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What was supposed to be a week in Queensland with a Camry ended up being one with a Land Rover Discovery Sport HSE, courtesy of a free upgrade from Europcar after all of the available Camrys (Camri?) in the fleet had been returned with some form of damage.
I had very little interest or knowledge of the Discovery Sport prior this experience, but have come away with a little bit more of both.
I still have no idea what the specs are for this car, though. Apart from it being a diesel, I can’t tell you how many cylinders it has, how much power it produces or even how much it costs.
In fact, I’m not even sure which model this is, exactly (couldn’t find anything on the car to let me know if this was TD4, SD4, 110kW or 132kW version). All it says on the the VIN plate is “Discovery Sport LC”, so there.
I’ve never read other reviews of the Discovery Sport either, and have purposely avoided doing so since.
This puts me in a fairly unique position of being able to do a sort of blind taste test, and I’ll judge it assuming it costs somewhere north of 60 grand.
Our car came in the requisite Rental White paint, with black leather seats. It had some fairly large scratches on some plastic panels in the boot area but it otherwise looked in pretty good shape for a new-ish car that’s already done over 30,000km.
Tetris - fitting the family in
My first interaction with it was attempting to fit all of our luggage into it - a large trundle suitcase, two much smaller ones and a foldable stroller.
The boot is a bit on the small side for a medium-sized SUV, mostly because of the high floor and low-mounted removable cargo blind. With the latter in place, there isn't enough height for the large suitcase standing on its side. The same suitcase lying flat barely fits in the cavity so you can't stack them either.
In the end, I had to remove the cargo blind and stow it awkwardly between my luggage and the rear seats to fit all my stuff. Which is a bit of a shame because I think that this could have been avoided with an alternative mechanism for the blind (such as the sideways retractable one in the Honda Civic hatchback).
It's also worth mentioning that the boot is not deep enough to store my admittedly large stroller longitudinally.
In a world where the Honda CR-V exists, I’m slightly perturbed whenever I come across a medium SUV that can’t swallow a small horse in the back.
I installed a booster seat in the centre-rear pew and my two older kids still had plenty of room on the outboard seats. They recline too which was a nice touch.
Up front, the seats are good. Like, really good. They’re very comfortable with good under-thigh and lumbar support and are fully adjustable via buttons (even the passenger side) and there’s a memory function for the drivers side too, though I never used it.
My only issue is that they don’t go low enough. I’m 187cm with a long torso and short limbs (sort of like a giant dwarf), and the rear-view mirror nearly gets in the way of my view of traffic. In some cars, it completely gets in the way, so this is better. There was still enough headroom, though, which is important.
I checked out the rear cabin and found a lot more headroom than I expected, in spite of the low-ish roofline. For reference, I can’t fit in the back of a Mazda 6 or Accord without my head touching the ceiling, but I can in the Discovery Sport, which is good.
There are probably soft touch plastics in the cabin - I wouldn’t know because I’m not one of those weird people who runs my fingers across every surface of the car to check. It all looks nice enough, and that’s good enough for me.
The AC was pretty powerful from the word go (handy, because the car was parked under the sun) and the B-pillar mounted rear air vents were a nice touch.
With everyone strapped in (and there’s a handy seatbelt indicator in the central digital display in the instrument binnacle - more on this later) it’s time to roll out~!
On the road
The week started off in the Gold Coast and ended in Brisbane, with a lot of freeway driving and a bit of meandering in the city - which is the natural habitat for a high-riding SUV with good ground clearance and (probably) a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system.
I am assuming that all Land Rovers have AWD, yes?
Outward visibility is exceptional - I felt comfortable driving the car immediately and had no issues judging the corners in tight spots. Both wing mirrors are decently sized and have wide-angled glass, while the B-pillars are far aft enough to not get in the way of doing head checks when changing lanes.
There wasn’t any blind spot monitoring and I didn’t need any. The only negative in this area is that the rear windscreen is a very short and the rear-view mirror is set too low. So if you have a big child booster seat installed in the middle rear seat (like I did), you can’t actually see anything out the back.
I’ve had this issue in some cars and SUVs but it’s particularly bad here. Moving the booster to one of the outer seats improved things, but you still lose a bit of peripheral rearward vision. Do take note if you’re planning to install multiple child or booster seats back there.
If it’s a problem, you can turn the rear-view camera on all the time to use in-lieu of the rear-view mirror. But I wouldn’t recommend it.
While the infotainment screen is very large and clear, the very wide-angled lens on the camera means that things look a lot further than they really are. Fine for parking, not so much when being used as a digital rear-view mirror.
Whether it’s just with this rental or not, but the camera is also pointing a bit to the left.
Coming to the instrument cluster, it is neatly arranged with a speedometer on the left, a rev counter on the right and a colour digital display shoehorned between them. As with most automatic transmission cars, I think the rev counter is completely pointless, which makes its prime positioning on the right binnacle a little confounding.
Both gauges are pretty tiny, have big offsets (to make room for the digital display) and have white needles, which don’t stand out enough from the white fonts on the black-faced dials.
And because the speedometer is on the left, all the sane driving speeds are tucked away into the far-left corner of the entire cluster.
All this means that, while I usually prefer gauges, I ended up referring to the digital speedometer readout at the top of the centre digital display. It’s clear and has a fairly quick refresh rate, but it could have done with a bigger font. The cruise control target speed is shown to the right in green when activated - a nice touch.
The Discovery Sport HSE has that weird Jaguar-Land Rover shift dial instead of a regular stick. I’m not a fan of it - it looks cool but I keep shifting to P when I mean to go into R, and it also means that you can’t have a stick-operated +/- manual override. Having said that, there are wheel-mounted paddles though I never used them.
As for the actual driving experience, the ride is really good - neither my passenger nor myself ever noticed any hard knocks when driving over less-than-perfect roads or speed bumps. Very pliant without being floaty.
Granted, I never drove it through any winding country roads, but the ride and handling felt composed with minimal body roll - it feels like you can drive a lot faster with not much to worry about.
The steering is ok - it’s very direct but could do with more feel. My main issue with it is that it’s too light, especially at freeway speeds. There’s a feeling that I could accidentally change lanes if I sneezed.
At these speeds, the car’s noise levels were pretty poor - a lot closer to Mazda loud (a cliche, I know) than Mercedes levels of quiet. It’s mostly tyre roar, I think, from the massive tyres. There’s a branded sound system that sounds great when the car is at city speeds or below, but you’d really have to crank it up when you’re on the freeway.
Like most modern diesels, the engine pulls willingly from slightly above 1000RPM and the gearbox does its best to keep the engine at under 1500 RPM at any speed to encourage relaxed progress.
The fuel economy is… probably good? I’m terribly sorry but I didn’t start the trip with the intention of writing a review, so I hadn’t reset the fuel counter or made a note of the odometer before taking off. But it’s a diesel, so you can probably assume that it’s great for long journeys.
I do have one complaint about the drivetrain, though - press the accelerator pedal a little further down, let’s say if you’re trying to do a last-minute overtake or to dart across an intersection, the gearbox would always downshift rather than riding off the mountain of torque.
So nothing happens for half a second, you start to get a bit nervous, and then the car lunges forward pretty abruptly.
Mind you, this is the sort of behaviour I’d expect if I floored the pedal, not when merely depressing it slightly more than usual. It’s not a major problem but it’s happened often enough for me to be annoyed by it, especially if you have a car full of sleeping children (whom you intend to keep asleep).
It’s very technology
Speaking of which, the collision sensors in the car are waaaay too sensitive. Every time I reach the end of a dipping driveway or ramp, the systems scream bloody murder, as if the Enterprise is under attack from Klingons. Oh, hi kids. No, we’re not there yet. Go back to sleep. Please.
It once sounded the alarm when I was completely stationary in traffic, when it suddenly decided that the car in front of me (which had also been stationary for a while) was now too close.
There’s a button to the left of the infotainment screen to disable the sensors temporarily, but it comes back on the moment you shift out of drive.
There was a fairly harmless but awkwardly placed bush in our motel carpark and I had to inch forwards and back a few times to park properly. Each time I went forwards, it would scream about the bush, I’d turn it off, and then it would scream again the next time I inched forwards. Loads of fun.
I should probably talk more about the infotainment system - the screen is huge, has very nice looking fonts and graphics, was pretty easy to pair with my iPhone and streams music and makes calls with zero fuss. There are a fair number of USB ports throughout the cabin, which provide enough power to properly charge your phones (not sure about tablets). There’s satellite navigation too, but I never used it since all of my locations were stored on Google Maps.
It’s also worth mentioning that the air conditioning vents on the centre console are at a decent height and shape to mount one of those magnetic phone holders, which I used. I don’t think there was any Apple Carplay - if there was, then it was very well hidden.
Overall, my week-long experience with the Discovery Sport HSE was pleasant. I’d buy it for the ride quality and those front seats alone - I did several hour-long journeys and I walked away feeling like a million dollars each time.
I would’ve preferred narrower tyres to reduce the roar at higher speeds and a recalibrated transmission to utilise more of the engine’s torque instead of downshifting at the slightest provocation.
It feels like the Discovery Sport HSE is trying to be a hot hatch - but if I wanted a hot hatch, I’d buy a hot hatch because the Discovery Sport will never be my weapon of choice if I wanted to take a spirited drive through some coastal roads or if I was going for a track day.
As a practical SUV, it almost nails the brief - the interior space and comfort are excellent but it could really have done with a bigger boot, or at least a more cleverly shaped one. It’s bigger than what you’d get in any hatchback, of course, but I’ve owned a previous-gen Honda CR-V, which has shifted my expectation of what I should be able to fit in a medium SUV.
Having said that, I do think that the Discovery Sport HSE is pretty well packaged - it’s got a small footprint given its interior space and huge wheels and I can definitely see its appeal for single-car households that want something that combines practicality with a hint of sportiness.
And it's probably better than the Camry I was supposed to get.