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The Discovery Sport is Land Rover's bestselling vehicle.

Mark Richardson

There was some debate at Land Rover, apparently, as to whether the 2020 Discovery Sport should be called a “refreshed” model or a whole new generation. After all, of the 5,000-odd parts that make up the vehicle, some 3,500 are redesigned.

“This is not an ordinary mid-cycle refreshment,” says Paul Cleaver, the chief product engineer for the compact SUV, which is Land Rover’s bestselling vehicle.

“The brief we had as a team was to get the car ready for our new electrification technologies – our mild hybrids and our plug-in hybrids. In doing so, we had to make some extremely extensive changes to our architecture: all the body structures, chassis systems, powertrain systems that underpin the car. In doing that, we’ve taken the opportunity to improve every single attribute on this vehicle.”

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Jaguar Land Rover is committed to offering an electrified version of every vehicle it sells by 2020. This doesn’t mean a fully battery-powered version – at least not yet – but it does mean there’ll be some form of electrification available under the hood to both save fuel and boost power. A plug-in hybrid is planned for next year. If you just want a regular engine, that’s fine too, but the choice will be there.

As part of Land Rover's push to have some form of electrification available in each of its vehicles, the Discovery now has a mild hybrid variant.

NICK DIMBLEBY

The least expensive Discovery Sport has a base price of $47,400 (plus $2,195 Freight and PDI), rising through various trim levels and two different engines to a high of $58,700 (plus Freight and PDI), with another $5,000 in possible options.

Land Rover now has three separate lines of vehicles. There are four Range Rovers to choose from, and they’re considered the most luxurious of the lineup. The Defender, just debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show, has both two-door and four-door models, and they’re the most off-road capable. Discovery is in the middle, with a larger mid-sized version and the Discovery Sport, which I drove here.

It may be officially “compact,” but there’s room for a third row of seats, for a total of seven. Land Rover is proud to have shoe-horned these in as an option, but they probably won’t be used much: 60 per cent of Discovery Sport buyers are double-income, no-kids and in their 40s, while only 5 per cent have three or more children. But the option’s there, all the same.

Tech specs

  • Base price: $47,400 (not including $2,195 Freight and PDI)
  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder; 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder with MHEV technology
  • Transmission/Drive: 9-speed automatic / AWD
  • Fuel economy: (litres/100 km) n/a
  • Alternatives: Jaguar F-Pace, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Acura RDX, BMW X3, Infiniti QX50

Looks

The Discovery remains a good-looking SUV.

Handout

There’s a new grille with a wider and lower mouth, and new LED headlights that have a distinctive DRL surround to them, for an easily recognized signature. It looked good before; it still looks good.

“We wanted the car to have excellent volume and proportions,” says Martin Buffery, the chief interior designer. “That means getting the visual mass of the car within the wheels, with short overhangs front and rear, the right amount of elements planted on the road. If you get your volume and proportion right, you don’t have to do too many other visual design tricks to make your car look good.”

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Interior

The cabin is fully updated and very comfortable.

Nick Dimbleby

The inside of the cabin is completely updated, and it’s very comfortable. Land Rover’s clever electronic switchgear, in which most of the front dash is actually a touch-screen, offers a simple look that almost disappears into nothing when the vehicle is not running, but lights up when the starter button is pressed. Two large knobs do double-duty as adjustments for the temperature, the fan and the various drive modes, while a central touch-screen controls most everything else.

The digital gauge cluster can be customized to the driver's liking.

Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

The gauges behind the steering wheel are completely digital, and as in Audis, BMWs and others, they can be set up to your liking; they can even display a single wide navigation map, with just the digital basics of speed and distance at the bottom. Of all the settings, this was my favourite as I tried to not get lost on Spanish roundabouts.

The third row of seats is cramped and won't be comfortable for most adults.

Mark Richardson

The second row of seats provide comfortable leg and head room when they’re slid back, but if you do opt for the third row, there won’t be space back there for anyone older than around 10 who has normal legs.

Performance

We will get two options for performance in Canada, both with a nine-speed automatic transmission and 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine: a 246-horsepower traditional turbocharged unit and a “mild-hybrid” 48-volt version that makes 286 hp. But this is Spain, and the only vehicle available to drive was a lesser-powered model sold in Europe, which was fairly gutless when the pedal was mashed. On curving Spanish roads, when overtaking, the pedal got mashed a lot. If you’re thinking of buying this SUV, make sure to take a test drive first.

On paper, though, the performance of the basic P250 is fine, with a zero-to-100 km/h time of 7.6 seconds. Maximum torque of 269 lb.-ft. kicks in at a low 1,400 rpm. The mild-hybrid version is called the P290 and is only available as the most expensive trim; its zero-to-100 km/h time is 7.0 seconds flat, with 295 lb.-ft. on tap.

There are no official fuel-consumption figures yet available. I saw an average of 15.0 L/100 km in my low-powered Euro-spec model, which is awful, but then, I was mashing the pedal a lot.

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Technology

With hits Terrain Response 2 system, the Discovery Sport is a capable off-roader.

Nick Dimbleby

You name it and the Discovery Sport has it, in spades. Full connectivity, with 4G WiFi capability and six USB ports to keep everyone glued to their screens. Driver’s assistance is totally up-to-date, with effective lane-keeping and blind-spot warnings – all the fancy stuff.

The truly clever tech is in the camera system, which now offers a widescreen rear-view camera image in the windscreen mirror (don’t worry – it turns off) and even an under-the-hood camera option that stitches together images from the front and side to display on the central screen. This is really useful for when you have to cross mountains and ford rickety log bridges on the school run. The Discovery Sport is very capable off-road with its Terrain Response 2 system – enough said.

Cargo

There’s reasonable space in the back with the third-row seats flat, and almost nothing when they’re raised. More to the point, each of the seats will fold flat individually for no end of permutations for storage.

The verdict

The Discovery Sport has been very successful for Land Rover over the last four years. This update keeps its technology and conveniences in line with the most recent SUVs on the market and should prove popular with buyers. But take a test drive to make sure the performance is enough for you.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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