As one Land Rover official put it, the 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport is nothing less than the "most important SUV in five years." Sounds like he's exaggerating -- he's British, after all. Still, when you consider 2014 was a record sales year for Land Rover (51,000 sold in the U.S.), it's clear the new seven-seat-capable Discovery Sport has some weight on its shoulders to keep the momentum going.
Meant to take on the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, the new compact(ish) SUV was shown as a concept at the New York auto show last spring. It'll be sold alongside the 10-year-old LR4 starting this spring and, up against that model, the Discovery Sport looks like a huge departure -- much sportier, cleaner and less upright, with big wheels pushed out to the corners.
The clamshell hood is there, of course. The interior is less a departure than the exterior -- there are more Range Rover cues -- and build quality looks sky-high with nice materials assembled well. "Premium but not precious," is how Land Rover puts it. The company also says versatility is the name of the Discovery's game, and the 5 + 2 seating, 60 cubic feet of cargo room with the seats folded and sliding middle row -- about 6 inches -- are examples.
The Discovery Sport sits 8.3 inches off the ground and shares most architecture with the Evoque: the 2.0-liter turbo four (240 hp, 251 lb-ft), Haldex clutch on the rear axle, independent front and rear suspension, and Land Rover's Terrain Response system. The body shell is steel, while the hood, fenders and hatch are aluminum.
Inside the 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport SUV
What's it like to drive?
Sort of like the Evoque, frankly -- neutral handling and good body control. Boy, did we ever drive it.
From our Reykjavik, Iceland home base, we spent a day climbing icy hills, traversing snow-covered two tracks and yes, did the obligatory water crossing -- it wouldn't be a Land Rover driving experience without one. The weather alternated between brilliant sun and near white-out conditions. The Discovery sailed through it all. (Full disclosure -- it was on studded tires.) The Terrain Response settings -- General, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud and Ruts and Sand -- helped deal with it all, as did the 24 inches of wading depth and 9 inches of wheel travel.
The engine felt strong, mostly smooth and pulled well through the rev range. Above 3000 rpm, it really felt stout. The 9-speed trans (16 pounds lighter than the Evoque's earlier 6-speed) felt smooth, though a bit slow to react. Using the paddles took care of any lag time.
The car felt like the right size and was wieldy and predictable with quick, precise steering, while the front buckets felt fine after a full day at the helm.
Do I want it?
If you want a compact SUV capable of conquering damned near anything you'd ever throw at it, then yeah, check it out. Land Rover figures average transaction prices at about $45,000 well equipped, and that isn't bad for the class. We need to try one with standard tires on our home turf before a final verdict is rendered, but for now, so far so good. Compact SUV sales are exploding, and this one's worth a look.
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