When Land Rover called to schedule a pickup date our Four Seasons 2016 Land Rover Discovery Sport, it was hard to believe a year had passed since we took delivery of the little Disco. We’d eagerly anticipated its arrival, with excitement toward the possibilities for adventure the Land Rover’s off-road capability promised.
First impressions of Land Rover’s smallest offering were good. Virtually the entire staff was a fan of the sharp, contemporary exterior styling with its distinctive LED headlights and bold-yet-elegant lines. The Discovery was a perfect fit in Los Angeles traffic, and it garnered more than its share of attention on freeways, in parking lots, and at trailheads. Our creative director Darren Scott, a man who knows a thing or two about aesthetics, went so far as to scribble the following in the logbook: “Its appearance of strength infects the owner and is lusted after on the sidewalk. Styling separates this vehicle on the street from all competitors.”
The cabin impressed us less and less, a feeling echoed by guests who rode in the Disco. Inexpensive, drab looking plastics cover many surfaces, most notably the center stack, and easily identify the Discovery Sport as Land Rover’s budget model. That said, the leather seats wore well despite several off-road adventures and remained looking nearly new by the end of our yearlong term.
Another misgiving about the cabin was the infotainment display, which suffered from laggy response times, dated graphics, questionable navigation software, and occasional system crashes. AUTOMOBILE graphic designer Michael Cruz-Garcia took the car on a road trip to Arizona and noted: “It is better to use Google maps through your phone app rather than try to find your destination in the navigation.” To be fair, Land Rover optionally offers Jaguar Land Rover’s latest 10.2-inch InControl Touch Pro screen on 2017 models, with an updated processor and improved functionality.
Nevertheless, the Discovery became a go-to vehicle and rarely spent a night alone in our garage. Just a month into its stay, senior copy editor Kara Snow took it on a local camping trip. How’d it go? “With most of my fellow campers arriving on vintage motorcycles with tents strapped to rear racks, I got a few snarky comments about my first attempt at glamping,” Snow commented in the notebook. “Those jeers turned to cheers when I opened the back hatch — actually, it opened on its own with the push of a key-fob button — and revealed a fully stocked bar and a cooler full of ice. Also easily stored was a six-person tent, a queen-sized air mattress, a duvet, pillows, and a giant can of extra-strength mosquito repellent.”
Indeed, the Discovery proved to be a spacious, practical gear hauler, but over the course of several mini roadtrips, we learned more about its personality — specifically how it acquits itself on the road for long distances. Road test editor Eric Weiner loaded it up with gear and a companion for a couple days on the road between L.A. and New Mexico. “I think the car handles and steers very well, especially for being so large,” he said. “The engine is also plenty torquey, although it peters out severely at high rpms.” To the Discovery’s credit, engineers tuned the engine for low-rpm grunt, of which it has plenty. And the Discovery Sport averaged 22.1 mpg for the year — right in line with its EPA fuel-economy ratings.
The Land Rover made us feel good when we drove it, knowing that despite its flaws, we were driving one of the more interesting vehicles built today.
Still, the loudest and most frequent complaint about the Discovery stemmed from its nine-speed ZF automatic transmission. Again, this is likely to be a tuning issue; the transmission is set up to deliver solid fuel economy and is happy to pull along in ninth gear on the freeway at very low rpm, but in turn it is reluctant to downshift when called on to pass slower traffic or make quicker progress up a hill. Said Weiner: “Most shifts are smooth as long as you don’t need to do anything suddenly. This gearbox just really struggles with anything outside of calm, normal driving behavior.” Coupled with a hint of turbo lag, asking the Discovery to make split-second maneuvers was an exercise in frustration. Even Scott, one of the Disco’s biggest proponents, was compelled to jot, “I love this car. I find it difficult to say the transmission is flawed. But it bogs badly when slowing in corners and is indecisive in gear selection accelerating out, leaving long holes in the drive.”
And then there’s the issue of the Discovery’s actual off-road ability. Senior editor Chris Nelson and several other staffers brought it along as a support vehicle to a three-way SUV comparison test. When the going got rugged, our long-termer was the only vehicle in the group that ultimately had to be abandoned on a muddy trail in Utah. In fact, mud and muck tore off the Disco’s wheel-well fairings and caused it to throw an engine code, so it was towed more than 1,000 miles to a Las Vegas Land Rover dealership for repairs. It returned to our garage a week later, fully operational and miraculously clean. “I have not one, not two, but three reasons to believe the Discovery is nothing but a cushy and complacent crossover that should never go near a dirt road,” a frustrated Nelson wrote of the ordeal. That might be a bit strong, born of the incident fresh in his mind, but a Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW all made it out of the same muck the Discovery found itself in. When Land Rover bases its brand image on (and charges a premium for) rugged, off-road ability, that’s a problem.
Besides that service visit, the Discovery went in twice more to address service campaigns with the license plate lights and powertrain control module, along with a scheduled service at 13,000 miles. The service dinged our credit card $493.07 for an oil change, cabin air filter, four-wheel alignment, and general inspection. While the vehicle was in the shop for its service, we mentioned our reservations about the transmission’s lethargic behavior, but the dealer’s investigation found everything working as it should. A cover over the windshield-washer fluid reservoir was replaced at no cost, a nice gesture.
None of this is to say we had a dreadful year with the car. In fact, the Discovery racked up a lot of miles — 22,093 — a good amount for a Four Seasons vehicle, a result of the demand it drew from staffers. It was a go-to choice to shuttle friends, family, bicycles, and other gear. Moreover, the Land Rover made us feel good when we drove it, knowing that despite its flaws, we were driving one of the more interesting vehicles built today. Like a suave James Bond fumbling to get his gun out of its holster, our Discovery Sport was flawed, but oh so charismatic.
Pros & Cons
2016 Land Rover Discovery Sport HSE LUX Running Costs
4-yr/50,000-mi roadside assistance
6-yr/unlimited mileage corrosion perforation
13,000 mi: Engine oil/filter change, cabin pollen filter, inspection, $318.07
Powertrain control module software update, license plate lights
5,200 mi: Two new splash shields, rear molding trim $0
13,000 mi: Four-wheel alignment $175.00
EPA city/highway/combined: 20/26/22 mpg
Observed: 22.1 mpg
Cost Per Mile
Fuel, service: $0.16
($1.47 including depreciation)
*Estimate based on information from Intellichoice
|Our Test Results|
|0–60 mph||7.4 sec|
|60-0 mph||120 ft|
|1/4–mile||15.8 sec @ 86.7 mph|