Legend has it that the ancient Vikings attempted to mislead potential invaders by naming an inhospitable spit of Arctic turf Greenland. Discovering its frozen wastes, the logic seemingly went, they’d steer clear of the even more dismally named Iceland. Visitors to the capital city of Reykjavik unfailingly find the humor in this tale – until the polar winds descend, as they did earlier this month, howling in windswept gusts approaching 100 miles an hour.
But it was precisely the sort of weather we had come looking for as we clambered into the new 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport, steering our way along the frozen coast and then heading into the interior of a volcanic island used as the backdrop for some of the most desolate winter scenes from the popular TV series, Game of Thrones.
The Disco Sport, as it is commonly called, is the latest in a series of new products to emerge from the British maker’s design and engineering studios in recent years. With the top-line Range Rover family essentially complete, Land Rover is working on the second leg of its three-segment stool, the Sport being the first of several Discovery models to come.
Teased with a concept version at last spring’s New York Auto Show, we got a closer look at the production version at the Paris Motor Show in September. “The launch of Discovery Sport is a pivotal moment in the 66-year history of Land Rover,” proclaimed Phil Popham, the marketing director of the Jaguar Land Rover Group. That was only a bit of hyperbole, as the Sport model is hoped to become the maker’s best-seller, surging past even the wildly popular Range Rover Evoq.
Targeting the likes of the BMW X3 and Audi Q5, the Sport maintains some of the basic styling cues of the older Discovery line, including the tall roof, with a subtle rear bubble that permits theater-style interior seating with plenty of headroom – and up to 60 cubic feet of cargo space. The overall look is more contemporary, a little more aerodynamic, with more modern headlamps and wheels pushed to the corners. One classic holdover: the clamshell-style hood.
The Sport shares the basic Evoque platform – although it only makes marginal use of the aluminum that was chosen for the smallest Range Rover model’s body. For the Disco, the lightweight metal has been limited to the hood, fenders and hatch.
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The new Disco is about six inches longer than the Evoq – the wheelbase stretched 3.25 inches — permitting its optional three-row, 5+2 seating package. It also offers ground clearance of a full 8.3 inches, as well as 24 inches of wading depth – which allowed us to ford a fast-moving stream that, at mid-crossing, rose to within inches of our windows.
Like other recent Land Rover/Range Rover models, the 2015 Discovery Sport adopts the maker’s highly useful Terrain Response System. With the touch of one of the four buttons on the lower center console, you can switch between General, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud and Ruts, and Sand. Each option automatically adjusts an array of vehicle functions, including suspension, throttle, brakes and transmission, to increase your grip and handling.
Beyond the well-maintained roads near Reykjavik, we spent most of our time in Snow mode, our traction enhanced by special studded Michelin tires. Considering the recent storm had layered most of the back country roads with a thick coat of ice, they proved an essential addition.
Under that clamshell “bonnet,” the Sport initially will be offered by the same 2.0-liter turbo four currently offered in the Evoque. It turns out 240 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque, enough to get you to 60 in a reasonably quick 7.8 seconds, while still delivering 21 mpg in the City and 28 on the Highway. The Combined rating is 23 mpg. For those U.S. buyers who went better mileage and more stump-pulling torque, Land Rover will add a new diesel next year.
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As with the Evoque, the Disco Sport also gets a new 9-speed automatic gearbox that enhances fuel economy and seems to intuitively find the sweet spot for torque when called for. On the road, however, it can occasionally be a bit slow to shift, perhaps to keep it from constantly hunting for the absolute best gear.
We seldom had the chance to test the Discovery Sport’s launch capabilities. Once we got about 45 minutes outside the capital city we turned off onto a narrow track ominously marked “Impassible.” Perhaps for just about anything else on the road, but even on the slickest and steepest stretches, our Land Rover crawled forward as if it were a summer’s day. That was all the more impressive when we stepped outside to take photos, even our winter hiking boots barely able to maintain a grip.
As if glaze ice wasn’t enough to test the Discovery Sport’s mettle, our guides led us to the edge of a swift river, boulders of ice guarding its shores. With a few crunches and thumps, we splashed into the water, throwing up plumes of frigid spray before clambering back on the other side.
We can only guess at how well the 2015 Land Rover Discovery might have done with conventional tires, but our sense is that the SUV would have made it through, albeit a lot more slowly, and likely requiring a bit more work in some of the deepest snow piles and on the slickest ice patches.
That said, the reality is that few buyers will ever deal with deep snow drifts like we experienced in Iceland – or see much more than a lightly rutted mud or gravel trail leading to a summer cottage. So, wisely, Land Rover also put plenty of effort into improving the ute’s on-road manners. Ignoring, for the moment, the whine of the studded tires, the new Sport’s cabin is pleasantly quiet and comfortable, though you wouldn’t want to spend much time stuck in the third row.
The infotainment system has been upgraded, among other things integrating the new Land Rover InControl feature which you download to your smartphone to provide access to music streaming and other apps. And, like a smartphone, you can use swipes and pinches to adjust the 8-inch touchscreen LCD display.
There are, incidentally, as many as six USB outlets and an assortment of traditional power ports.
That said, the interior is probably the weakest element of the new 2015 Discovery Sport. It’s not a bad design, just a bit plain and basic, nowhere near the promising look of the Sport concept Land Rover revealed in New York last year.
You will find a number of useful features, especially on the safety front, where you can order land departure warning, and a forward collision warning system that can bring the big ute to a complete stop in the event of a possible collision at speeds up to 32 mph. There’s also a self-parking system.
Those few gripes aside, potential buyers should find the new 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport a welcome addition to the fast-growing line-up of compact premium utility vehicles. It maintains the traditional go-anywhere versatility of a Land Rover but adds great on-road manners, a useful interior, good performance and more than acceptable fuel economy.
At a starting price of $37,995 – including destination charges – we expect it will live up to the British maker’s ambitious expectations.
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