Land Rover Discovery Sport was created for 2015 as an entry-level model, replacing the LR2, and it’s been upgraded a bit each year. Smaller than the Discovery, it’s a highly capable unit-body SUV competing against premium crossovers like the BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC.
The 2018 Discovery Sport offers a new engine with more power, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 286 horsepower. The base engine makes 237 horsepower, and is smooth and strong enough, its turbocharger using less boost. Both engines are mated to a paddle-shifting 9-speed automatic that responds sharply.
One thing the Discovery Sport has on its rivals is an available third row, so it can theoretically seat seven passengers. However, it’s not much of a third row, so Land Rover calls it a 5+2. The Discovery is better for seven passengers.
The Discovery Sport has a lot of the small Range Rover Evoque in it, although the Sport is a bit longer and wider.
Discovery Sport is 150 pounds lighter than the LR2 it replaced, thanks to an aluminum hood, roof and liftgate, as well as the use of high-strength steel in the chassis, about 20 percent of it. It’s still too heavy to be nimble, but it handles with verve and tackles off-road challenges with ease.
All-wheel drive is standard. The Haldex system moves power between the front and rear wheels, up to 100 percent at each end, and then between the left and right wheels, depending on where the traction is needed. Its Terrain Response system has normal, grass/gravel/snow, mud/ruts, and sand modes, along with a new dynamic mode.
The Discovery Sport is rated to tow up to 5500 pounds, with standard Tow Hitch Assist, Tow Assist, and Trailer Stability Assist.
Even with direct fuel injection and the 9-speed transmission, fuel mileage for the Discovery Sport is disappointing, at 22 miles per gallon EPA Combined. And it requires Premium gasoline.
Whereas the Range Rover models are oriented around luxury, the Discovery line is oriented more around utility. Discovery Sport comes with a premium level of standard equipment, but luxury features like heated seats are optional.
Available safety equipment includes lane-departure warning, parking assist with perpendicular parking, trailer-sway control, and automatic headlamps. In the top two models, the optional automatic emergency system uses cameras to detect objects and will brake to reduce the impact or stop before impact if there’s time, from a speed no more than 32 mph.
The 2018 Land Rover Discovery Sport comes in SE, HSE, and HSE Luxury models, all equipped with all-wheel drive and the 237-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged engine.
Discovery Sport SE ($37,795) includes leatherette trim, eight-way power seats, a 10-speaker audio system, an app-based infotainment system with an eight-inch screen, rearview camera, 18-inch alloy wheels. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $995 destination charge.)
Discovery Sport HSE ($42,395) ) adds 10-way power seats in upgraded leather, a fixed glass roof, xenon HID headlamps, front parking sensors, a power liftgate, and a proximity key. HSE Luxury ($46,795) has high-grade leather seats finished with a special diamond pattern, navigation, 19-inch alloy wheels, and some styling items.
The HSE and HSE Luxury are available with the more powerful 286-horsepower engine ($7000).
Options include heated seats, heated steering wheel, a power liftgate that can be opened with a swipe of a foot under the rear bumper, ambient mood lighting, and a Meridian audio system, to name some. The Entertainment Pack adds a 16-speaker audio system, navigation, and Land Rover’s new 10.2-inch infotainment system. The Intelligent Dynamics Pack includes a mode that tightens up the suspension and steering for better handling on curvy pavement. Several appearance packages are available including exclusive alloy wheels.
Land Rovers aren’t as boxy as they used to be. The Discovery Sport is distinctive in the sense that it doesn’t commit to the soft crossover look, but its sculpting is still smooth and not chiseled. Its profile is rakish, with a flair of extant Land Rover ruggedness. The wheels are big for the body, so the Sport looks planted. It’s all about the stance.
The thin strips of honeycomb grille, clamshell hood, skid plates, short overhangs, and keyed headlamps say Range Rover. The roofline pulls over the rear pillars in an athletic manner, ending at a stubby tailgate spoiler as it does. If North Face designed cars, they would look like this.
The Design Package is especially good looking, and brings the Disco Sport to life. It features special front and rear bumper designs, integrated rear tailpipes, gloss black 20-inch spoked alloy wheels, and black trim inside and out.
Graphics on the optional 10.2-inch infotainment screen are really nice, but the option requires adding a number of other features that shoot the price still higher. There’s a USB charging port for every passenger, including the tiny people squeezed into the third row.
Thanks to the high seating position and thin pillars, the forward visibility is excellent. Not so the rearward visibility when the third row is deployed. But that’s normal, and at least the Disco Sport has a standard rearview camera, for safety when backing up.
There’s good space in the first two rows, and the second row sits higher than the first, for good passenger visibility through the windshield; that’s part of the Land Rover identity. The second row also reclines, and slides on a 6.3-inch track, allowing for lots of leg room.
The optional third row is not only small, it’s thinly padded. It folds up from the cargo floor and has an even higher seating position than the second row, great for kids but it puts adults’ knees into their chins. So forget it, adults. Families needing a third row should look to the Discovery, not the Sport, but that plus-2 is there for the occasional need.
Land Rover blends road tenacity with offroad ability like no other brand. The stocky 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, making 237 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque at just 1750 rpm, is responsive and confident. The broad torque curve helps the Discovery Sport feel peppier than it actually is. It’s as comfortable on the freeway as it is rock crawling on trails.
The paddleshifting 9-speed automatic can launch in second gear for smoothness and skip gears if necessary, for example when you floor the throttle and it shifts down. It can be a little busy as it sorts through gears, but it’s mostly unobtrusive. Speaking of unobtrusive, we found the standard engine stop-start system to be relatively smooth.
The suspension is front struts and rear links, both mounted to subframes for isolation from noise and vibration. The electric power steering has a variable ratio to improve on-center response. There’s not much feedback but it’s nicely weighted. It’s confident on a curvy road and unwinds predictably.
Big disc brakes on all four wheels provide terrific finesse and a firm pedal feel at speed. The brakes stop the weight of nearly 4000 pounds just fine.
The suspension allows more travel and more control during rebound than the Evoque, not surprising because the Evoque is intended to be less of an offroad vehicle. The traction control system with its modes decides which wheel gets the power. That might not be traditional off-roading, but it works. The Discovery Sport can handle a steep rocky climb. The weak link will be the tire sidewalls.
The Discovery Sport offers approach and departure angles of 25 and 31 degrees, along with 8.3 inches of ground clearance and a wading depth of nearly 24 inches. The maximum tilt angle and gradient angle are 27 and 45 degrees. That all translates to high capability over very difficult terrain.
Through the Haldex 5 center-differential clutch pack and brake actuation at the individual wheels, the system can send torque to whichever wheel has the most traction, and up to 100 percent to either axle.
The Terrain Response system’s modes affect throttle sensitivity, transmission response, differential behavior, steering weighting, and stability systems. It works with the Haldex 5 center-differential clutch pack and brake actuation to deliver torque to the wheel that has the grip to use it. We drove the Discovery Sport on some steep trails covered by snow and ice, rugged enough to challenge the car’s angles, ground clearance, and traction systems. Besides being very capable, we found it very easy to drive off-road.
Superb powertrain, stylish looks, elegant cabin, great ride and handling, 5+2 seating, and over-achieving offroad capability, all for a reasonable entry-level price. If you can live without the stylish options, it’s a bargain, even with barely-20 fuel mileage on premium fuel.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.