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Land Rover Discovery Sport meets PHEV SUV rivals

They say that dog owners become like their pets. I wonder if something similar can fairly be said of car makers and their products. Modern Land Rovers have many qualities, but they aren’t the most responsive or agile of modern family cars; and neither, as a company, is Land Rover.

Remember the Land-e concept? Some years ago, I spent a happy couple of hours being told all about it in the airy lobby at Land Rover’s Gaydon headquarters. It was a technological showcase intended to give prominence to all the little things the firm was either doing or developing at the time to make its showroom models more fuel efficient. As such, I dare say it served its primary purpose perfectly well.

But it was also a Freelander-sized car with a downsized engine, hybrid drive and an electric rear axle, and it was shown way back in 2006. Perhaps the management couldn’t see the wood for the trees back then, or maybe they just didn’t see a demand for an electrified Land Rover at all. Well, there should certainly be demand for one now

After quite the wait, then, the plug-in hybrid Discovery Sport is finally with us, just in time for the inevitable frenzied plug-in panic buying. It isn’t Land Rover’s first PHEV, nor the first medium-sized SUV to the plug-in party either. While Solihull was stroking its beard and plumping its various padded apparel, its rivals were simply getting on with launching their own alternatives; and, from Ford to Audi and Volvo to Volkswagen, most already have.

So what impact can this new Discovery Sport P300e have on what is becoming a quite well-established part of the SUV market? And what can it consequently do for Land Rover’s millstone-like fleet-average corporate CO2 emissions? Well, the short answer to both questions ought to be ‘plenty’.

 

Globally, the Discovery Sport is still the best-selling model in the whole Jaguar Land Rover stable.

Like most electrified options, the P300e won’t be one of the cheaper options within the model range (although it’s better-priced than most of its key rivals), but to businesses and to fleet drivers who can save on their tax bills by running one, it should make very good financial sense.

Will it make such a convincing case to own, to use and to drive, though? Well, after some back-to-back testing and interrogating alongside a couple of plug-in rivals, the BMW X3 xDrive30e and Volvo XC60 T6 Recharge, I can tell you with some confidence that it should. As well as having the right kind of vital statistics on paper, this new-breed Land Rover turns out to be a bit of a peach to drive: refined, responsive and very pleasant indeed. To some, it might not be the fuel-saver in practice that it promises to be on paper – but, as with all PHEVs, that will depend on how you use it as much as anything. Ah yes, the perfect get-out-of-jail-free card: blame the end user.

That the Land Rover Diacovery Sport is technically more alike to the Volvo than the BMW represents something of a risk for Gaydon. Since it’s effectively a front-wheel-drive car with four-wheel drive delivered by an electrically driven rear axle (like the XC60), it doesn’t technically have permanent mechanical four-wheel drive (unlike the BMW – although even the X3’s system is a switchable clutch-based set-up rather than a central-differential-based one). Given its core values, I’m surprised that Land Rover went down that route, but the reward is a better running efficiency for the car in electric-only mode, because driveline friction is much lower than it would otherwise be.

That’s an advantage that the Discovery Sport then rams home with a king-sized drive battery. Here, 15kWh for the Land Rover plays 12kWh for the BMW and 11.6kWh for the Volvo. So it’s the Land Rover that has the greatest claim for electric-only range of the trio, and it delivers a good-sized advantage on electric range in real-world testing.

Our comparison started with back-to-back road loops taking in a mix of urban and country roads. These suggested that you might get a genuine 30 miles of electric running in the Land Rover on a fully charged battery, compared with 25 from the Volvo and only 20 from the BMW. And if you happen to live about 30 miles from the office, that could make all the difference to what a car like this might cost you to own. Come to think of it, it could also make quite a difference to how much fuel you might use in an environment in which legislators could conceivably start hiking up fuel duty sooner rather than later – although let’s hope they don’t.

For practicality, the Land Rover does equally well. It’s not, somehow, a car that you expect to be particularly roomy. It looks narrower, shorter and more upright than its rivals. But because you sit less recumbently inside it (and because it offers sliding back seats, while neither the BMW nor the Volvo does), there’s a lot of occupant space within. A taller adult could travel in the back in any of these cars happily enough, but they would be comfiest by a notable margin in the Discovery Sport, and they would have a better view of the world outside.

For bigger families, sadly none of these three comes with even the option of a third row of seats. For boot space, there’s little to choose between the Land Rover and Volvo, but the BMW surrenders about three inches of loadbay height, due to the positioning of some of its hybrid gubbins just above the rear axle. Although that still leaves you with a sizeable carrying space, it’s pretty disappointing to see these days. Up front, the Discovery Sport has definitely polished up its act on luxury-level interior appeal. Far from being the slightly drab and unlovely place it used to be, this interior now has a bit of material lustre and technological pizzazz. Our test car combined lighter leathers and mouldings with paler, natural-looking wood veneers, while its new digital instrument screen and glossy, multifunction centre stack both looked great and worked well.

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