One of the 2020 Land Rover Discovery Sport's greatest assets is its beautiful body. Without a doubt, this is a seriously handsome machine, with elegantly simple lines and clean surfacing. It's nearly as pretty as the breathtaking Range Rover Velar. Designers managed to carry that tastefulness into the interior as well, which is similarly chic. Inside and out, this luxury utility vehicle looks like a winner.
Too bad it falls short just about everywhere else.
Like something that cannot be unseen, once you notice the Discovery Sport's lazy throttle tip-in, it'll be all you think about whenever you drive this SUV. This vehicle is infuriatingly soft off the line, with accelerator-pedal progression that's completely nonlinear. From zero input to about 50% throttle, the Discovery responds the same way, with all the enthusiasm of Eeyore. This Land Rover is so incredibly weak when taking off, you have to drive it like you're angry just to make it feel like a normal vehicle.
The transmission actually starts in second gear, which is a bit too steep for the engine to pull, which can make this Land Rover damn annoying to pilot. Cycling through the standard Terrain Response 2 system's various off-road modes does little to correct the issue, though clicking the electronic shifter into "S" mode does help, but then the transmission holds on to lower gears when you're cruising, which hurts efficiency.
Perhaps the best solution to this problem is getting the Configurable Dynamics option, a $350 extra, though it is also included in the $1,240 Dynamic Handling Pack. This allows you to fine tune the vehicle's behavior, tweak things like steering weight, transmission tuning, and yes, throttle response.
Notwithstanding troublesome drivability, the Discovery Sport features a lovely 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. In most models, that four-pot unit cranks out 246 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. Those figures imbue this luxury SUV with generous if not outstanding performance. As equipped, that's enough pork and beans to get my seven-seat tester to 60 mph in around 7.3 seconds.
Turning up the wick on that 2.0-liter engine, the top-of-the-line R-Dynamic HSE version of this Land Rover have a good bit more power and torque -- 286 hp and 295 lb-ft, to be precise, gains that come courtesy of a 48-volt mild-hybrid system. Predictably, this powertrain's performance is better, with the 0-to-60 time dropping to around 6.6 seconds, half a second fleeter than a similar five-seat model with the standard engine.
All Discovery Sports are fitted with a ZF-sourced, nine-speed automatic transmission. Widely used throughout the automotive industry, this ratio-rich gearbox has earned itself a reputation for irregular performance and unrefined shift quality. After years on the market, it seems Land Rover engineers have managed to civilize this transmission. No, it ain't perfect, but it's generally smooth and gear changes are, for the most part, well timed.
Like other Land Rover models, including the top-shelf Range Rover, four-wheel drive is standard equipment on the Discovery Sport, so is hill-descent control, and All Terrain Progress Control, which maintains a set speed while off-roading. As for capability, this utility vehicle can wade through a maximum of 23.6 inches of water and tow up to 4,409 pounds, just not at the same time.
When it comes to consumption, the base engine returns 19 miles per gallon city and 24 on the highway. Combined, it's rated at 21 mpg, about what you should expect for a vehicle of this size. Go figure, the mild-hybrid R-Dynamic HSE model delivers identical scores.
Bolstering around-town efficiency is an engine stop-start system. While reasonably smooth, it is quite slow. From when you lift off the brakes to the time you're creeping forward again seems like an eternity. Other automakers' stop-start systems are far more responsive, with combustion resuming often before your foot is completely off the pedal.
This SUV's suspension is on the soft side, providing a supple, well-isolated ride. Consequently, it also serves up a bit of squat and dive. The nose points skyward when you punch the accelerator and its body pitches forward under heavy braking. While noticeable, these motions are not severe.
The Discovery Sport's cabin is elegant and highly functional. Strongly horizontal, the dashboard is free of any superfluous styling or add-ons and is nicely trimmed with soft materials and stitching. The overall look is timeless and elegant, even if this tester is a bit austere dressed in black. Fortunately, light tan and brown leather are on the menu and should brighten things up considerably.
Mounted right smack between the driver and front passenger is a 10-inch, landscape-oriented screen, which is where Land Rover's standard InControl Touch Pro infotainment system resides. This multimedia arrangement looks great and is highly reconfigurable, but its user interface is elaborate, and it could be a bit more responsive. Fortunately, both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supported, plus there's in-vehicle Wi-Fi.
Practicality is a major reason people purchase SUVs. They want vehicles with enough room for weekend trips to the garden center and for hauling a load of kiddies around. In this area, the Discovery Sport is unexpectedly versatile. Its second-row seat is seriously spacious, with plenty of room and firm cushions for all-day support.
Predictably, the aft-most bench is a kids-only zone. Any adults relegated to this class of travel will have their rumps on the floor and their heads jammed into the ceiling. Fold those back seats down, and the Discovery Sport transforms into a leather-lined shipping container, providing a maximum of nearly 56 cubic feet of hauling capacity.
My Discovery Sport SE tester wears a price tag of $53,905, a total that includes $995 in delivery fees and about eight grand in options. That figure isn't totally unreasonable since this SUV is from a luxury brand and cars are expensive. The average new-vehicle transaction price in the US these days is estimated by Kelley Blue Book to be nearly $38,000. The problem is not what you're getting for that outlay of cash, rather, it's what's not included.
Discovery Sport SE models come standard with self-leveling LED headlamps, but headlight washers cost $200 extra. Want fog lights? Plan on spending an additional $170. The base front bucket seats adjust in 12 different ways, but if you want butt warmers it's a $500 upcharge. Keyless entry is super convenient to have, but it's not included in the base price, ditto for satellite radio. For those two items, Land Rover wants $550 and $500, respectively. Cruise control with a speed limiter is standard, but adaptive cruise control is bundled with high-speed emergency braking in the $1,200 Drive Package, though you can also get it with steering assist and a range of other highly desirable features in the $3,100 Driver Assist Package. I could go on, but you get the point. The Discovery Sport doesn't come with much standard equipment. Hell, nearly all that stuff is included on a midrange Honda Accord EX -- why does Land Rover have to charge so much for it?
So, what equipment does this Discovery Sport actually have? Well, it's got heated, auto-dimming and power-folding side-view mirrors. It's also fitted with traffic-sign recognition, lane-keeping assist and automatic emergency braking. Other options include comely Byron Blue paint, a $610 extra and a $1,280 fixed panoramic glass roof. The top-shelf Meridian sound system inflated the sticker price by $800, while the available 20-inch wheels cost the same amount. Land Rover offers a third-row seat for $1,200, which increases passenger-hauling capability to seven. A few more inconsequential options round this vehicle out.
Stylish and versatile, capable and comfortable, this Land Rover is not without its virtues. However, I can't recommend it. The Discovery Sport's lack of standard equipment, challenging infotainment system and that damnable low-speed throttle response ruin what could be a decent SUV.
Almost universally, automakers build incredible vehicles these days. You have to go out of your way to buy a bad car. And while I will stop short of calling the Discovery Sport bad, it does feel like a rare miss.