2016 Land Rover Discovery Sport first drive review

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At last, U.S. Land Rover dealerships are slated to get exactly what they’ve been missing.

No, we’re not talking about a revival of the iconic Defender...at least not quite yet. We’re pointing to the 2016 Land Rover Discovery Sport, a compact crossover that works exceedingly well for daily all-weather family use but offers enough off-road ability to bear the green-oval badge.

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Based on an early drive opportunity we got this past week in Iceland, over some challenging, appropriately wintery road (and off-road) conditions, we can see how the Discovery Sport will be exactly that—and Land Rover’s best-selling model in the U.S.

To start, it’s more than a rebooted LR2. The Discovery Sport, as Land Rover officials put it, represents a new focus toward versatility and practicality, and as we see it the model finally really takes aim directly at the Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Volvo XC60—all models that the LR2 seemed to have trouble matching up against before the pavement ended.

As it is, we think that there’s a lot of appeal penned into the Discovery Sport from first glance, as it throws out the more lanky, slab-sided look of the previous LR2 and mixes, in ideal proportion, the softness of the current Range Rover with some of what makes the Evoque so appealing—namely, its stance, and how the big 20-inch wheels fill out the wheel wells. Beyond the more rakish profile, mashed up with a high roofline and rounded corners, it’s the thin strips of honeycombed grille, clamshell hood, integral skid plates, and the keyed headlights, adding to a look that hits closer to the mainstream yet is uniquely Land Rover, and Range Rover.

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What's under the hood feels just right for the purpose

Over a long day and about 200 miles we managed to get a thorough impression of the powertrain, which feels about perfect for the Discovery Sport’s mission. Its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes 240 horsepower, and it remains essentially the same unit that Ford makes as part of the EcoBoost family, only built with Land Rover tooling and to its own specification. As such, it's less gruff than we remember in other products, and perhaps even better isolated than in the Jaguar XF.

The engine reaches its peak 251 pound-feet of torque at just 1,750 rpm, which combined with a nice linear throttle feel makes it easy to precisely control, whether off-road or in parking situations. Yet if you really step on it, it feels perhaps stronger than its 7.8-second 0-60 mph time might suggest

There’s a bit of a flat spot as you approach 2,500 rpm, but it seems to really hit its stride with strong power delivery from in the 3,000 to 4,000-rpm range—right where it’s needed for confident moderate acceleration without the cabin getting too noisy or the powertrain feeling too strained. It’s a delightful overachiever in the middle of the rev band.

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