You get the impression Land Rover's heavily updated Discovery Sport couldn't have come soon enough for the brand, what with its arch rivals, the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, so obviously fresher in appearance. Arguably the most notable USP of the pre-update model was its superior off-road credentials, but most buyers in this segment will be less concerned with departure angles and more interested in tax brackets and ISOFIX points. That's why the changes applied to the 2020 car are significant - they're of the sort that your average 5+2 seat SUV buyer can appreciate. And for us, they promise to make noticeable improvements to performance as well - both on- and off-road.
So what's new? The structure beneath that now-familiar body has been upgraded to JLR's new PTA underpinnings, shared with the Evoque and equipped with a solidly mounted subframe at the front, which has helped to increase rigidity by around 10 per cent. Then there's the new 48-volt electric architecture, familiar from other JLR applications although new to the Disco Sport, which enables the use of mild hybrid hardware under the bonnet, where you'll also find new Ingenium engines. Last but by no means least there's the fitment of digital cabin tech, which takes the Disco Sport's interior from dated to up-to-date in a single swoop. It all amounts to a pretty big effort; particularly for something that constitutes a mid-life facelift.
It's fair to say the design changes don't do much to illustrate the advances made beneath the skin. That's not to say they're insignificant - a Velar-esque front end and new LED lighting certainly sharpen things up - but the overall appearance is familiar. It hasn't lost the thick tyre walls, fist-sized arch gaps and decidedly old-school silhouette - and that's a good thing. Inside it's the arrival of those new displays - a 10-inch touchscreen (standard across the range) and, in pricier models like our Sport R-Dynamic S test car, a 12-inch TFT instrument cluster - that immediately marks out the revised Discovery. As a non-Range Rover, the Disco Sport's climate controls aren't integrated into a lower digital screen as they are in the Evoque, but the way the twin rotary dials switch between temperature, fan speed and drive modes adds some razzle dazzle.
On the move, the presence of the 250hp 2.0-litre petrol's MHEV hardware is obvious enough, as the Disco Sport is quicker off the mark than you might expect. The claimed 7.6-second to 62mph time feels entirely believable. The nine-speed ZF auto definitely has a smoothness to each upshift although, once-rolling, the near two-tonne car's progress feels more acceptable than impressive. The powertrain is refined, at any rate, with laudably low engine noise, but you'll want to think ahead when it comes to overtaking. Still, at least the ZF transmission is quick to respond, so much so that there's modest value in using the steering wheel mounted paddles. There's sufficient brawniness for a two-tonne maximum towing capacity, although those wanting to consistently carry extra weight around would be wise to consider the 240hp diesel MHEV.
Repeat buyers are unlikely to complain about the way the latest Disco Sport rides or steers. With optional variable dampers equipped, the high-riding SUV has no problem balancing suppleness and body control. Helped along by squidgier tyres than the Evoque typically wears, the Disco absorbs cracks and ridges without complaint, and stays composed over crests. Switch to Sport mode (if you must) and body roll is limited to a few degrees, making for a secure but still supple ride; press on in this mode and the Land Rover does well, with a small amount of safety understeer backed by plentiful mechanical grip and very well weighted steering.
Realistically, that brings the Disco's on-road performance in line with its rivals rather than outright trouncing them. It saves that for off-road, where 212mm of ground clearance and a 25-degree approach angle ensures a standout level of mid-sized SUV capability. Terrain Response 2, Land Rover's latest all-singing technology does the heaviest lifting (helped along by the presence of optional active torque vectoring) juggling the power and available traction to such an extent that all you're really called upon to do is steer.
No less impressive is the new 'X-Ray' view, which uses the cameras mounted on the front and flanks to build a view of your surroundings and the ground beneath the car. By moving the image of the surface ahead as the car creeps forward, you're given a view on the screen which aids navigation over things like narrow bridges. It works well out in the wild - although we suspect the kit will spend most of its time showing its owner precisely where the nearest kerb is...
That's fine, of course. And the Discovery Sport is fine, too. Making it better on road while maintaining the car's class-leading performance off it was probably high on Land Rover's to-do list, and it has admirably seen to both. Its weakness - despite the manufacturer's efforts - is located in the engine bay; not because the MHEV tech is bad, but because its rivals are noticeably better. An Audi Q5 45 TFSI would likely leave the Discovery for dead - and consume less fuel while doing it (if the efficiency claims for both are to be believed). Still, as ever, there's an element of horses for courses here, and the Land Rover's advantages in ride comfort, onboard tech and true ruggedness distinguish it from the competition. It remains the best genuine SUV of the segment. By far.
SPECIFICATION - LAND ROVER DISCOVERY SPORT P250 MHEV
Engine: 1,997cc 4-cyl turbo, petrol, synchronous claw pole motor
Transmission: 9-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 249@5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 269@11,400,4,500rpm
Top speed: 140mph
Weight: 1,942 (DIN)
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