First Drive: 2020 Land Rover Discovery Sport
BARCELONA, Spain While I have driven countless SUVs from a multitude of manufacturers over the years, products made by Land Rover have somehow eluded me. The British automaker specializes in SUVs there are no pickups or sedans or coupes in its lineup and prides itself on building some of the most luxurious and capable vehicles in the world. I therefore looked forward to my first opportunity to drive a Land Rover, at the world press introduction of the 2020 Discovery Sport, held in Barcelona. Sadly, I left Spain feeling somewhat indifferent.
The Discovery Sport saw its most recent generational redesign in 2016, so as 2020 rolls around, so does the Sports mid-term upgrade. This revision brings a few exterior changes, like new LED head- and taillights, grille and bumpers, as well as a new interior. Four variations are available in Canada, two standard Discovery Sport models, and two higher-spec R-Dynamic variations. Prices range from $47,400 for the Discovery Sport S, to $58,700 for the R-Dynamic HSE.
According to Land Rover, the Discovery Sport is a compact SUV designed to cater to adventurous middle-class couples, most of which have yet to procreate so, young, childless cohabitees who are often away on weekends. If that sounds like you, the Discovery Sport just might fit the bill: Its styling is understated yet sporty; it offers off-road capability for adventurous weekend outings; it boasts up to 1,575 litres of interior storage; and if you do eventually decide to perpetuate the family bloodline, it features seating for up to seven.
While Land Rovers marketing spiel expounds the merits of being the only compact SUV to offer a third row of seats, they are actually jump seats for small kids. The good news is that they are optional, so you dont have to pay for them unless you have a copious brood or really dont like somebody. Youll also get the maximum storage space without them.
The interior has been completely refreshed, including a big reduction in hard plastic surfaces. The dashboard is all new, and quite attractive. I really like the cleanliness of the cockpit, which gives the Sport an airy feel. All buttons and dials except for two of each on the centre stack have been eliminated and replaced by touchscreens. When the ignition is off, the dashboard is just an array of glossy black surfaces. Push the start button and the black surfaces come to life with images and icons that serve to control the various functions. There are six USB and three 12-volt ports available throughout the interior, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.
The large dials operate the climate controls, while the one on the right also serves as the drive mode selector. There are seven drive modes that tailor drive settings to get you over anything from dry pavement to snow to mud and ruts. An extensive off-road course along our drive revealed Land Rovers raison dtre: The Discovery Sport is easily capable of handling anything an urban dweller might encounter on the way to the remote weekend cabin in the woods.
The 12-inch high-definition instrument panel is highly configurable, with a multitude of attractive display options. The only downside is that you have to scroll through various menus to call up different functions, and then have to back out to reach your default display. While all of this streamlining is visually appealing, it does make certain functions tedious. The absence of dedicated buttons for the drive modes, for example, means that any change in settings requires multiple steps. And we also experienced the first of a pair of minor vehicle glitches with the new touchscreens, when we had to set up the drive modes for a difficult uphill climb and the display froze, refusing to accept our selections until we backed out and went back into the desired menu.
The two Dynamic Sport models and R-Dynamic SE come standard with a 2.0-litre turbocharged inline four that claims 246 horsepower and 269 lb.-ft. of torque. New for 2020 is a 48-volt mild hybrid powertrain thats optional in the R-Dynamic SE and standard in the HSE. It still uses the 2.0-litre turbocharged four, but a belt-driven electric motor bumps peak output to 286 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. The only transmission is a ZF nine-speed automatic, and all-wheel drive is standard.
In the hybrid, the engine shuts off at speeds below 17 km/h to reduce emissions and fuel consumption. It does this anytime the vehicle slows, acting much like a regular start-stop function, but one that doesnt wait for the vehicle to come to a complete stop before shutting off the engine. Its quite seamless in operation. Canadian fuel consumption numbers are not yet available, but European specs claim as low as 6.9 L/100 km for the mild hybrid.
Unfortunately, the only vehicle available for testing was a Euro-spec Discovery Sport mild hybrid, and its spec sheet claimed a zero to 100 km/h time of 9.2 seconds. And it felt as slow, making passing a tedious, foot-on-the-floor exercise in patience. Aside from the modest output, the engine was smooth and quiet in operation, and the transmission shifted smoothly and timely. The models well get in Canada claim a much brisker 7.6 seconds from zero to 100 km/h, while the electrified ones drop that time to 7.0 seconds, so acceleration should be closer to expectation.
Another gripe I have and this is with any vehicle that uses such a device is with the non-detent gear selector. On a couple of occasions I accidentally bumped into neutral while operating the lower controls in the centre stack. I understand that gear selection on most automatics is now electronic, not mechanical, but manufacturers should move away from this imprecise device.
The other glitch we experienced, which put a small damper on my enthusiasm to drive my first Land Rover product, was a rhythmic surging the vehicle exhibited while accelerating uphill on the highway. I couldnt tell if it originated at the transmission, or perhaps the electric motor was somehow switching on and off, or it may have been a throttle mapping issue, but in any case it was not normal, and would have prompted a visit to the service department if I were the owner.
Among several of the new features introduced for 2020 are a number of available driver assists above and beyond the usual blind-spot, lane-keep, and cross-traffic alerts, adaptive cruise and such. One of the more interesting ones is Clearsight Ground View, which offers a view of whats passing beneath the vehicle. This feature uses a forward-facing camera to buffer an image of the ground ahead as the vehicle moves forward, and then stitches that image into a 180-degree forward view, almost seamlessly. It can prove very handy when negotiating very rough terrain off road. Also available is a rear-view monitor in the interior mirror, which offers an unobstructed rear view.
Another part of the new gadgetry is an Activity Key, which is a key fob you wear on your wrist. Its a smart idea meant for active types that dont want to risk losing a conventional key fob while out running.
If you were to sum up the 2020 Discovery Sport in one word, it would be versatile. And that is its most redeeming quality. Its competitively priced among its European rivals, and it offers a slightly more exclusive ownership experience. While I didnt actually drive a vehicle a vehicle destined for our market, it provided a well-rounded overall driving experience, managing twisty roads with composure and off-road sections with the brands renowned prowess. The minor glitches and lacklustre acceleration left me cold, but not put off. A longer drive in a domestic model might set things right.