It’s truly hard to believe that this ZF nine-speed automatic transmission is the same unit that’s used in Chrysler vehicles, like the Jeep Cherokee. There’s absolutely no ‘hang’ between gears, upshifts are smooth, and downshifts arrive as ordered with your right foot. There are steering-wheel paddle-shifters, but you really don’t need them.
Land Rover’s tuned it to start in second gear on gentle takeoffs, and apparently software and controls make all the difference. It should pay off big in fuel efficiency, as when cruising it lets the engine lope along at under 1,500 rpm in some cases. EPA figures land at 21/28 mpg, which is pretty great for a three-row model.
Builds on the Evoque, but definitely more comfortable
The Discovery Sport shares its chassis and some lower body components with the Evoque. What’s under the hood is also nearly the same. Yet compared to the Evoque there are some pronounced differences.
One of those is ride quality. The Discovery Sport rides with a sophistication that’s lacking in the Evoque, and with no apparent compromise in handling—at least from what we felt from that drive on studded tires, with limited traction and grip.
On that subject—interior noise, especially—our first-drive experience with the Discovery Sport gets a little less conclusive. It was entirely on studded tires, and entirely on wet and/or icy roads, so we can’t comment authoritatively on road noise here; but anecdotally it seems on par or better than other vehicles in this class—with wind noise especially well muted. An acoustic windshield, the rear suspension redesign, and special hydraulic bump stops in the front suspension all add to what we perceived as a quiet, refined ride.
What we can say is that the Discovery Sport has great steering, from a variable-ratio electric-boost system that unwinds predictably and has a good on-center feel, even if it is lacking any sense of the state of grip of the tires (which we were sliding around on all day). Even on wet pavement, the Disco Sport showed secure roadholding, and from a combintion of improved aerodynamics and the electric steering system, it felt unfazed by some strong, blustery crosswinds at times.
Getting it to all four wheels, with finesse
Iceland’s icy, tracherous backroads and snow-and-slush-covered trails traversing lava fields and dodging rock formations were, however, the perfect venue for showing off the Discovery Sport’s four-wheel-drive hardware and stability systems.
In the Sport, familiar Terrain Response controls are grafted on to a drivetrain that includes the familiar Haldex 5 center differential system, allowing a smooth, infinitely variable delivery of torque between the front and rear wheels. Through four modes--default, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud and Ruts, and Sand--drivers can vary wheelspin allowance, throttle quickness, and stability control intervention to suit driving off pavement. Working in concert are Hill Descent Control, stability, and traction control.
On those slick surfaces, the system performed perfectly, sending power wherever it could be used best, and allowing us to climb some slick slopes that would have many SUVs sliding sideways.