next to the railway. You don’t see stuff like that in the city.
With the shoot out of the way, it was time to go on a bit of an explore.
Exploring in this part of the world means that it will not be long until you quickly find the hard, black stuff that is normally driven on coming to an end, replaced with, in this case, reddish-brown dirt.
The change in surface was handled with aplomb. Even the stunt driver made comment about how well the Discovery Sport handled its brief trip across unsealed gravel.
One issue that did raise its head over the course of the morning was the Sport’s willingness to want to understeer. Now, usually this is not a bad thing. You want a car to understeer more than oversteer.
The problem became that it did this with extreme earnestness. It did not take much to induce it. Any hint of wanting to engage in something vaguely resembling spirited driving resulted in the front of the car wanting to find the outside of the corner in the quickest manner possible.
Heading back into town and the Discovery Sport’s other main problem reared its head.
That problem is the transmission. Around town, the 9-speed automatic gearbox that connects the engine to wheels is incredibly stupid. It never knows what gear it wants to be in, it’s rubbish at smoothly feeding the power in from a standing start and the result is a endlessly jerky, unpleasant experience.
But with the photos taken and the abilities of the Discovery Sport explored, it was time to relax and eat some chocolate because….Jesus…??
Monday – The Run Home
The final day of holidays can bring one of two feelings.
The first is existential dread at having to resume the banal responsibilities of life now the free-wheeling and carefree days of kicking back and not worrying about anything at all are coming to an end.
On the other side, is the sweet, sweet relief that tonight you are going to sit in your own couch, watch your own TV and sleep in your own bed.
For Your Humble Correspondent, Easter Monday signalled what was to be a long day of driving: Dubbo to Parkes, Parkes to Cowra, Cowra to Goulburn, Goulburn to an undisclosed location in Sydney’s south-west here he and his family happen to reside.
On the highway from Dubbo to Parkes, the Discovery Sport continued to excel as a cruiser. Having a road that lacked in elevation changes meant we did not encounter the previously mentioned slowness in response to hills.
Another brief off-road stint confirmed Sunday’s observations that the suspicion and ride is sorted out. Absorbing bumps without fuss, to the point the two-year old’s drink did not end up everywhere. Always a win.
The stopover at Parkes was to catch up with extended family. No, we did not visit the Dish. We drove past it though. Can confirm it is still there.
From Parkes we turned south driving through Eugowra and Gooloogong (not where the tennis players come from, I’m told. That’s Goolagong) before arriving in Cowra.
During that leg of the drive, you do feel as though you are truly driving through the middle of nowhere. Endless, winding narrow roads that twist their way through the hills and dips with the occasional paddock drifting past the window. I don’t think we saw a single car once we left Parkes. We did see a wheat train parked up next to the silos, though.
At Cowra the in-laws got in touch to suggest that instead of continuing the run south, towards Yass (kween) and the Hume Highway, there were good roads to be found by instead aiming for the towns of Rugby and Crookwell joining the Hume at Goulburn.
And the road was a good driving road. Or rather, it would have were it not the sort of good driving road that brought out all the worst characteristics of the Discovery Sport’s handling and transmission.
The sweeping back road bends were a constant fight against the understeer, while the transmission twisted itself into knots trying to decide what gear it wanted to be in.
It was disappointing, as with the other two occupants of the car fast asleep, Your Humble Correspondent was keen to enjoy to fully immerse himself in ~driving~.
Instead, arriving in Goulburn for the final leg-stretch was met with additional relief as it meant a resumption of motorway driving, something the Discovery Sport excels at.
The next hour or so of motorway driving went by without any sort of notable event, but it was as we passed Mittagong and Bowral the final twist in the tale appeared.
Easter. Monday. Traffic.
Although sitting in the middle of the New South Wales school holidays, Easter Monday heralded the end of the long weekend and dreaded return to work for a great many people. All of them, seemingly, travelling north along the Hume Highway, headed to Sydney.
As has been covered extensively, the Discovery Sport excels in slow, stop/start conditions. So edging your way along a road normally traveled at 110km/h was a thrilling experience on a variety of fronts.
Thankfully, Apple Maps came to the rescue with the suggestion of a small detour. We would exit the motorway at Alpine and continue our journey north through Hill Top, Buxton, Thirlmere before arriving at Picton and the final lumber up the hill home.
We were not the only ones to either have that thought or be suggested it by the wise machine connected to the car. There is something quite fun about barreling along darkening quiet roads in a convoy with a few other cars. Crank the Hans Zimmer and it starts to get quiet cinematic.
But, finally, we were pulling into the driveway. The trip was over.
At time of writing, it is now two weeks after the fact, and Your Humble Correspondent still finds himself in two minds about the Discovery Sport.
For the highway stints, it was supreme. Galloping over the miles without too much complaint, even with the less than impressive cruise control system.
Driving it around town, however, was infuriating. Jerky, no power when you need it, just downright unpleasant.
The understeer and transmission made trying to enjoy a winding back round a struggle.
There are still questions about the build quality.
But the ride is brilliant, even when you take it off a sealed surface. The reversing camera is simply one of the best out there for any car.
But could it be recommended as a purchase?
Campbelltown (or close enough to it) to Bathurst, to Dubbo, to Parkes to Cowra to Campbelltown (or close enough to it).
Total distance driven: 1214.0 kilometres by the tripmeter.
Overall fuel consumption: 9.85L/100km