The Discovery Sport's ability to venture off the beaten path makes it the perfect choice for outdoor excursions.
The Land Rover Freelander, later renamed the LR2 on our shores, was a huge hit. Being a global vehicle, it was sold in most parts of the world in some or the other iteration via two generations sold between 1997 and 2014. Unlike competitors like the Jeep Cherokee and Ford Explorer which used body-on-frame structures, the Freelander was a unibody ute, and was decently capable off-road. This year though, it has been replaced with an all-new model that’s more representative of the current Land Rover philosophy. We were given some time with the 2016 Land Rover Discovery Sport HSE Luxury to see how it compares to its modern-day rivals.
Frankly, I was always a huge fan of the Discovery name. When the big Discovery morphed into the LR3 (which is now the LR4), I pined for the original “Discovery” nameplate to be revived. Now though, this nameplate is being used on the smaller Rover, the successor to the LR2. With stunning lines that are reminiscent of the Range Rover Sport and Evoque, the Discovery Sport stands out in a market crowded with blandly-styled crossovers and small SUVs. The aggressive front fascia is almost reminiscent of the attractive Ford Explorer, and definitely shows its relation to the Range Rover Evoque. The blacked-out D pillar and “floating roof” design are excellent touches that go back to the Range Stormer concept of over a decade ago – it’s great to see that this language has evolved and has remained fresh with the times.
It’s a little bit smaller in overall size than the BMW X3 and the Audi Q5, but the Discovery Sport makes up for that in both off-road prowess as well as clever packaging. I must mention that the Discovery Sport uses the same platform as the Evoque, albeit elongated by almost 10 inches. Unlike the X3, Q5, and upcoming Mercedes-Benz GLC, Land Rover offers an optional third row in the Discovery Sport, which makes it a seven-seater. On models not equipped with the third row, there is some additional storage beneath the floor in the trunk, above the spare tire well. There’s tons and tons of headroom as well as great visibility thanks to the large windows.
Powered by a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the Discovery Sport is good for 237 horsepower and 251 lb-ft of torque. This motor is a variant of Ford’s EcoBoost 2.0L, also seen in vehicles such as the Ford Edge. It’s responsive and punchy, but being a Land Rover, the most emphasis has been put on smoothness. There is some turbocharger lag, but once past that point, there’s a surprising kick in the way of power. Obviously, there’s no manual transmission, and the only choice here is the ZF nine-speed automatic that’s also seen in many Acura and Fiat-Chrysler applications.
This transmission is the eventual successor to the sublime eight-speed, and in the Discovery Sport is operated via the rotary dial selector shared with other JLR applications. It’s okay for the most part, especially considering it’s still in the early stages of implementation, but there were some jerky shifts and occasional confusion from the gearbox when navigating traffic. There is a “Sport” mode, which holds gears longer for slightly better power delivery, as well as paddle shifters if you have the desire to change gears yourself.
Speaking of sportiness, the Land Rover Discovery Sport definitely has athletic characteristics. The ride is firm and confident, though a bit jarring in the city. Out on the highway, it’s a completely different story and the Discovery is just about perfect – tons of smoothness with very little fuss. Being a Land Rover, the Discovery Sport is definitely off-road capable. There are three off-road programs, defined as “Normal”, “Grass/Gravel/Snow”, and “Mud/Ruts/Sand”. Each of these modes adjusts the all-wheel-drive system, transmission, and throttle for the appropriate conditions. Land Rover has also included a hill descent system. Those who want to traverse small rivers with their Discovery will be happy to know that it can handle almost 24 inches of water (!). We had the chance to put the Discovery through a closed off-road course and the results were staggering.
For those who aim for efficiency, which is an inevitable factor when considering a crossover or SUV in this segment, Land Rover has done their part to accommodate. Gone are the days when essentially everything with the Land Rover or Range Rover badge would be a thirsty fuel-guzzler. This turbocharged four-cylinder is already pretty efficient, but there’s also an “Eco” mode that alters engine mapping and softens throttle response to encourage more efficiency. We averaged 10.4L/100km through our testing, running on the recommended 91-octane premium fuel. There’s also a start/stop mode to save that last little bit of fuel when stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Along with the smoothness, one of the Discovery Sport’s bragging points is the quietness it offers. Even at highway speeds, there’s remarkably little wind and tire noise from the truck. It just hums along the road with the ever so slight hint of the engine running under the hood. Sound insulation is exceptional, and the seats are sublime for its segment, making this a thoroughly wonderful daily cruiser. It even handles sharply, with very quick steering response and minimal understeer. The problem is, most crossover or SUV buyers don’t really care about how their vehicle buys – the Discovery’s excellent characteristics are likely to go largely unnoticed.
What buyers will notice is that the interior is exactly what we have come to expect from the Land Rover brand. The controls and ergonomics are of Range Rover quality without quite the level of panache that the manufacturer’s luxury division offers. The gauges and instrumentation are all very easy to read, and within the instrument cluster is a five-inch colour display for vehicle diagnostics. The dashboard layout is very simplistic, with major controls cleanly displayed and strategically located.
The 2016 Discovery Sport starts at just $41,490, creating a compelling argument against the Mercedes GLC and Audi Q5. The next step up is the $46,490 HSE, and then this HSE Luxury, which starts at $49,990. Adding on a few options such as climate front and rear heated seats ($1250), a lovely upgraded stereo with 11-speakers ($350), and navigation ($850) brings the sticker to just under $53,000 for our pretty loaded example. A few neat touches such as the revamped JLR touchscreen infotainment system and optional 20” wheels help the Discovery Sport stay a “cool” option in an otherwise beige segment.
The Land Rover LR2 was a decent seller in Canada, but was a few years past its expiration date. The 2016 Land Rover Discovery Sport HSE Luxury we tested represents JLR’s re-entry into the small luxury crossover/SUV segment, one that has been dominated by the likes of Audi, BMW, Lexus and Acura. The Discovery Sport’s optional third row makes it an easy choice for young families, and its ability to venture off the beaten path makes it the perfect choice for outdoor excursions. For those who think ahead of the curve and appreciate the heritage behind the Land Rover brand, the new Discovery Sport is certain to be the perfect companion for years to come.