- Fuel-efficient powertrain
- Roomy interior
- Comfortable, quiet ride
- Too softly styled for a Land Rover?
- Third-row seat is a tease
- Best active-safety features are optional
The 2016 Discovery Sport takes most of Land Rover’s rugged, go-anywhere ability set and makes it part of an attractive, well-designed crossover wagon that suburban families are going to be happy with every single day of the year.
At long last, Land Rover has gotten it right with the 2016 Discovery Sport, a vehicle built on a different platform entirely than its predecessor. It shares underpinnings with the Range Rover Evoque but with about 50 percent new parts and some other important upgrades that affect ride comfort and safety. At about 181 inches long, it’s sized right in the middle of what the compact crossover market has sized up to—which means it now goes up against not only the BMW X3, Audi Q5, and Volvo XC60, but also top-trim versions of the Jeep Cherokee and GMC Terrain.
The Discovery Sport is a new nameplate, replacing the LR2 in the Land Rover lineup and heading in a direction that's going to be far more appealing than its predecessor. In many respects it borrows some of the essence of the Range Rover, yet this family-friendly companion keeps the size manageable and the cost affordable—at least by luxury-brand standards.
In theory, the original Freelander was supposed to be that; but it was a bit too small. Then the LR2 made inroads, but it was lacking in ride comfort and in the latest technology features; and perhaps it was still just a little too small inside for American families.
The Discovery Sport doesn’t fully commit to either the upright-and-boxy or soft-and-carlike school of utility-vehicle design; rather, it mixes a lot of the attributes that make crossover utility vehicles so appealing, then adds just enough Land Rover ruggedness. It’s all about the stance, really. The Discovery Sport’s oversize wheels (relative to its small-midsize body) really fill out the wheel wells and give this model a planted, secure look from all angles. It’s almost like a sized-up hot hatch in proportion, from some angles. Yet the smooth body sculpting complements the look, giving it a soft detail that would fit right into urban spaces. On the other hand, there’s no indication that it’s gone all soft. You can’t ignore the short overhangs, skid plates, and rugged wheel lips. It’s clearly a vehicle that was built to get dirty as well.
Inside, the Discovery Sport is unexpectedly serious and businesslike at first glance—with the horizontal dash and vertical center stack laid in with the stiffness of a T-square. But what might seem a little too stark and simple soon shows itself to be refreshingly straightforward, and an elegant contrast to the soft, contemporary exterior. There are plenty of soft-touch surfaces where it matters, and the rotary shift controller, which rises from the center console on startup, is a nice centerpiece.
By the way, look for the larger LR4, within a couple of years, to shed its current very upright look in favor of a larger riff on this theme. It’ll take back the Discovery name, while a new take on the legendary Defender is still somewhere up in the pipeline.
The Discovery Sport owes some of its underpinnings to the steel-bodied Evoque, which itself evolved from the LR2. But it's been stretched and pulled into a longer, wider form. It wears some aluminum body panels, but not down to its core. It's still a compact SUV, but now it's one good for seating seven passengers when its rearmost fold-away seats are counted.
Compared to the previous LR2, the Discovery Sport is about 3.5 inches longer, with a wheelbase stretched by about the same amount. That allows enough extra space to fit a third-row seat—a small one, for sure yet one that should meet what some parents need. Meanwhile it’s slightly wider than the LR2, translating to a little more cabin spaciousness, and while the roof is about 1.5 inches lower overall it preserves its 8.3 inches of ground clearance.
Land Rover actually sets expectations low for the seven-seat arrangement, calling it a "5+2" configuration, and it should be just fine for the occasional extra seat needed for child-shuttling. Ahead of those, front seats are supportive and super-comfortable, with a good driving position—although you don’t look over the hood in quite the same way as in most other Land Rover vehicles. And the second row is no compromise for adults; it slides fore and aft 6.3 inches in all, with reclining seatbacks, and is nicely proportioned, although that does mean that you sacrifice a completely flat cargo floor for folding. Rest assured, there’s plenty of versatility and cargo space for gear and groceries. Land Rover also boasts that there are face-level air vents in all three rows, along with a USB charging port for every passenger—including in the third row.
Overall, the new Discovery Sport performs and handles with a verve that’s characteristic of car-based crossovers, yet those off-road chops are there when you need them. A 240-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 is smooth and strong here, and the paddle-shifted 9-speed automatic is a good companion for responsiveness, drivability, and gas mileage. The electric power steering loads up reassuringly here, while the brakes have the subtlety required for off-road combined with the reassuring pedal feel needed for higher-speed stops. And a new rear suspension design allows more wheel travel and a quieter, more absorbent (and less pitchy) ride than the LR2.
In its stock configuration, with a Haldex all-wheel-drive system that varies torque delivery between the front and rear wheels, the Discovery Sport is capable of a 0-60 mph time of 7.8 seconds, and a top speed of 124 mph.Towing capability is 5,500 pounds, and the Discovery Sport includes Tow Hitch Assist, Tow Assist, and Trailer Stability Assist. And of course the off-road ability is there; even if many owners will seldom venture beyond snowy driveways and campsite two-tracks, the Discovery Sport offers the approach and departure angles of a more serious off-roader, and its Terrain Response system has normal, grass/gravel/snow, mud/ruts, and sand modes, along with a new dynamic mode. Each one provides the best settings for the conditions, affecting throttle sensitivity, transmission response, center-differential behavior, steering weighting, and stability systems. 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.
In retiring the LR2 badge and stepping up to the Discovery Sport, Land Rover seizes the opportunity to quite extensively upgrade this model’s safety kit to meet today’s higher expectations. Most notably, the so-called Autonomous Emergency Braking system uses stereo cameras to help detect objects and will brake to reduce impact or avoid an accident completely. The Sport offers lane-departure warning systems, parking assist with perpendicular parking, trailer-sway control, and automatic headlamps.
The 2016 Land Rover Discovery Sport will be offered in three different guises: SE, HSE, and HSE Lux. The SE starts at $37,995, while prices will range up to the upper-$40,000s for a fully equipped HSE Lux. Partial leather seating is standard, along with dual-zone climate control and power features. Major options include navigation, a contrast-color roof, a panoramic roof, alloy wheels, underbody protection, side steps, a towing package, and a black-trim package.
Other new technology includes Land Rover's new InControl connectivity kit, which adapts some Apple and Android mobile apps to the Discovery Sport's operating system—a eight-inch touchscreen interface. Those apps include favorites like iHeartRadio and Parkopedia.
EPA ratings land at 20 mpg city, 26 highway, 22 combined for the Sport—not bad numbers at all considering it offers a third-row seat good enough for kids.