2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport First Drive
Just Because You Have A Family Doesn't Mean You Can't Have An Adventure
EngineTurbocharged 2.0L I4
Power240 HP / 251 LB-FT
0-60 Time7.8 Seconds
Top Speed124 MPH
Curb Weight3,957 LBS
Cargo60 CU-FT (max)
MPG21 City / 28 HWY
Warranty4 Years / 50,000 Miles
As Tested Price$46,495 (est)
At first blush, this latest entry from Land Rover would appear to be no different – the 2015 Discovery Sport wears the same rounded features, oversized 19-inch wheels and safety-first backup cameras typical of its peers. Those shovels and rakes and implements of destruction that farmers once bolted to the sides of their Land Rover Series Ones? Long gone, pal.
When it was first revealed, the 2015 Discovery Sport was unsurprisingly and uncharitably labeled a "soft-roader" by much of the automotive media and Autoblog commentariat, a quasi-epithet shared with many premium pavement pounders like the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLK and Volvo XC60. That descriptor suggested the Disco Sport was yellow of belly, willing to risk the Green Oval's peerless off-road credentials in its chase for the suburban dollar. Perhaps in order to divorce us of that notion, Land Rover invited us to Iceland in the dead of winter to test their new baby's mettle.
On paper, the Discovery Sport is the replacement for the LR2/Freelander, the new entry-level offering in Land Rover showrooms. Thing is, it's a vastly different vehicle in both appearance and execution, and it appears to be all the better for it.
We say "appears" because while we pushed our tester through all manner of off-road gymnastics and foreboding conditions, it will take a full road drive on unfrozen roads, freeways and around-town treks to see if the Disco Sport is as adept at family hauling and commuting as it is at getting dirty. At first blush, though, the new Discovery Sport is a tremendously capable little utility that further blurs the already muddy lines between traditional SUVs and crossovers.
"Little" deserves an asterisk nuzzled up against it. Despite being some two inches shorter than the Audi Q5 (arguably its chief rival), the Discovery Sport is a tremendously efficient bit of packaging. It's not just more accommodating in terms of seating and cargo room for five; it also offers an optional (very) occasional-use third row, a novelty in this class. The second row slides, and with the rear seats folded, the cargo hold can swallow up to 60 cubic feet of stuff, which is more than rivals. It does all this, somehow, while avoiding any unfortunate effect on its off-road abilities or looking like a two-box minivan.
Stylistically, the DS borrows much from Land Rover's Evoque design canon, including the latter's big-chin bumpers, clamshell hood and pinned-back headlamp eyes, along with a conspicuous bone-line along its flanks that rises toward the rear end. It lacks the fashion-forward Evoque's prominent balloon fenders and the same intense rake to its roofline, but the end result is a design that wisely trades away some aesthetic drama and uniqueness in exchange for more pedestrian concerns like outward visibility and headroom.
The Discovery Sport also borrows a great deal from the Evoque under its aluminum skin, including its front suspension and much of its floorpan. Even its engine is the same: a turbocharged, Ford-sourced 2.0-liter four-cylinder that distributes 240 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque (available from a mere 1,750 rpm) through a ZF nine-speed automatic.
We had our concerns about the powertrain package – particularly the transmission. We've found the latter to be both less decisive and less inspiring in other applications, especially our long-term Jeep Cherokee. Yet there was no gear hunting observed during our two days testing the Discovery Sport, though we did notice the transmission was often slow to kick down when booting the throttle, and the paddle shifters didn't help much. Admittedly, we didn't get the chance to try sustained cruising at highway speeds to see if it has a tendency to dither between ratios like our Jeep, but for our purposes on this drive, it was a perfectly agreeable partner.
The transmission is also undoubtedly one of the chief reasons the Discovery Sport has nabbed solid fuel economy ratings of 21 miles per gallon city and 28 highway.
Due to the widely varying weather and road conditions inherent to Icelandic life in January, an opportunity for impromptu acceleration testing didn't present itself. A factory-estimated 0-60 time of 7.8 seconds suggests that the LR leaves a few tenths of a second on the table versus its chief four-cylinder rivals, some of which offer even more powerful engine options. However, in our testing, the Land Rover never felt out of breath and was aided by the smartly programmed transmission and the 2.0T's low torque peak.
Having said that, we suspect that Land Rover will shortly replace the EcoBoost-derived powerplant with its own new Ingenium line of engines. We already know that a diesel option is in the near-term cards, but we'd also like to see a more powerful engine option to keep pace with the competition's up-engined models.
When we were informed that our convoy was outfitted with studded tires, some of our colleagues initially groused that such specialized footwear amounted to cheating. But we soon got out on the drive route and discovered that a few steep glacial descents and lava field crossings were so icy that they were impossible to even stand on. Snow tires are legally required in Iceland at this time of year, and even the best unstudded winter rubber could've easily seen at least one or two colleagues slide off into the abyss on our route. As it was, we were pleasantly surprised not only with the faithful grip of our Pirellis, but also with their surprisingly minimal sound intrusion. Even the effort buildup and on-center feel from the electric power steering setup wasn't bad with these tires.
Also figuring solidly in the plus column? The Land Rover's ride. While we've endured some stiff-legged moments and significant head-toss in the Evoque, the longer-wheelbase Discovery Sport rode rather beautifully over some really unpleasant terrain that included frozen roads, jagged two-tracks and rocky, iced-over riverbanks. The front strut and new rear multi-link suspension also seemed well behaved on the largely vacant sections of highway and gravel roads outside of Reykjavik, utterly unperturbed by the occasional livestock grate or large rock hiding beneath the snow. Adaptive Dynamics with MagneRide is an option, and we've enjoyed the magnetorheological dampers in just about every vehicle we've ever driven.
We had our Discovery Sport's Terrain Response switchgear toggled to the snow/grass/gravel setting for most of the rough stuff. It executes starts in second gear to minimize wheelspin on ice while holding sway over the throttle mapping, Haldex center differential, steering and braking systems to optimize responses in the slippery stuff.
Most of the Rover's rivals sport some sort of similar electronic trickery that enables enough off-road ability to tackle basic two tracks and modest ascents (think: Hill Descent Control), but this Discovery Sport goes several steps further by incorporating good ground clearance (8.3 inches), articulation (13.4 inches) and impressive arrival, departure and breakover angles of 25, 31 and 21 degrees, respectively.
Like any self-respecting Land Rover, it's also perfectly happy to go for a swim – we tested the Sport's nearly two-foot fording depth (that's more than a Jeep Grand Cherokee or a Subaru Outback) by crossing a glacier-fed river. We had to take care to avoid the occasional coffee-table-sized chunks of ice that threatened to recontour our ride's aluminum bodywork, but emerged no worse for the wear.
In fact, despite the perilous Game Of Thrones landscapes that played out ahead of our group's electrically heated windshields all day, we were kept high, dry and reasonably coddled in the Discovery Sport's observatory-like cabin. Our top-trim HSE Luxury-spec model featured heated and cooled Windsor leather seats arrayed stadium-style to afford better outward vision for all aboard, and a full complement of creature comforts, including a massive fixed panoramic roof – just the ticket for viewing the tops of the fjords and volcanoes. To be fair, the dashboard looked a bit ordinary and rectilinear, and traditionalists might be put off by the lack of available wood trim, but we think the purposeful design is in-line with the vehicle's ethos.
The Discovery Sport also introduces a replacement for a longstanding Land Rover Achilles heel: infotainment. The new eight-inch touchscreen-based navigation and audio system is a solid leap ahead of the company's (admittedly terrible) last-generation solution, and it includes better graphics to go with its tablet-like gesture controls. It's still far from our favorite setup, but at least it offers smartphone app integration through its new InControl suite and available wifi. It also includes off-road-minded features like breadcrumbing for finding one's way home from the trail and latitude and longitude data in case you're into geocaching.
The Discovery Sport is a vehicle that suggests you don't have to give up your all-conquering off-road fantasies just because you need a kinschlepper to help keep the peace at home. Previously, if you wanted that sort of duality in an SUV, your only similarly priced option came with seven slots in the grille – and the Grand Cherokee isn't available with a third row, nor does it enjoy the same brand cachet.
As noted earlier, we'll need to test the Discovery Sport under more pedestrian circumstances than our Icelandic adventure to see if it's a truly well-rounded package, but we really like what we see so far – so much so that we won't be surprised if it becomes Land Rover's best-selling model in short order.
Of course, we've still got a few shovels and rakes in the garage, so bring on that new Defender...
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Land Rover Discovery Sport Information
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