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Discovering a legend

POSTED BY Shuen Lim ON 13 October 2019

Review of Land Rover’s Discovery Sport

Here’s a unique approach to a test car. Two perspectives from an older woman and a 20something man who happen to be mother and son.

By June H.L. Wong and Nicholas Tan

SO there we were, in slow traffic on a road to Sekinchan. This is a small coastal town about 100km from KL, which is famous for its picturesque padi fields, beach front and fishing village.

But the reason Nick and I, with his girlfriend Crystal in tow, were headed there was to test out the car we were in.

This was Land Rover’s Discovery Sport, 2.0 litre i4 turbocharged, priced at RM379,800, excluding road tax, registration and insurance. Land Rover declares it “the world’s most versatile compact premium SUV” with “unquestionable all-terrain capability.”

Indeed, Rover devotees love them for their “power, capabilities and luxury”. One chap describes Rovers as “50% Rolls Royce ostentatious luxury and 50% military/utilitarian off road.”

There’s no doubt the marque has near legendary status with a history going back to 1948.  The name alone has wow factor. We certainly were excited to get the chance to drive the Discovery, a mid-size luxury SUV first introduced in 1989. There have been five generations of the Discovery with over 1.2 million sold in the last 30 years.

As Nick wryly observed, SUVs are very popular among town dwellers because our potholed and often badly paved roads are practically the city version of off-roading.

However, if we were to test the Discovery Sport by driving it around PJ, we wouldn’t be doing it much justice. But neither of us are experience off-road drivers who can confidently take it into really wild and woolly terrain.

Our compromise was to take on a fairly long drive to cover an assortment of Malaysian roads and that’s how we ended up going to Sekinchan.

We traversed smooth wide highways, narrow trunk roads and messy stretches caused by road widening and construction works that slowed traffic. We took turns to drive, me outbound and Nick, homewards.

I immediately liked the height and commanding view the Discovery gave me. I pushed up the seat to the max and still had plenty of head room, as expected of continental cars.

Space-wise, there is nothing compact about it. Legroom front and back is truly generous. Boot space is wide and deep with a sturdy-looking tonneau cover. The tailgate is powered so opening and closing it with a touch is a breeze.

According to the Discovery Sport brochure which I got post-test drive, it has a “powered gesture” feature. What that means is if you have the smart key nearby, you can open and close the tailgate with a kicking gesture which can be detected by two sensors beneath the rear.

I wish I knew of this feature earlier. I would have had such a kick trying it out, especially when my hands were full carrying my bags of mangoes I bought at Sekinchan. (Yup, that is a recommended tourist buy.)

The interior was generally well appointed with its black full leather seats – which were a bit hard but gave good support – and trims. But it’s not quite RR-level luxury. (I have sat in a RR when I was being ferried back to my hotel in Rodeo Drive, Los Angeles, so there.)

What is nice is that the heaviness of the black colour is offset by the beige top-half and the glorious sunroof.

The panoramic blue sky seen through the sun roof

I am generally not impressed by sunroofs which I think are ridiculous in our hot and sunny climate. I almost never opened the sunroof in my Merc.

But Nick and Crystal love them. To them, it’s cool to have a top view. I ho-hummed about it until we slid open the Discovery’s electric fabric blind and my goodness, it was wonderful! It was as advertised: truly panaromic.

The glass doesn’t open for air but that wasn’t a feature we missed. Despite the sunny weather, we didn’t roll back the shade. It was as if we were in a convertible sans the heat and wind. That day, the blue sky was just too gorgeous to close off and it added to the wonderful sense of space, light and openness. I have a new view of sunroofs now!

Thanks to the efficient air-conditioning, we didn’t feel heat beating down through the glass top. As the back passenger, Crystal had no complaints. Indeed, the seats are a good size and that includes the middle one. Crystal is a petite girl and if not for the seat belt, she would be lolling in the back.

Also, if there were two more people beside her, they wouldn’t have to fight over who gets to charge their device as there are three USB ports. And another two in the middle console for driver and front passenger.  

Our attention next went to the dashboard and central console.

Nick wasn’t impressed. “Rather basic for a luxury model,” he said.

What he was looking for was a more sophisticated and responsible in-built in navigation and infotainment system. It was easy to Bluetooth our phones and to my ears, my playlist sounded pretty good on the 10-speaker Meridian Sound System.  Not so to Nick, who wanted a richer and more vibrant sound.

We both had issues on how the Bluetooth pairing worked for phone function.  When we answered calls and turned off the speaker mode, we had to pair the device and activate it again which isn’t convenient when you are the wheel and moving.

While I found the layout of the buttons and knobs fairly pleasing to the eye, I didn’t like the way I, as the driver, had to look down to see what buttons to press.

Land Rover Console

I would have preferred the 8” colour touchscreen to be foldable that will elevate once the engine is on and the control buttons placed immediately below it and not separated by the air-con vents. That will bring the controls closer to eye level, allowing the driver to see and press, with just a quick glance.

Nick and I were also ambivalent about the Land Rover’s rotary gear selector which is a knob that elevates once you start the engine. It looks cool, very neat and is easy to use but it seems a little erratic. For example, on a couple of occasions after we reversed and turned the knob to P, the engine switched itself off, much to our surprise. And it didn’t do that consistently so we don’t know what to make of it.

As for the drive, Nick paid attention to how the Ingenium petrol engine performed. After all, this is Jaguar Land Rover’s very own state-of-the-art innovation touted to deliver world-class fuel efficiency, turbocharging and emissions control.

While numbers like 240PS capacity and 340Nm of torque excite Nick, I am more interested in many times I need to fill the tank. After our Sekinchan trip, we checked our mileage (Kilometrage? Odometerage?) We had done 376km and had used up 12.4 litres of petrol per 100km. That is pretty good, considering we were in Sport mode most of the journey.

And the reason for that was simple: we wanted more vroom power. This is a heavy car – you can tell because the doors need a good shove to open and close and you can hear the tailgate hydraulics whirring when in use – and in normal Drive mode, the Discovery Sport isn’t quite sporty nor nifty.

That is most noticeable when it’s at 0 kph and you have to press quite hard on the accelerator to get it going. In Sport mode, the response seemed better and once it hit higher speeds, it transformed into a powerful, purring machine.

As for road holding and ride, we tried to go over every pothole and muddy road shoulders and voila! the Discovery just rolled right over them without a thunk and minimal jolt.

The vehicle’s “unquestionable all-terrain capability” covers snow, desert, rocky and steep inclines, of which we were only brave enough to look for desert-like terrain, meaning a sandy road.

We found it in Sekinchan’s padi fields. We got not only sand but mud and some humps and depressions. Of course the sand was compact and not loose Sahara sand dunes but give us brownie points for trying.

We did drive to Pantai Redang  and if it weren’t for the scores of people playing by the sea, we would have driven over the sand dune onto the beach and maybe even the mudflats just to see how the Discovery would perform in such terrain.

True off-road aficionados can laugh at us citysiders trying to go rough but we felt quite pleased to at least get a bit of mud spray on its flanks. A dirty Discovery just looks so right and cool.

One little detail I noticed and approve is how the floor mats are anchored in place by clips so dirt from shoes stay on them. 

As we drove home at dusk, Nick and I went over our day-long experience with the Discovery.

We mused how it first got our attention with its pedigree and good looks, made us feel good with its comfy seats and space, then deflated our high expectations with its not quite super luxurious interior and less than stellar in-house navigation system and layout. That bleh moment was somewhat assuaged by its fabulous sunroof. Once the driving started, we were again disappointed with its rather laggardly acceleration and slow response. But once in Sport mode, it floored us with its firm, steady and seamless ride at higher speeds and over bumpy, sandy terrain.

“But pretty as it is, the Discovery is no ballerina, Mum,” mused Nick.

I replied jokingly: “A sumo wrestler then?”

To which Nick picked up: “That’s right. It’s heavy and steady on its feet but agile when it needs to be.”

That’s our Discovery.

Veteran journalist June writes the popular column, So Aunty, So What? in The Star. Recently retired, she is delighted to rediscover her love for cars and the joy of road trips with her son, Nick, who never grew out his boyhood fascination with hot wheels. His current dream car is the E63S AMG.