Land Rover's Discovery Sport: THR Takes a Test Drive of the New Compact SUV

Land Rover Discovery - H 2015
Courtesy of Land Rover

Land Rover Discovery - H 2015

Reese Witherspoon, Ben Affleck and Apple senior vp design Jonathan Ive are fans of the carmaker, which is launching a new model, with a base price of $38,000, to replace the slow-selling LR-2.

This story first appeared in the June 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Add the Land Rover Discovery Sport to the growing number of compact "crossover" SUVs clotting the streets of Hollywood and Beverly Hills. These downsized siblings of full-sized SUVs -- like Jaguar Land Rover's flagship Range Rover, Porsche's Cayenne and the Cadillac Escalade -- possess nimbler handling, smaller engines, less-exalted price points and, in the case of Porsche's red-hot Macan crossover, a monthslong waiting list. The segment is expected to explode further this year with the introduction of Tesla Motors' Model X electric crossover (selling for about $70,000), which has logged more than 20,000 customer preorders.

Why you'd want one: Class-leading aesthetics, one of the best all-around crossovers

L.A. practically invented the urban SUV craze in the aftermath of the 1992 riots, when navigating a jittery city in an armored personnel carrier suddenly seemed prudent. Among the first luxo SUVs to rule these streets were the paramilitary Mercedes Gelandewagen -- Arnold Schwarzenegger famously drove one -- and the hunter-green Range Rovers. Both could operate off-road in conditions that would maim lesser vehicles (the Rover's headlights were housed in steel cages) but seldom were called upon to negotiate terrain more formidable than marble-floored garages in Trousdale.

With petite crossovers supplanting full-size SUVs, a stalwart like Land Rover (Reese Witherspoon, Ben Affleck and Apple senior vp design Jonathan Ive all have driven Land Rovers) could hardly stand by while come-latelies like Porsche ran away with the market. Which is the impetus behind the Discovery Sport, the marque's second -- and largely agreeable -- toe in the water. The Discovery Sport replaces Land Rover's slow-selling LR-2 and is meant to be the lower-priced alternative to its popular Evoque crossover (which accounted for a quarter of Land Rovers sold in 2014). The Discovery's base price of $38,000 is $4,000 less than the Evoque and nearly $50,000 shy of the Range Rover; it tops out at $46,000 for the High Specification Equipment (HSE, aka fancier) Luxe trim, which includes a glass sunroof that extends the length of the car.

Witherspoon with her Land Rover.

In cost to benefit, the Discovery Sport would seem the no-brainer choice among the Rovers. For those left cold by Evoque's flat roofline and snarling fascia, the Discovery possesses the appearance of the upmarket Range Rover, with an aesthetic equal to the nearly flawless Macan, which stickers for $10,000 more.

The interior of my Discovery was dappled with creamy beige leather on seats and trim (a third row of two seats is an option), with excellent lateral support for rare moments off-road and outside the Beverly Hills-Hollywood triangle. The instruments and infotainment controls were no more baffling than the competition's, with a flush-mounted gear-shift selector that showily levitates into place when the car is started. A Driver Assist package offers a lane departure warning, a system that senses collisions and brakes if the driver doesn't and automated parallel and straight-in parking. The Discovery shares with the Evoque a 240-horsepower turbocharged four cylinder mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission that acquitted themselves nicely in city and highway driving, though the automatic engine-off/engine-on that engages when stopping for more than a few seconds was distracting. The EPA rates the Sport at a decent (for an SUV) 20 city/26 highway mpg.

Overall, the Discovery Sport delivers decent performance and an attractive price point along with one of the crossover category's best-looking designs and the bulletproof cachet of the Land Rover name. Britannia's original maker of luxe off-road machines, it would seem, still rules.