To most, Land Rover remains associated with the dramatic adventure potential of Defender, or the luxury all-terrain ability of Range Rover.
That places the British brand’s Discover Sport in a curious position. It is the entry to Land Rover ownership and often forgotten, in the shadow of those larger and more powerful Range Rovers.
D180: Smallest of Land Rover SUVs goes off-roading
Land Rover’s Discovery Sport was launched in 2014 and the second-generation, debuted earlier this year. It remains very distinctive in appearance, especially finished in the vivid orange-bronze colourway of our D180 specification test car.
Beyond its noteworthy design, this smallest of all Land Rover SUVs has entirely credible off-road ability. It might not offer six- or eight-cylinder engines, but the powertrains are excellently balanced to its smaller shape and lighter weight.
A very digital cabin
Land Rover has attempted to keep the Discovery Sport D180 digitally relevant, which is challenges when you consider the pace of change, relating to in-car entertainment technology.
As such, it has both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto preloaded as part of its infotainment system.
Keeping devices powered are an abundance of charging options, including an inductive charging pad and multiple high-put USB slots.
The touchscreen infotainment system has excellent contrast and legibility, even when bathed in harsh South African sunlight. For the most part, it works outstandingly well. But the cabin does have a single ergonomic foible: its ventilation controls.
If you wish to adjust either the temperature or fan speed, you must push a selector button, before the relevant dial operates. This is part of the objective of Land Rover wishing to reduce the number of buttons to a minimum.
Although the visual cleanliness of this design has merit, the dual-purpose ventilation dials can be frustrating to use.
Touch of brilliance: The Activity Key
A rather brilliant digital utility feature, is the Discovery Sport’s Activity Key. This is a wristwatch-type digital key, which is ideal for surfers. And I know. I surf. And modern digital car keys are such an annoyance, as they can’t go into your wetsuit key pouch.
The Activity Key is waterproof and conveniently wearable as a wrist device. You simply tap it against a sensor pad on the tailgate’s glass, to lock and unlock the Discover Sport.
Easy-driving diesel engine for cruising pleasure
The Discovery Sport D180 is powered by a 2-litre turbodiesel engine, boosting 132kW and 430Nm. Those numbers are slightly weaker than similarly priced and sized rivals, but it never feels overly hesitant.
As a cruising vehicle the Discovery Sport D180 is refined and stable. With good ride comfort and fair overtaking performance, ably assisted by having nine forward gears – where most of its competitors only have seven or eight.
Fearless compact luxury SUV
Although it lacks a traditional Land Rover low-range transfer case, this is one compact luxury SUV that is not shy of venturing off-road.
We tested the Discovery Sport on some sandy and rocky off-road trails. Although its stylish and purposeful looking 21-inch alloy wheels rolled tyres which were not ideal for the terrain, traction was excellent.
Discovery Sport D180: A terrain sensing traction system that works
Land Rover’s engineers have been programming electronic traction control systems for nearly two decades. As a lead technology user in the off-road vehicle realm, Land Rover knows more than most when it comes to managing the relationship between wheel slip, and traction.
With 212mm of ground clearance and Land Rover’s latest Terrain Response software, it is a very capable off-road vehicle. Whereas some of the German luxury SUVs that rival Discovery Sport, often feel like they are struggling in technical off-road terrain, Land Rover’s compact SUV revels in taking the most adventurous route possible.
Once you select the appropriate Terrain Response mode, there is a very real change in the steering, throttle and traction control responses. No gimmicks. The Land Rover the system does what it intends to, giving even novice off-road drivers the confidence and mindfulness, to simple steer and allow the vehicle to find traction.
During our test period the Discovery Sport D180 averaged diesel consumption of 9.1/100km and proved to be an outstanding surf mobile, thanks to its all-terrain ability and Activity Key feature.