Land Rover’s Discovery has lost most of its rugged edges but it’s definitely ready for the urban safari.
Review and photos by Tom Sedens
Click on any picture to see a larger version.
The first thing you notice when you lay eyes on the Discovery Sport is that there isn’t much to notice.
Sure, Land Rover has penned a good looking vehicle here with smooth and modern lines. Sure, handsome but unsurprising elements like a snazzy grille, Xenon headlights and circular LED signature lights adorn the front end, and you’ll find the same circle theme within the tail lights. Sure, the rear roof spoiler adds a little something, as do the 20-inch rims with big 245/45-sized boots all the way around.
But let’s be honest – there is simply nothing exciting or ground-breaking going on here. Following the lead of almost every other manufacturer out there, Land Rover has come up with a sleek, relatively aerodynamic crossover that doesn’t really evoke any emotion or stand out in any way. And I’ll say it every time I see one – I’m not a fan of the fake side vent.
A spacious interior with excellent head room greets you. Land Rover’s choice of materials are nice – the combination of stitched panels, and some interesting soft-touch plastics on the dash (that have a strange rough texture) makes things feel middle of the road – not entry-level but certainly not top-of-the-line either.
I loved the front seats – power-adjustable, heated, cooled, with memory settings – they’re comfortable (even on the long road trip we took). The Discovery also gets a nice steering wheel but it gets a bit busy with all the controls on it. I couldn’t help but be impressed by the 8-inch touchscreen – beautiful graphics, responsive and it works quite well – but it’s still not the most intuitive user interface. The stereo sounds good, and there’s a dual-zone climate control system too.
You will find no shortage of charging possibilities in the Discovery Sport – from a USB plug next to one of the cupholders in the console to a 12V plug and three USB connections at the back of the console, any devices you and your family have will never run out of juice. This was handy for us, as each of our kids has an iPad and after 2 hours of “I spy with my little eye” I was ready to hand over all parenting duties to Apple.
Speaking of the back seats, the very first thing you notice once you plop yourself into the comfortable seats is the incredibly airy feeling thanks to the huge panoramic roof. It doesn’t open but has a powered sunshade and when it’s open, it almost feels like there isn’t a roof overhead. I love it! And if those seats aren’t comfortable enough, they slide fore and aft and recline. Heck, they’re even heated!
I felt there was a good amount of headroom and leg room for my height at 5’10”, and even with the little floor tunnel, an adult can sit in the middle. The middle seatback folds down to become an armrest (with storage and cupholders) or you can fold the whole middle section down to accommodate long, skinny cargo like skis – the back seats split 40/20/40. A third row is available – I haven’t had any experience with it, but based on the size of the Discovery, I would hazard a guess that it would be highly compromised seating when it comes to space, and is probably suitable only for children.
The Disco has a decently-sized trunk at 981 litres. The high load floor and power lift gate make accessing it easy enough, and the rear seats are power-folding – a set of buttons in the trunk allow you to do this remotely. With all that said, we had a tough time getting our family’s luggage for a two-week vacation in there, and it was loaded to the roof.
Under the Hood
A robust turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder powers the Discovery Sport, putting out 237 horsepower and 251 lb.ft of torque. It is mated to a nine(!)-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. Fuel economy has come a long way since the original Discovery – the 2015 Sport is rated at 11.9 L/100 km (20 US mpg) in town and 9.0 L/100 km (26 US mpg) on the highway and that is exactly what we averaged over the course of a week with it. That included the roughly 550 km trip from Toronto to Montreal as well as plenty of urban cruising.
If you ever drove the original Discoverys, you’ll be happy to hear that the new one is worlds apart. Obviously it’s on a completely different kind of platform that is much more suited to urban living, and it shows. The little engine seems up to the task though it also appears to be working hard. Acceleration is fine, if a bit weak until you get past the lag, but then it really pours it on, often surprising the driver with more jam than was expected. Putting the vehicle into Sport mode really transforms the responsiveness of the Discovery in the city and on the highway. The nine-speed transmission is smooth, but the shifts are definitely not as seamless as we’d expect from modern transmissions – you’ll experience occasional lurching (albeit gentle) during shifts, even under modest acceleration. Mostly it just feels like the transmission has too many gears – it takes a bit too long to shift down, and often feels as though it’s stuck trying to figure out what to do next. You can shift gears manually using the paddle shifters but it’s not a particularly quick nor satisfying to do so. Land Rover also includes an Eco driving mode, which noticeably retards the responsiveness and makes the Disco a bit of a slug to drive. Speaking of saving fuel, there’s also auto start/stop technology – it is defeatable but I found that it is smooth and not very intrusive.
We found the Discovery had a firm, sporty ride that got a tad choppy on city streets but it smoothed out to be a nearly perfect highway cruiser. Very comfortable, very well controlled. Handling is secure, but there’s quite a bit of body lean – nothing disconcerting and nothing unexpected. Overall I found the Discovery to be a confident performer in town and on the open road.
Parking the Discovery Sport when it comes to multi-point turns is a bit of a chore because of the knurled rotary gear selector (that magically rises out of the console when you fire the Discovery up). It’s slower to use and slower to react than a traditional gear selector and it just gets irritating. Thankfully the reasonable turning circle, back-up camera and parking sensors and the power-folding mirrors help even the odds.
We enjoyed good visibility out of the vehicle’s front and sides but the back headrests really impair your view out of the rear window and the rear pillars make shoulder checking an adventure too. I really missed a blind-spot monitoring system in the Discovery.
If you’re one of the few that will take your Land Rover onto terra softa you’ll find a set of “special programs” that Land Rover has divided into three very broad strokes – normal, grass/gravel/snow mode and mud ruts/sand. It also has a hill descent mode, can “wade” through 600mm (23.6 inches!) of water and has impressive approach and departure angles (25 and 31 degrees respectively). I didn’t find opportunity to test the Disco’s off-road chops but I know Land Rover does put them through significant testing to ensure that even the most urban of their vehicles can perform admirably in every setting. If that isn’t flexible enough for you, it even tows up to 2000 kg (4409 lb).
In the end, Land Rover has come up with a modern, functional, flexible and relevant (if not particularly exciting) crossover in the new Discovery Sport. I thought it was a stellar highway driver and appreciated its roominess and flexibility and how it went about its business of accommodating our family on a daily basis – with the exception of my issues with the somewhat unrefined powertrain. It didn’t really connect with me on an emotional level – while parked or on the road – but I would say the same for many new vehicles. That’s subjective, and frankly, it’s not a real strike against the vehicle anyway. And if you like history, you’ll think this Discovery is a horrible imposter and you will feel hurt and betrayed. But hey, overall, the Discovery Sport is a nice, competent vehicle with the added cachet of the Land Rover badge. I think where the Discovery Sport might find itself most competitive is in the pricing department because when it comes to the product, the competition is pretty fierce in this category. I’m not sure the Discovery’s rivals have too much to be worried about right now.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Land Rover Canada.
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Pricing: 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport
Base price (HSE Luxury trim): $49,900
Options: $150 retractable cargo cover; $1250 climate front and heated rear seats; $1500 20-inch alloy wheels; $350 11-speaker audio; $850 navigation
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $55,475
Competitors: Mercedes-Benz GLC, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Acura RDX, Porsche Macan S, Volvo XC 60, Lincoln MKC, Cadillac SRX