The all-new Land Rover Discovery Sport is a premium compact SUV that delivers a unique blend of civility, utility and capability. When we drove one in Iceland, it felt like a shrunken Range Rover.
Land Rover’s U.S. lineup includes both full-luxury Range Rovers and mid-luxury Land Rovers. The former are the aluminum-bodied Range Rover and Range Rover Sport and the sport compact (mostly steel-bodied) Range Rover Evoque. The latter are the old Land Rover LR2 and LR4 and this new 2015 Discovery Sport. Based on a version of the Evoque’s platform, Discovery Sport will replace the LR2 after the 2015 model year, while the LR4 (Discovery elsewhere in the world) will soon be redesigned and renamed Discovery for North America as the second member of this new Discovery family.
It was a bold (and smart) strategic move for Land Rover to stage the global media launch of this very aptly named Discovery Sport in mid-January on the snow- and lava-crusted volcanic island of Iceland. With a population that could almost be contained in three sports arenas, Iceland sits just below the Arctic Circle northeast of Great Britain between the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans.
Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital and only major city, has a climate moderated by the Atlantic Gulf Stream, so it’s not as bitter cold even in winter as its name implies (low-30s F while we were there in January). But its weather is notoriously unpredictable, and it can be brutal. Our arrival was delayed a full day by high winds that shut down its airport.
Despite such weather risk (and occasional volcanic eruptions), Iceland provided an ideal opportunity to fully comprehend this new 2015 Discovery Sport’s high levels of capability and likeability. In a long, full day of piloting a well-equipped example through the city, on paved highways and over countless miles of narrow, lumpy, snowy, often icy, lava-stone trails over the frozen tundra (on studded winter tires), we grew quite fond of it. It looks exactly right for its mission, performed consistently well in such challenging conditions and kept us warm, safe and comfy even while plunging down a snow bank to ford a fast-moving stream, then clawing effortlessly up the opposite side.
Here are some key things to know about this 2015 Discovery Sport: It seats five in standard form or up to seven with an optional (child-only) fold-down third row. Its cabin is surprisingly roomy (at least for four or five occupants) for its compact exterior size, and its second-row seats slide fore-aft to maximize either leg- or cargo room. Also, its new eight-inch touch-screen infotainment system offers intuitive controls and expansive connectivity.
Its interior strikes a just-right balance between Range Rover plushness and Land Rover ruggedness, its features rival those of its more expensive Range Rover relatives, and the seats proved excellent for an all-day haul both on and off paved roads. Our only complaints: its surprisingly leg-roomy second seat seems achieved at the expense of some front-seat travel (long-legged front occupants will wish for more), and its sun visors when swung to the side don’t slide rearward to cover more of the upper side windows.
Its 240-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder drives through a 9-speed automatic transmission (with paddle shifters) and Haldex all-wheel drive. Its outstanding all-terrain capability is enhanced by off-road-optimized suspension geometry and Land Rover’s Terrain Response system with General, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud and Ruts, Sand and Dynamic modes. Its new multi-link rear suspension and electric power steering provide good on-road ride, response and agility. An available Autonomous Emergency Braking system can help avoid collisions.
In our long day of driving Discovery Sport HSE Lux model in conditions ranging from dry pavement to deep snow to sheet ice and even fast-flowing water, we found it well up to typical Land Rover capability, yet quieter (even on studded tires) and much more refined than the LR2 it will replace. Its turbocharged four-cylinder engine, 9-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive were strong in mid-range response but a bit slow in launching from a stop and responding to kick-downs, probably due to a combination of turbo lag and transmission indecision.
The 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport’s design hits all the right targets for a new generation of Land Rover Discovery SUVs. It seems exactly the right size and strikes exactly the right blend of upscale modernity and ruggedness. Built on a 107.9-inch wheelbase for ride smoothness and generous second-row legroom, its compact 180.7-inch exterior puts its wheels at the corners for a planted stance and a low center of gravity.
Its Land Rover identity begins with a clamshell hood and a two-bar, hexagonal-mesh grille. Large outboard air intakes and LED fog lamps in the front bumper give it a sporty look, while its slim wraparound headlamps are similar to those on Range Rover vehicles.
Halogen headlamps and DRLs at four equal intervals (like the points of a compass) are standard, while available upgrades include xenon headlamps and LED DRLs, and the taillamps echo the headlamps’ slim, wraparound look. Robust wheel-arch moldings also pay homage to Land Rover heritage, and a new blade-like interpretation of Land Rover signature fender vents sweep into a dynamic body line.
An available Black Pack trim package adds gloss-black grille, door mirror caps, front fender vents and badging and a choice of 19- or 20-inch alloy wheels to emphasize its athletic stance, and an optional black contrast roof extends to the base of the A-pillars. Five alloy wheel designs are available with either Silver or Gloss Black finishes.
Discovery Sport’s cabin steps up to near-Range Rover levels of luxury. The traditional Land Rover Discovery Sport Command Driving Position results from raised seat height and optimized forward visibility. Standard leather seating ranges from grained part-leather on SE models to luxurious Windsor leather on the range-topping HSE Luxury. Our HSE Lux test vehicle also had stitched leather on the upper instrument panel and door surfaces, real metal trim on the center console and configurable mood lighting.
We found the Discovery Sport’s plush leather seats outstanding and its controls way better than any Land Rover before it and in some ways (especially its new, more intuitive, faster-responding touch-screen infotainment/navigation system) better even than those in current Range Rovers. Everything we touched and used was easy to see, find and operate. We did wonder why a near-$50,000 luxury vehicle’s sun visors would not slide rearward (when swung to the side) to shield our faces from side-window sun, and why only the driver-information center’s bottom line changed to display different information.
The three-spoke multi-function steering wheel, with paddle shifters for manual control of the automatic transmission, frames easy-to-read speedometer and tachometer dials set deeply into cylindrical housings to shield them from glare. A five-inch color TFT display between them presents key information such as fuel level, transmission gear, coolant temperature and Terrain Response mode. The vertical console groups all major controls logically with soft-touch rotary knobs and buttons in a gloss-black surround.
Stadium seating elevates the second row two inches higher than the front seats for good visibility and a more open feel. The front seatbacks are contoured for second-row knee room, and the 60/40 split second-row seatbacks recline and can slide 6.3 inches rearward for nearly 40 inches of legroom. The new multi-link rear suspension enables occasional seven-passenger seating with an optional two-seat third row. Second- and third-row seats can be folded down (with one hand) to provide a spacious cargo area, and a low cargo floor eases loading and unloading.
The center console design depends on the model. The standard SE console has two cup holders and and a separate roller storage box, while HSE and HSE Lux offer a sliding armrest with a roller bin cover and removable cup holders that can be reconfigured for a two-liter bottle. Both front and rear door panels offer ample storage space, third-row passengers have their own storage area, second- and third-row air vents are mid-way up the pillars for better circulation, the third-row gets its own fan speed control, and up to four 12V and six USB outlets allow multiple electronic devices to be charged at once.
We spent a long day piloting a top-of-the-line 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport HSE Lux model all over the Nordic Island of Iceland on surfaces ranging from dry and wet pavement to snow- and ice-covered one-lane lava-stone trails to fast-moving water. As expected for the brand, its capabilities in all these conditions were outstanding, yet its levels of quiet, comfort and refinement rivaled those of its more expensive Range Rover relatives.
Power from its 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct-injected four-cylinder was smooth, linear and generally satisfying, though it was briefly sluggish in full-throttle launches while its turbo spooled up and at times annoyingly slow in responding to foot-to-the-floor kickdowns. This probably resulted from a combination of low-rpm turbo lag and the 9-speed automatic’s slowness in choosing the optimum lower gear to get on with the program. That said, Land Rover touts the Discovery Sport’s 0-60 time as a respectable 7.8 seconds (which we believe but can’t confirm), and its mid-range torque response was strong.
Its steering was crisp, its braking powerful and linear and its on-road handling satisfyingly agile for a compact SUV, subjectively well up to the standards of its Audi, BMW and Mercedes competitors. Off the road, especially in slick conditions, its traction and stability systems performed consistently and exceptionally well.
The 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport seems the perfect answer for those who want the comfort, features, refinement and unsurpassed off-road capabilities of a Range Rover in a smaller, more affordable package.
Gary Witzenburg filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of a Land Rover Discovery Sport in Iceland.