Does the Discovery Sport have what it takes to be a success within its segment as well as embody the character of the brand?
Land Rover’s previous vehicle introductions, the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport were so well received that the brand has more demand than ever. This additional awareness, combined with the continued growth of the segment, should yield success in sales. Although it won’t reach the sales numbers of the segment’s top performers, believe that it is just as important to bringing in the next generation of customer.
Being the least expensive model in the brand’s lineup can present some unique styling and engineering challenges and even some unfair vehicle to vehicle comparisons. The first generation Freelander had an exterior that strayed too far from the brand and didn’t win many accolades in the U.S. market. Its off-road credibility never solidified despite Land Rover’s attempts to associate it with the legendary Camel Trophy. The second attempt of success in this segment came while under the ownership of Ford and thus was a time of significant parts sharing. Its chassis was based on an existing Ford platform and the engine was adapted from a version used by Volvo. In the end, the vehicle was a heavy, slow, thirsty, and again, lacked significant ties to Land Rover’s legendary off-road capability. In this most recent attempt, Land Rover pulls no punches with efforts to establish its credibility as a Land Rover. Utilizing the Discovery name and many of the unique Land Rover design cues, the Discovery Sport easily finds its place within the brand.
Approaching the Land Rover Disco Sport, it’s clear that it carries the brand’s latest styling direction. It has a modern design with simple details, and the strong and distinctively styled C-Pillar emphasizes ties to previous Discovery generations. This was recently emphasized with the introduction of the new 2017 Discovery (5th Gen). The taillights are among the distinguishing features and form a distinctive circle that continues onto the tailgate panel. Within the clear exterior lens is a light bar that swings around the side resembling the pointed lens shape of the Range Rover line-up. It’s a modern look and it helps provide contrast to the otherwise horizontal dominated theme. The mostly balanced proportions speak to the design and engineering challenges typical of a transverse engine layout and the team did a commendable job in maintaining a respectable approach angle.
The high quality, simple modern design theme continues into the interior. The buttons and controls on the center stack are lacking any sense of design excitement but their simple arrangement makes them very easy to use and are logically laid out. The metal strips on either side provide a visual break as they travel down the to the front console area that houses the gear selector This area is notably absent of any storage cubbies or rows of buttons and is another example of simplicity with a modern touch and certainly helps distinguish the interior from competitors. Space within the center console is sufficient but in case more is needed, an additional hidden storage area can be accessed by removing a cup holder with a push of a button.
The front seats are 10-way power adjustable, feature 3-position memory, and are heated and cooled when equipped with the Climate Package. This package also includes a heated steering wheel, windshield and rear seats. Attention to detail continues with the softly padded door and well placed door grab handle.
The 2nd row of seats is adjustable fore-aft and provides varying reclining positions. The seat shape was comfortable for the outboard positions and leg and toe room were generous. One of the most distinctive features standard on the mid-grade HSE trim is the panoramic glass roof that stretches past the second row, unencumbered by any structural bracing. Behind the 2nd row is a large cargo area with average lift-over height. The powered tailgate is quiet, fast and able to be foot operated. The only notable interior complaints are buttons on the steering wheel that are not easily differentiated by touch and outward visibility that is hampered partially by the bulky A-Pillar and the over-sized door mirror.
Power is provided by a direct injection, 2.0L 4-cylinder twin turbo that routes power through a 9-speed transmission (with no option of Low Range) and out to an all-wheel drive system. The terrain response provides unique characterization of the throttle mapping, gear selection as well as traction control oversight which is ultimately what is used to direct power to certain wheels. An optional drivetrain is claimed to improve efficiency and provide increased traction in off-road situations. The ride is controlled by MR dampers and unsprung weight is minimized with liberal use of aluminum components. The compact rear suspension is what allows for a 3rd row seat in this size of vehicle.
ON THE ROAD
This is where the Discovery Sport takes on a different approach to being a Land Rover. Its small engine and high gear capacity transmission require constant attention. From a start, there is little power. As a relatively short 1st gear allows the RPMs to climb quickly, it also allows for the turbo’s boost to come on rather strongly and abruptly. It is not easy to modulate the throttle for a smooth acceleration from a stop. Once the turbos have spooled, the acceleration through the gears is rapid and entertaining. At a cruise, it pays to be decisive with the throttle. Too soft and the acceleration requires patience as the transmission holds the gear as the turbo does it best to spool up quickly. Too much throttle and the transmission drops down a couple of gears just as the engine provides a wallop of torque. Its significant enough for passengers to wonder about the sense of the driver. If one has the wherewithal to drive only in manual mode with the paddle shifters, the engine’s power delivery is predictable and fun to exploit. The car’s all-wheel drive is commendable in putting the power down without any fuss.
Cruising on the open road in 9th gear at 75mph, the engine is quietly turning 2,000rpm and at the beginning of its significant power curve. It is an effortless cruiser, even across the Continental Divide.
The suspension makes easy work out of the large impacts requiring significant suspension travel. The smaller bumps are felt but not in an obtrusive manner. The overall ride quality is compliant with a fun measure of sportiness that encourages fast corner taking. The tires are quiet on the highway and contribute to an impressive level of interior noise. Going through the twisties, the Discovery Sport’s weight is impressively managed and the dynamic stability control isn’t over-bearing. Steering is accurate and nicely weighted depending on speed.
The Discovery Sport offers the only 5+2 seating available in its class and undercuts its German competitors in price. Time will ultimately determine the reputation of the Discovery Sport within the Land Rover brand but for those who are looking in this price range for everyday versatility as well as off-road capability, the Discovery Sport shares few peers.