There's something pretty magical about finding yourself, just one hour off a plane, two hours' sleep stored in your body, behind the wheel of an SUV with studded tires, driving blindly into a white wasteland where you can't even discern the divide between sky and land. The SUV is the Discovery Sport, the land is Iceland, and I'm me.
(Full Disclosure: Land Rover was so eager to have me drive their new small SUV — or maybe it's CUV, or crossover, I don't really even know anymore — that they flew my ass all the way out to Iceland, where we drove all over the icy nothingness. They also took us ATVing and let us soak, like bloated marshmallows, in the Blue Lagoon geothermal pools.)
The Discovery name has been gone from the US since Land Rover started calling the big, boxy SUV the LR3 way back when. The Discovery Sport brings back the fine old Disco name, but it's not related to the old Discovery, otherwise. The Discovery Sport is actually based on the Evoque platform, though significantly extended and with an entirely new rear suspension.
The Discovery Sport is intended to be Land Rover's entry-level model, and, starting at about $38,000, it should be in a good position to do so. The one I was driving probably comes in at about $46,000 or so, and realistically I suspect that's around where most of these will end up. Still, that puts it right within a very competitive segment that includes the Audi Q5, BMW X3, and even the Lincoln MKC.
So what's this thing like, anyway? I got a pretty good feel for the car in conditions that are very, very likely to be far more punishing and harsh than what almost all of the Disco Sports sold will ever experience, and the Land Rover bore it all with grace and style. Of course, I suspect a good deal of the Discovery Sport's ability on the rough terrain had to do with the studded tires, but even with that in mind the ease with which it tackled the terrain was impressive.
The route we took the Discovery Sport on started in downtown Reykjavik, and continued out into an area that looked to be an ideal environment for Tauntauns, and a great place to hide a Rebel base.
Technically, there's no off-roading allowed at all in Iceland, a rule they have in place to help protect their quite fragile and frigid ecosystem. That said, their definition of "on-road" is really pretty generous, as what they call a road seems to simply be the fact that a wheeled vehicle had driven there, once. The terrain I drove in the Disco Sport was mostly unpaved tire tracks in a gleaming white miasma of ice, snow, and volcanic rock. That was the easy stuff, that had a composition sort of like a very icy chili. There were also patches of solid, glossy-slick ice that you couldn't even walk on, rocky areas that looked like Mars, and even a nice moving river to ford.
Let's get back to the car itself, here. If you're a visually-oriented mammal like myself or, say, a lynx, the first thing you'll notice about the Discovery Sport is the striking design, which Land Rover seems to have put a great deal of thought into.
Overall, I find it to be a highly graphical design, with a pretty simple, clean, two-box form that has a lot of striking surface detailing. The 'broken' C-pillar that ends just before the roofline is perhaps the most notable example of this, and is most striking when paired with the contrasting black roof and detailing.
The way the black trim areas work with the window area and contrast with body panels is the most striking part about the car, and also the biggest reason to break with Land Rover tradition and not get one in black. In black, so much of what makes the design interesting gets lost. This is a car that can work well with some more vivid colors, and I hope Land Rover actually offers some, as opposed to the somewhat tepid tones we were offered in Iceland.
Whatever team did the lighting design deserves special commendation, I think. The headlights and taillights are bold, graphic, and highly distinctive, and both share a common truncated-circular quadrant theme. They look really good, and give the car a highly distinctive face and ass.
Land Rover is using aluminum for the hood, tailgate and roof (if you don't get the optional panorama roof, which you should) for a nice bit of weight savings, and the hood also has, just below the windshield, a panel that houses the pedestrian airbag, which rapidly transforms the hood into a comfy bed.
Oddly, even after driving the car with ease through some of the worst weather and terrain conditions I've ever driven through, I think what I was most impressed with about the Discovery Sport was the interior. Specifically, the space utilization of the interior.
I'm sort of a space-utilization fetishist, and while the Disco Sport isn't the cab-over minivan of my dreams, it deals remarkably well with its interior space. Most notably, this is the smallest three-row, 7-seat vehicle you can get in the U.S. today, and that's impressive. That optional third row isn't exactly roomy, but it can certainly work in a pinch, and for kids it's just fine.
Plus, there's some nice convenience details all around, like head-level HVAC vents for every passenger and everyone gets their own 5V USB outlet. That's all actually useful stuff.
The rear seat can slide forward and back to give more or less room to legs or cargo, and there's good storage throughout the cabin. My favorable response to the interior of the Discovery Sport may partially be a reaction to my disappointment with the similarly-scaled and priced Lincoln MKC, which I found to be just wrong in almost every interior dimension.
The Discovery Sport is also comparable to the Lincoln MKC in that they share the same engine. Sort of. The Discovery Sport uses a 2L turbo four that's essentially a Land Rover-built EcoBoost. The Disco Sport's engine makes 240 HP and 250 lb-ft of torque at a pretty low 1750 RPM, and the engine felt like a pretty good match for the car.
They say it'll do 0-60 in about 7.8 seconds, which is just fine, and when I drove it on the few sections of actual tarmac we had, it didn't feel sluggish at all. The gearbox is the same 9-speed ZF unit that we've seen in cars like the new Jeep Cherokee, for example, and it seems to do a capable job here.
Gas mileage was hard to assess for our particular journey, but I'm told in practice the Disco Sport will do something around 21 city/28 highway, 23 combined. Not great, not awful, and about on par with the other vehicles in this class.
The Discovery Sport is a FWD-biased four-wheel drive car, so some purists may feel it's not really suited for 'serious' off-road use. That may be true, but your definition of "serious" would need to be pretty fucking somber. There's good ground clearance, decent approach and departure angles (25° and 31°) and it'll ford up to two feet of water. Really, I even got to try that out:
I liked driving the Discovery Sport a good deal. And while I know Land Rover's not going to send us out on a route that the car had any chance of not making it through, the 200-mile drive across Hoth was no cakewalk. This was genuinely tricky, rugged terrain, and the Discovery Sport dealt with it all with the cool aplomb of an astronaut who just got laid.
Sure, there's a bunch of computers constantly fussing with traction control and slippage and braking, but if you let them do their job then you can just point the car where you want it to go and feel the bumps and crunching of the snow and ice as you plow on through.
Land Rover has made a useful, compact, and quite attractive crossover that's capable of far, far more abuse than it will likely ever encounter from its customers. They've done some really great work on actually making the car practical, and it's not even all that expensive, comparatively.
I'm curious to try this out longer-term to see how it really is to live with, but based on this first jaunt around the dirty ice cube that is rural Iceland, I'm impressed.
- Engine: 2.0L I4 turbo
- Power: 240HP @ 5,800, 250 lb-ft @ 1,750
- Transmission: 9-Speed ZF 9HP48
- 0-60 Time: 7.8 seconds
- Top Speed: 124 MPH
- Drivetrain: AWD (FWD bias)
- Curb Weight: 4058 Pounds (7-seat); 3844 lbs (5-seat)
- Seating: 5 in two rows, up to 7 with optional third row
- MPG: 21 city/28 hwy/23 combined, they tell me
- MSRP: starts at $38,995, as tested around $46,000