You would have to do something seriously silly to flummox the new Land Rover Discovery Sport on an off-road course. Driving a major upgrade of the heartland car for the British brand in countryside outside Barcelona in Spain, things have never been better in the bush.
Turn a knob, hit a few buttons and the latest 2020-model Discovery Sport is primed for action. All you have to do is handle the steering and not panic.
The car, and the car alone, can handle the steepest climbs and the gnarliest descents, as modern electronics and old-school Land Rover thinking combine to create an off-roader that is only really rivalled for ability by a Jeep Wrangler. There is no need to brake on the downhills, or even accelerate up the climbs. You choose the speed and the car is happy to comply.
If you want (or need) to know what’s really happening, there are a range of camera views that include a virtual picture of what’s directly under the Discovery Sport. But most people will be happy to leave the heavy lifting to a car that comfortably lives up to Land Rover’s go-anywhere reputation.
If you want to get really and truly serious, you only have to wait until next year for the arrival of the all-new, born-again British hero, the Defender. It has lost its manual gearbox and truck-style chassis, but has those low-range crawler gears that off-road fanatics rave about.
The best of both worlds
But most people don’t. They love the idea of an off-road escape machine, but are much happier with a cushy suburban SUV that can deliver for a modern family. That’s the sweet spot that the 2020 Discovery Sport really hits.
As we finish our torture time on the Spanish off-road tracks, the car settles into its role as a relaxed tourer that will be ideal for Australian urban roads. It is quiet, comfortable and easy to enjoy.
Perhaps that’s why the Discovery Sport is already level-pegging with the iconic Range Rover Sport as the British brand’s sales champion Down Under, and should surge ahead next year while also rattling rivals with Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz badges.
The changes for the 2020 model amount to a re-invention of the car. It’s a similar pattern to the smaller Evoque, which became almost all-new earlier in the year.
The total number of parts in a Discovery Sport is around 5000 and, according to the engineering experts at the press preview drive, 3500 of them have just been changed.
If you want to get technical, even the chassis has had a tweak and there is a mild hybrid package – which harvests wasted energy to provide a 7 per cent economy boost – for the updated turbo-petrol and turbo-diesel engines.
They still have a nine-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive, but the car can run in front-wheel-drive mode to cut noise and improve fuel efficiency, with the engine even cutting completely below 17km/h.
The good stuff for most people is in the cabin, which is much plusher than before. “I’m on a personal mission to eradicate plastic,” Land Rover’s chief designer, Martin Buffery, tells Executive Traveller.
That means there is much more leather inside the car, and the bottom of the centre console is now covered in carpet – quite the change from the days when every Land Rover had a hose-out set of rubber floor mats.
The instrument and infotainment screens are bigger and clearer, the car can run a 4G SIM to create a wireless hotspot, and there are charging points and USB sockets lavished around the cabin.
Ready for blended families
This Discovery Sport is still a seven-seater, but it’s a 5+2 layout where the third row is usually hidden below a carpeted panel. So it’s aimed at modern blended families, not a mob who really need a family van.
From the outside, the nose is a little more aggressive, there are bolder and brighter LED headlamps, but it still looks much the same despite a raft of new panels.
Driving, there is some lag before the turbocharger gets spinning in the petrol engine, but the diesel choice is nicely punchy and the hybrid package gives a worthwhile increase in the surge from red lights.
Pricing is a little higher, as the 2020s are loaded for deliveries in the third quarter of this year, but Jaguar Land Rover wants us to know that $60,500 now includes the seven-seater package that was an option in the past, as well as a bundle of extra equipment.
It also fits a wide range of new camera systems that include a virtual rear-view mirror, views of off-road terrain and threats, and even a split-screen that helps while reversing with a trailer or caravan.
It’s an impressive update by Jaguar Land Rover that plays to the strengths of its off-road heritage, while recognising the reality of a world where SUVs are the showroom stars.