Home > Cars > First drive: 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport

First drive: 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport

Sure the Discovery Sport is a 'baby Land Rover,' but this is definitely not child's play

Most Discovery Sports will never be driven off-road, or even through more than a quarter-inch of snow. That’s a shame, because this little SUV can tackle just about anything … and do it in style.

This week, like a herd of hungry Caribou, the nation’s automotive journalists made a great migration to Reykjavik, Iceland. We all came here to the top of the world to drive the new 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport in one of the toughest winter climates on Earth.

The location seems at once completely natural and totally absurd. Natural because the remote and forbidding places of the world are Land Rover’s home turf. Since 1948 the Land Rover brand has been the choice of hardy souls who had to get somewhere that was mostly nowhere, anywhere on the planet.

The location is also absurd because we all know that, at least in America, 90 percent of these vehicles will be sold to your rich neighbor for his hot wife to drive to her Bikram yoga class. Most Discovery Sports will never be driven off-road, or even through more than a quarter-inch of snow. That’s a shame, because this little SUV can tackle just about anything, and do it in style.

Same capability, new look

Step back and take a look at the new Land Rover. The Discovery Sport follows in the tire tracks of the LR2 and the Freelander before it. Both of those were great vehicles and the Discovery Sport is an incremental step in Land Rover’s brand evolution.

When the current round of upgrades is done, Rover will have three lines – the Defender for the all-out safari and Search & Rescue types, the Discovery line comprising the Sport and what is today known as the LR4, and the Range Rover line.

2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport

The Discovery Sport is a compact AWD SUV. I hesitate to call it a crossover even though it’s a unibody design, because the Discovery Sport is in no way car-like. What it’s like is a baby Range Rover. The Discovery Sport has the Range Rover looks, the technology, the luxury, and it’s got true chops for off-road and dire circumstances.

The Discovery Sport comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated at 240 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque. That’s mated up to a nine-speed honest-to-God automatic transmission and Land Rover’s multi-mode Haldex all-wheel drive system with Terrain Response. That feature allows you to change the limited slip and traction control settings for anything from loose sand to deep muddy ruts to snow and ice.

It’s the AWD where this little rig really shines. Land Rover bravely put their reputation on the line by letting a bevy of auto writers take the new Discovery Sport out into the Icelandic wilderness. Let’s be clear: not a single one of us is a Finnish rally driver, so the Discovery Sport had to take up the slack.

The key thing to say about the daylong drive over slick ice, deep snow, gravel, and a fast-running river is that it was a no-brainer. I just drove, and the Discovery Sport took care of business.

Yes, the car was shod with nice Nokian studded tires for serious winter driving, but that’s what you’d have anyway in this climate. I didn’t even turn the Terrain Response over to the Ice & Snow setting until I was 50 miles into the winter muck, because I didn’t need to.

The river crossing was a bit of a gimmick, but it was impressive all the same. The Discovery Sport has the ability to travel through water up to 23.6 inches deep and has 8.35 inches of ground clearance. I think I exceeded the wading limit by a bit, but not much. Just like all other conditions, I simply pointed the car where I wanted to go and drove.

Have it all … as long as it’s the four-cylinder

To be honest, it’s tough to find a deficiency in the Discovery Sport, but as with all vehicles, you can’t please everyone. I would have liked to see at least one alternate engine option. Land Rover sells diesels all over the world, and the LR employees hinted at a future diesel for the Discovery Sport, which is good.

But I would have liked to see a V6 option as well. These days, V6 engines aren’t more than a few points off the turbo four-bangers in fuel economy, and the Discovery Sport weighs in at a solid 4,000 pounds. That’s a lot of mass to move with a little engine, even when it’s force-fed.

One of the Land Rover guides at the river crossing noticed I had been in around-town mode the whole way.

So that’s why the nine-speed transmission had to be part of this equation. The Discovery Sport does 0 to 60 in a respectable 7.8 seconds, which is about right for an SUV of that size and power. Land Rover did a great job with the transmission and, for the most part, you won’t notice the gearbox doing its work.

For example, I used the available paddle shifters to keep speeds under control without applying the brakes on icy downhill segments. Among the many controls (stability, traction, etc.) is something called Engine Drag Torque Control, which gets you down an icy hill by selectively allocating power to different wheels as they start to slip.

But the place you will notice the engine and transmission is when you ask the Discovery Sport to pull out and pass. The engine has to dig deep in the gearbox to find the passing gear. To its credit, the Discovery Sport digs fast and smooth, but that was the moment I was wishing for a normally aspirated V6 or a deeply torque-y turbo-diesel.

By the way, the Discovery Sport gets 23 MPG in the city, and 28 MPG highway. That’s pretty good for the performance and weight level of the vehicle. These economy figures are due to start/stop, electric power steering, selective regeneration, and other such features.

Luxury and good looks

The Range Rover has always been the good-looking child of the Land Rover family. The Defenders are pure function – a box on wheels – and that’s why people love them. But the bread-and-butter Land Rover line has had some ups and downs in the aesthetics department.

So it’s great news that the new Discovery Sport seems to share a lot more design cues with the Range Rover than with the last generation LR4. One look is enough to say this is a handsome SUV.

Inside, the resemblance continues. The Discovery Sport is exceedingly comfortable, with luxury design and execution worthy of a Range Rover. Leather and soft-touch surfaces are all around and every control falls easily to hand. The available panoramic glass roof is wonderful if you’re using the Discovery Sport to get out in its native environment.

2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport

The technology story is all there. I won’t bore you with a rundown because it would take several pages just to list it all. Suffice it to say that if you want it, it’s available. Infotainment control comes in the form of an eight-inch touchscreen display, and the interface is nicely crafted. All modern safety and convenience features are standard or available.

Worth noting is the “5+2” seating option. Unlike other compact SUVs, the Discovery Sport has available third row seating for two, and that seat folds flat when not in use. The Discovery Sport also boasts best-in-class cargo space and flexible fold-down options for all the rear seats.

A Rover in your range

The last thing to know about the Discovery Sport is that it starts at $37,995 including destination fees, and has upgrade options for the HSE at $42,495 and HSE Lux at $46,495.

The 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport is the 510-horsepower behemoth Range Rover you can afford.

For comparison, the Audi Q5 starts at $39,300 and tops at $55,000 for the Prestige TDI, while the BMW X3 starts at $38,500 for rear-wheel drive and at $40,500 for an xDrive model and goes up from there. Here’s a curve ball compare: MSRP for a top of the line Kia Sorento starts at $41,700.

So, what’s the point? The Discovery Sport is a compact SUV and those others are mid-size … so why not compare it to the X1 or the Q3? Because of that third row seat option, that’s why. If you want to seat 7, this is the class of cars you’re shopping. In fact, to get a third row in the Audi, you have to step up to the Q7.

The bottom line on the 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport is that if you really want a Range Rover but can’t afford the 510-horsepower behemoth, the Discovery Sport is a respectable option.

You’ll get the looks, the luxury, the technology, and the capability. If you want a great compact SUV that you can take pretty much anywhere with confidence, the Discovery Sport should be at the top of your shopping list. And if you just want to cruise to your Bikram class in high style, the Discovery Sport is great for that, too.

Highs

  • Serious “Go Anywhere” Capability
  • Luxury Interior
  • Range Rover Looks
  • State of the Art Technology

Lows

  • No V6 or diesel Option
  • Third row seating tight for adults