First impressions: 2020 Land Rover Discovery Sport

The oil-burners live on, for now
by Niky Tamayo | Jan 2, 2020
PHOTO: Niky Tamayo
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It may seem early to be unveiling a completely new Discovery Sport just five years after the last, but with Land Rover angling for complete hybridization of its lineup, the change was a necessary evil. And yet here I stand looking at the new Disco Sport, trying to figure out what really has changed.

Unlike the 2020 Evoque, which has gained quite a bit of size and space, the Disco Sport rides on the same 2,741mm wheelbase as before, and only gains a few millimeters of length and width over the previous car. A few millimeters that can be put down to detail changes in the bumpers, which look cleaner and sleeker, and which frame the slimmer, more tech-y-looking light clusters amid mostly familiar bodywork. But there’s a new ‘Premium Transverse Architecture’ platform under the skin, a development of the old car’s D8 platform, which itself is rooted in the old EUCD platform inherited from Ford. What this means, basically, is a new front subframe with extra space here and there, to fit the new Ingenium engines and hybrid bits.

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Which matters little on this D150 model, with its non-hybrid 148hp diesel. What does matter is the stiffer new structure, which grants a +10 bonus to refinement and +5 to driving enjoyment. While the former was never an issue and the latter is still not on par with the likes of the X3, it is quite nice. There’s an easygoing confidence to the way the Disco goes down the road and tackles turns. And the suspension copes quite well with the extra weight of the bigger 20-inch alloys wrapped in 235/50 R20 Pirelli Scorpion Zeros.

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Motivation is via a D150 2.0-liter diesel that boasts 148hp and 380Nm of torque—a far cry from the previous car’s 237hp gasoline engine, but much more in line with what buyers expect from a package like this. All models now get start/stop goodness, but the updated ZF nine-speed automatic feels like it could use a little more fettling. It’s a bit indecisive and clunky at traffic speeds—something that should clear itself up as it adapts to your driving preferences. This unit had a mere 65km at the start of this drive! As such, final performance and fuel-economy figures will also have to wait for a future drive. Suffice to say, it doesn’t seem any thirstier or slower than most 1.7-ton diesel SUVs, topping out around 19km/L on the highway. But we have a feeling it will get better as the engine loosens up.

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It’s on the inside where most of the dramatic changes have taken place. The only familiar bits from the old car are the window controls mounted up on the sills. Everything else has been updated. Build feels tighter, with none of the odd squeaks or rattles of old. The seats are now ribbed for, uh, better support. The tiny third-row seats have gone AWOL, but there’s new soft-touch material on everything, even the dash topper, and it’s all framed in red-stitched black hide in this R-Dynamic variant. It’s even more striking at night, with everything lit up by balefully red hidden LEDs. All that’s missing is a John Williams soundtrack. If you’re not feeling particularly Imperious, the base variant comes with an Alliance-friendly creamy leatherette and a less imposing color scheme.

Instead of the eight-inch touchscreen and the button stack from the old car, you get a big 10-inch touchscreen sitting on top of a haptic touch-control console peppered with knobs and LED backlighting. Different labels light up underneath the knobs to indicate when you switch between HVAC functions and 4x4 modes. All very fancy-looking. All very attractive to lint and oily fingerprints. Make sure to pack a spare microfiber cleaning cloth to wipe them off after every trip.

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The steering wheel gets the same treatment, with dual d-pads boasting lit labels that change from menu to menu. Confusingly, those pads function as both directional pads and iPod style clickwheels. And not all instrument-cluster submenus accept both types of input. So, if you’re planning to adjust your trip meter, navigation display, or even your Spotify playlist, better do so before you get on the road. Thankfully, there are no such issues with the driving controls. Yes, gone is the weird, recalcitrant dial-type shifter. Replaced by a good old gear stick and a pair of zoomy paddles.

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Ergonomic concerns aside, the navigation display works a treat. As in Audis, the entire instrument cluster is digital, the 12.3-inch screen allowing you to switch between a classic dual gauge, a single gauge with a nav screen, or a glorious full-width nav screen with running info displayed across the bottom. Like in an Audi system, it features a 3D map that displays both streets and skyscrapers. Lovely to look at for the minute and a half it takes to boot up Waze and Spotify on your phone, which you can charge wirelessy via a red-lit pad under the console via what I assume is Sith-style force lightning.

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Sadly, I don’t have ‘The Imperial March’ on my downloaded playlist, but I’ve got Lorde. As in “Oh Lorde, I can’t believe I’m still listening to this in 2019.” The unimaginatively named Sound System, however, does it justice, playing Lorde’s whispery voice with full clarity while cleanly articulating the deep bass beats, even at high volume. Yes, I may have been singing along. Don’t judge me.

While the Disco Sport can go further off-road than any of its competitors, that’s not its design brief. Instead, it serves as the entry point to the Land Rover brand. An entry point that whets the appetite for more hard-core soft-roaders like the Evoque, with its optional 247hp engine and hybrid variant, or true off-roaders and SUVs like the upcoming Defender and the larger Velar. But even as an entry-level model, the Disco is still aspirational enough to stand on its own as an SUV worth pining after.

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As long as you like diesel.

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PHOTO: Niky Tamayo
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