The only way to get to Mosquito Beach, a tiny outcrop on Lake Superior, is to drive 5 miles down an "unpaved access road" and then hike 1.9 miles through the woods. The road is a narrow, twisty assortment of ruts, gravel, and thick mud, so I switch the 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport's Terrain Response system to "Grass/Gravel/Snow," figuring it's most appropriate for the varying terrain.
So emboldened, I accelerate the Discovery Sport down Chapel Road. The tires scramble through inches of thick mud and the high-riding suspension bounds over divots, and the Land Rover splashes through a muddy puddle fast enough to spatter mud over the panoramic sunroof. Good thing we had such a capable off-road vehicle to get down to the trailhead, I think. Yet when we reach the parking lot at the end of the road, I notice all the other cars that managed the treacherous trek: Honda Civic, Toyota Yaris, even a Jaguar XK8. Was the Land Rover really necessary?
It turns out you don't actually need all the off-road capability of the 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport in your daily life, even when camping in the wilds of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Yet if the Disco Sport can deliver the type of luxury and all-round utility that buyers seek in today's crossovers, it might have a chance at stealing sales away from Audi, BMW, Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz.
Chasing the best in class
A better test of this luxury vehicle proves to be driving the 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport from southeast Michigan to the very northern tip of the state. The confident, relaxed highway ride and quiet cabin provide the type of refinement we expect out of German luxury crossovers such as the Audi Q5 and BMW X3. The wheels might measure 20 inches in diameter, yet the tires still have sidewalls tall enough to help absorb road imperfections before they reach our backsides. Even at a brisk freeway cruise, the interior stays quiet enough that three passengers can hold a conversation while listening to ’90s hits on the 11-speaker sound system.
On paved roads, the 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport drives a lot like the larger Land Rover Evoque, which is to say with ease and confidence. The steering has a strong sense of straight-ahead that makes long-distance driving easy, and it quickly loads up with enough weight that it's still fun to push the Disco Sport through corners. Despite its large wheels, tall ride height, and off-road inclinations, the Land Rover tackles winding, undulating roads without much body motion. It doesn't devour two-lanes as enthusiastically as the best German luxury crossovers, but the suspension controls body roll and brake dive enough that we can have fun on the way back to our campsite.
The Disco Sport's big downfall is its transmission, a ZF-sourced nine-speed automatic that's also used in the Jeep Cherokee. We hated the gearbox in our Four Seasons 2014 Jeep Cherokee, and it's no better in the Discovery Sport. Between an unnecessarily harsh 1-2 shift and a philosophical objection to downshifting from top gear, the automatic does everything in its power to prevent you from driving smoothly or quickly. We took to switching it to Sport mode for freeway merges, roundabouts, and passing on two-lane roads.
Fortunately, Land Rover's 2.0-liter turbo-four engine is about as smooth and as stout as we could hope for in this class of crossover. With progressive torque delivery that starts low in the rpm range, the Discovery Sport pulls up hills and hustles past slow-moving traffic without breaking a sweat. So long as the transmission picks an appropriate gear, the engine provides all the horsepower most buyers will need from their Discovery Sport. An indicated 26-27 mpg overall during our trip also impresses given the Land Rover's frontal area and weight.
Riding in comfort
The interior of the 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport is a very pleasant place to spend several hours. Large windows afford generous visibility, and clear gauges and straightforward secondary controls make things easy on the driver. The dashboard is stylish and well made, with flourishes of aluminum breaking up the large swaths of black plastic, and its appearance is certainly on par with the likes of an X3 or Q5. Our only critique is that the small, low-res trip computer looks dated in comparison to the bright, colorful displays in new crossovers such as the Nissan Murano.
Our rear-seat passenger has zero complaints about space, and the wide, flat cargo area easily fits three guys' clothes and camping gear. You can opt for a third row of seating in the Discovery Sport, but there's so little space back there we'd advise skipping it unless you really disliked your friends.
The car's 8-inch color infotainment system screen certainly looks pretty and provides plenty of functionality, from navigation and off-roading information to Bluetooth audio streaming and phone calls. Yet the cool graphics belie the system's slow, lethargic operation. It takes the system a few moments to remember what radio presets are programmed or to load the navigation map, small delays that over time frustrate driver and passengers alike.
Hitting the mark
I took the 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport on a camping trip because I thought its rough-and-tumble abilities would come in handy, only to find that the Landie’s off-road capabilities were wasted on our drives down dirt roads. Instead, the Discovery Sport made its strongest impression in areas that actually matter to crossover buyers in everyday life: comfort, style, fuel economy, and performance. The Disco Sport might be Land Rover's entry model, but it has a level of refinement and quality that stands up to similarly priced German crossovers. Even if you never plan to leave the safety of paved roads, the 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport is a competent luxury crossover that will keep your friends and family happy on a road trip.
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