By Aaron Bragman on September 3, 2014
Competes with: Lexus NX200, Lincoln MKC, Audi Q5, BMW X3
Looks like: The Evoque's slightly more mature older brother
Drivetrain: 240-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder; nine-speed automatic transmission, standard all-wheel drive
Hits dealerships: Early 2015
MSRP: $38,920 including destination
Land Rover has done well with its recent smaller offering, the Range Rover Evoque, which has become a style setter for the brand and a less costly way for new buyers to get a taste of the mix of luxury and go-anywhere ability that the British automaker has sold for decades. Now a new model joins the lineup with just a tad of the Evoque's style but much more practicality and at a less expensive price.
The 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport replaces the LR2 in the lineup and comes in just below the larger LR4, which itself is sold as the Discovery everywhere else in the world. The new Discovery Sport is slated as the first of a new family of Discovery-branded vehicles, likely meaning that the next LR4 will go back to being Discovery here too (much in the way that the company offers a Range Rover and smaller Range Rover Sport).
The new Discovery Sport brings the Evoque's sleek looks to a slightly larger SUV, with wraparound headlights and familiar taillight shapes that instantly identify this as a Land Rover model. It has a longer wheelbase than either the Evoque or the old LR2, and is also longer overall than either of them. The forward-swept C-pillar behind the rear doors also helps tie the Discovery Sport in with the rest of the clan, as does the traditional clamshell hood and two-bar Land Rover grille. It's not groundbreaking, but it is clean, distinctive and attractive, especially when equipped with the available 19- and 20-inch wheels. An available "Black Pack" appearance package paints the grille, door mirrors, fender vents and badges in gloss black paint. A contrasting color roof is also available in black.
Despite being classified as a compact SUV, the Discovery Sport is described by the company as a "5+2" model, meaning it has standard seating for five plus an optional row for another two in the rear cargo area. A redesigned rear suspension means that a folding third row is incorporated, which when stowed does not impinge at all upon cargo area - it has the same cargo room as the two-row model. Land Rover describes the third row as best for "occasional" use, meaning it's likely best suited for children in a pinch. The second row of seats is mounted stadium-style, meaning it sits 2 inches higher than the front seats to allow passengers a view out the front. It also reclines and slides rearward by up to 6.3 inches, allowing for 39.8 inches of legroom in the second row.
The rest of the interior receives major upgrades from the LR2, matching the design and material quality of the rest of the Land Rover lineup. All Discovery Sport models come with a leather interior, with lower trim levels getting partial leather seats while upper trim levels get the full Windsor leather treatment, including a stitched leather dashboard and door panels. Optional configurable mood lighting is controlled through the new 8-inch center console touch-screen. Five different interior color combinations are available, and four 12-volt power outlets are standard - the three-row model gets six USB charging ports to keep everyone's personal electronics powered up.
Powering the Discovery Sport is Land Rover's familiar 240-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. It's the same powertrain that's found in the Range Rover Evoque. Power goes to all four wheels by standard all-wheel drive. While 240 hp may not seem like much, the little Discovery Sport doesn't weigh as much as some competitors, allowing for a zero-to-60 mph time of 7.8 seconds (manufacturer estimate). While that's not pavement blistering, it's certainly enough to keep up with traffic.
Being a Land Rover, it has to have off-road chops as well. The Discovery Sport has 8.3 inches of ground clearance and approach, departure and breakover angles of 25, 31, and 21 degrees, respectively. With the right settings engaged, the Discovery Sport can scale a 45-degree grade, and the lower front bumper trim is removable in case a more challenging obstacle is encountered. The air intake is also located high in the engine bay, allowing the SUV to traverse fairly high standing water. The all-wheel drive is managed by Land Rover's Terrain Response system, with four driver-selectable: General, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud and Ruts, and Sand.
The Discovery Sport's Terrain Response system works in conjunction with an alphabet soup of three-letter acronyms designed to help the Discovery Sport safely get across just about any terrain on the planet, including Hill Descent Control, Gradient Release Control, roll stability control, dynamic stability control, engine drag torque control and electronic traction control. It also features an emergency brake assist system that can boost the amount of brake pressure applied when the car senses an emergency situation, including corner brake control for maintaining stability in corners.
An optional autonomous emergency braking system uses stereo cameras to sense objects in the SUV's path, and can either assist in bringing the Discovery Sport to a stop quickly or take control and fully brake the truck to a halt under specific conditions. Optional systems include autonomous parking assist, lane departure warning and traffic sign recognition, while the Discovery Sport features trailer stability assist, a tow hitch camera and rain-sensing wipers as standard equipment.
The new Discovery Sport goes on sale early next year with a starting price of $38,920, including destination fee, for the base SE trim level.
Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman grew up in the Detroit area, comes from an automotive family and is based in Ann Arbor, Mich. Email Aaron