The new Land Rover Discovery Sport leaves its competitors stuck in the mud
The inconvenient truth about Australia’s love affair with SUVs? Despite their rugged looks, most are utterly incapable of a bush escapade on anything rougher than a well-graded dirt road.
Happily, the Land Rover Discover Sport is a standout exception. Replacing the Freelander, the new Land Rover is larger and more family-friendly than the stylish but smaller Range Rover Evoque. Uniquely in this segment you have the option (for $1990) of a third row of seats, though these are best reserved for primary-schoolers, even with the second row slid forward. As ever in life, the front row’s where you want to be, the Discovery Sport’s stylish cabin presenting a mix of clean lines and luxurious appointments. The dash is tasteful combination of aluminium and leather; the large, high-resolution infotainment screen is intuitive to use; and the circular gear selector knob rises to greet you (a gift from sibling brand Jaguar) each time you start up. Also present is the switchgear for Land Rover’s Terrain Response system, which allows this car to scrabble up, down and over muddy, rutted tracks that nothing else in this class could handle. Its 212-millimetre clearance, while good, means serious rock-hopping is out of the question, but if that was your aim, you’d have bought its Discovery big brother instead.
Under the bonnet of the SD4 model tested is the Jaguar-Land Rover family’s venerable 2.2L diesel. While it emits a louder chatter at idle than the latest diesel engines, it’s reasonably frugal (a combined consumption figure of 6.3L/100km), has plenty of shove and works seamlessly with the car’s nine-speed auto. Canny prospective buyers should be mindful that the company’s new Ingenium 2.0L diesel – which has just debuted in the Jaguar XE – is marginally more powerful and significantly more frugal, and will doubtlessly find its way into the Disco Sport come midlife makeover time.
Inevitably, the Discovery Sport will spend most of its time on tarmac, doing shopping duty or ferrying kids to weekend sport. Nice to report then, that it feels remarkably car-like on the road, exhibiting little of the top-heaviness that afflicts some in this market. Given that, it’s the perfect option for a city-based family that occasionally likes to go seriously bush. At $59,000 (MLRP) for the model tested, you pay for the badge and the off-road pedigree, but come the weekend, as you park by that eucalypt-ringed waterhole, there won’t be another compact SUV in sight.
BMW 3 Series
You gotta love competition. A few years back, the list of options when buying a prestige German compact exec sedan was longer than Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Nowadays, partly thanks to comprehensively equipped offerings from “lesser” Asian brands and premium competitors like Lexus and the new Jaguar XE, your basic C-Class, A4 or 3 Series comes loaded with features, while prices have held steady or dropped.
Case in point: BMW’s facelifted new 3 Series (or LCI as they like to call it; see “Nip and Tuck”) now comes standard across the range with a rear-view camera, lane departure warning, LED headlights, Surround View with Top and Side View (which gives a virtual perspective from above or the side for tight parking manoeuvres), ConnectedDrive (which automatically puts an emergency call in to a BMW centre in the event of a serious accident), and head-up display (which projects all key information onto the windscreen in the driver’s range of vision). Even BMW’s schmick adaptive suspension system, which automatically adjusts the car’s dampers to optimise ride and handling, and lets you choose between Sport, Comfort and Eco Pro driving modes, is fitted to all but the entry-level 318i.
Only trainspotters will detect the subtle changes to the 3 Series’ handsome exterior, but underneath lies improved suspension and a new range of more powerful, more efficient engines. At launch, MH tested the top-spec 2.0L petrol in the 330i and the new six-cylinder in the 340i, as well as the diesel 320d. Each impressed, as did the car’s impeccably balanced handling, which was sharper on the 19-inch rims of the two petrol cars, though with some trade off in ride quality. Our real-world pick, though, is the 320d shod in 18-inch rims, whose combination of silky ride, hushed interior and effortless power makes it an ideal daily driver with the ability to tear up the tarmac on weekends.
The 3 Series starts from $54,990 (MLRP) for the 318i, through to $89,900 for the 340i.
Nip and Tuck
The lifespan of a new car varies, but generally they remain on sale for 7-8 years. Midway though this period, manufacturers give the car an update to stimulate buyer interest. Often, the changes are largely cosmetic, but sometimes, as with the new 3 Series, significant mechanical improvements can be introduced. This process is known variously as “facelift”, “midlife makeover” or, in BMW’s case, “LCI” which – reaffirming the auto industry’s love of laboured three-letter acronyms – stands for Life Cycle Impulse.
MH Tip: unless you’re a hard-wired early adopter, it’s usually best to wait for the second, improved iteration, both in terms of bang for your buck and improved resale value.