The 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport is an all-new premium crossover that offers comfortable accommodations and ample cargo space in a compact footprint. But don't expect Land Rover's legendary safari-grade off-road capability here. The Discovery Sport is better suited to navigating snowy paved roads or reasonably maintained dirt trails.
What Is It?
For more than 25 years, the Land Rover Discovery, or LR4 as it's known in the U.S., has been a trusted member of the Land Rover family, offering expedition-worthy off-road capability at a more accessible price than the posh Range Rover.
The Discovery Sport is not that kind of SUV. The added "Sport" at the end of the name changes everything. This vehicle is slightly smaller than the LR4, less off-road-worthy and more efficient on the road.
Compared to the Range Rover Evoque, the Discovery Sport is 9.2 inches longer, with a more sensible roof line that makes for easier access, expanded rear passenger room and a more cavernous cargo hold. Compared to the LR2 it will eventually replace, the Discovery Sport is 3.6 inches longer and half an inch lower, while simultaneously looking sleeker and holding more people and things.
A new multilink rear suspension allows for a lower rear floor. It makes possible a new backseat that reclines and slides 6.3 inches, and there's even space for a new third-row seat option, although it's correctly described as a "+2" arrangement that's suitable for a couple of kids, not three adults.
Power is supplied by the same 240-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine used in the Range Rover Evoque. And like the Evoque, the Discovery Sport comes standard with a nine-speed automatic transmission. The Evoque gained 2 mpg when it made the switch in 2014, and indeed the new Discovery Sport is rated 2 mpg higher than the LR2.
A more sophisticated electronic backbone supports an array of new safety features. The Driver Assist package includes autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning and road sign recognition. The Advanced Park Assist option automates not just parallel but also routine perpendicular parking. And the Vision Assist option offers cross-traffic alerts to aid backing out of spaces and a blind-spot monitoring system that can deduce closing rates.
How Does It Drive?
It turns out that the word "Sport" is a pretty accurate description of the junior Discovery's ride and handling demeanor.
The ride is admirably flat, with expert damping of large motions. Those prone to car sickness have nothing to fear from this SUV. Moreover, it's supremely stable and coordinated on winding roads, with the accurate electronic power steering imparting decent feedback through corners.
Our HSE test sample rode on the optional 20-inch wheels. The short sidewalls of the 245/40R20 tires are at least partly responsible for a ride that tends toward jittery on imperfect surfaces. They generate a smattering of road noise, too. The standard 19-inch wheels and tires should offer better isolation on both counts.
Sport doesn't apply quite as well in a straight line, as the steering feels numb on open roads and the acceleration is lackluster unless you floor the thing. The brakes feel powerful enough, however, needing just 119 feet to halt our test vehicle from 60 mph.
We were able to squeeze a 7.7-second 0-60 time out of our somewhat-loaded 4,323-pound test sample, but in daily driving the nine-speed transmission is reluctant to downshift in the name of fuel economy. There's a Sport mode, but engaging it via the weird round shifter is not unlike opening a child-proof medicine bottle.
Most starts are conducted from 2nd gear, because 1st is reserved for manual shifting and off-road terrain settings. On top of that, the standard fuel-saving stop-start system is slow to re-ignite the engine when it's go time. At least there's an off button for that part.
How Many Trim Levels Are There?
There are three Discovery Sport grades: SE, HSE and HSE Lux. The SE kicks things off with a standard touchscreen entertainment system, 18-inch alloy wheels, eight-way power "partial leather" front seats, push-button start, dual-zone climate control, a back-up camera and more.
HSE buyers get full grained leather 10-way power seats with memory, xenon headlamps, passive entry, a power tailgate, 19-inch wheels and a humungous fixed glass sunroof. The HSE Lux adds standard navigation, HD radio and 11-speaker premium audio. It has more sumptuous leather, and the wheels and exterior trim get a bright finish.
All three can be equipped with the safety packages and the optional third seat. Big wheel aficionados can add 19-inch wheels to the SE, or 20s to an HSE or HSE Lux. And any of them can go stealthy with a Black Design package that can be had with or without a matching black roof.
What Is the Interior Like?
Our HSE's grained leather seats offered abundant head- and legroom, and a generous telescoping steering wheel makes it easy for the driver to find the sweet spot. The seats are a bit narrow and not as sumptuous as they appear, but we didn't sample the Windsor Leather seats in the HSE Lux.
Backseat passengers sit 2 inches higher for a good view out, but there's still plenty of head- and legroom. In fact, there are 39.8 inches of the latter with the seat slid fully back. The backrest does feel somewhat flat, but at least there's a wide center armrest to lean on. And everyone has access to an air vent and a USB power port of their own.
Aluminum trim adds a little flair, but the general design theme is plain and matter-of-fact. It's a logical place where controls are easy to find and operate, but there's lots of wasted space on the center console, perhaps to emphasize the "majesty" of the levitating shift knob. We'd seen enough of this parlor trick in the first minute.
As for the touchscreen navigation and audio system, we appreciate the smartphone integration with the InControl Apps option. But that somewhat faraway screen must be touched and poked to do almost anything. And the high-priority fixed buttons that swap among navigation/media/phone have been marooned in a spot that's a reach for most drivers.
What About Off-Road?
In normal driving, the Discovery Sport sends its power through the front wheels, but in low-traction situations it's able to divert engine power to the rear axle, where a torque-vectoring differential distributes the power according to which wheel has the most grip. Land Rover's Terrain Response system comes standard, so by simply turning a dial you can adjust various parameters for optimum traction on different surfaces like sand, snow or mud.
An aggressive 4.54-to-1 axle ratio allows the Discovery Sport to start in 2nd gear on pavement, while 1st gear mainly acts as a quasi low-range gear in off-road modes. This strategy delivers a 21-to-1 crawl ratio, which is a clear advantage compared to the mid-teens offered by other crossovers. Indeed the Sport climbs well on local steep forest access roads.
Land Rover says the Discovery Sport's new rear suspension offers more flexibility than the strut setup of the LR2 and Evoque. That's true enough, but our articulation test says it only brings it up to the modest levels of the BMW X3, Jeep Cherokee and Mazda CX-5.
None of this is bad, and the Discovery Sport does indeed possess features and gearing that best other crossover SUV offerings. It's just that its capabilities are more muted than the Land Rover Discovery moniker suggests.
What Kind of Mileage Does It Deliver?
We managed 25.0 mpg around our mixed-driving evaluation loop, but our two-week average dropped to 19.4 mpg with numerous city and a few off-road miles added in. The EPA says the Discovery Sport is rated at 22 mpg combined (20 city/26 highway), which places it 2 mpg above the LR2 and 2 mpg below the Range Rover Evoque.
The smaller Evoque holds the advantage because it weighs 300 pounds less. It also employs a more street-oriented axle ratio that uses all nine gears in daily use and makes top gear more of a cruising gear.
Premium fuel is required to feed the 2.0-liter turbo engine, and the tank holds 18.5 gallons of the stuff. A careful driver could theoretically coax more than 450 miles out of a single fill-up on the open road.
How Much for This New Land Rover?
The SE starts at $37,995 with a decent load of standard equipment. Above that is the HSE at $42,495 and the HSE Lux at $46,495.
The third-row seat is a $1,750 option, while navigation costs $800 — unless you get the Driver Assist Plus package or an HSE Lux.
Our particular HSE test vehicle cost $49,195, including $1,600 for the Climate Comfort package and $1,500 for the Black Design package with black 20-inch wheels and roof. Another $1,295 went for the Driver Assist Plus package, $800 got us the 11-speaker audio upgrade and $430 brought in the InControl Apps feature. The final $150 got us a cargo space cover.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
As a premium crossover SUV, the Discovery's closest competitors are German luxury brands, but none of them pretends to be as good off-road.
The 2015 Audi Q5 offers more powertrain options, including diesel, hybrid and a stronger 3.0-liter gasoline variant. Handling is on par, but its similar 2.0-liter turbo configuration is both quicker and thriftier at the pump. It has less rear passenger and cargo room, though.
The 2015 BMW X3 xDrive28i is also quicker and less thirsty. It also lags behind in rear passenger and cargo room, albeit to a lesser degree. Those who want to trade money for power can get the xDrive35i, and those who don't need all-wheel drive can save with the sDrive28i.
There's also the 2015 Acura MDX, a V6-powered midsize SUV with premium features and an expansive interior. Its fuel mileage isn't great, but if you want a little more room and don't need much off-road ability, it's a solid performer.
If off-road prowess means anything to you, don't rule out the 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk. Yes, it resides down market in terms of material quality, but the lower price reflects that. The Jeep outperforms this Land Rover because of its true low-range gearing, lockable rear differential, superior clearance and knobbier tires.
Why Should You Consider It?
The new 2015 Land Rover Discovery is a smart-looking all-wheel-drive crossover that offers more passenger and cargo space than most (if not all) of its competitors, not to mention an optional third-row seat.
Land Rover fans will appreciate its composed driving behavior and increased fuel economy, which represent sizable improvements over the LR2 it replaces. It's also sized right for those who appreciate the vibe of the Range Rover Evoque but aren't impressed with its tighter accommodations.
Why Should You Think Twice About It?
It's stylish and smart-looking outside, but the Discovery Sport tends toward plain and traditional inside. The look and feel of the driving environment is where the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 have the edge. And they're quicker and thriftier, too.
And while we can't be sure that 19-inch tires would completely solve our ride comfort misgivings, we can say the 20s are clearly not helping. Save your money here.
Finally, if you came into this thinking the Discovery Sport has the same off-road chops as the Discovery with which it shares a name, think again. This one has enough capability to compete against other crossovers, but it doesn't stand alone like other Land Rovers.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds with this vehicle for the purpose of evaluation.