Discovery Zone

The new Land Rover Discovery Sport arrived at Baker Motor Co. west of the Ashley last month. One of the stops on a test drive was in Charleston above Hampton Park.

Piling up laps on a race course would seem the ideal setting for a car dubbed Sport.

But here was the new Land Rover Discovery, built to carry friends and families around cities or make time on the interstate, crawling through the outback of Reynolds Plantation in Georgia, handling 330 degree turns while fording creeks.

“That’s a track only Discovery can go on,” said Jake Miller, Sales Manager for Land Rover West Ashley, a Baker Motor Company dealership.

Not bad for a smaller luxury SUV crafted more to maneuver through traffic jams that negotiate off-road obstacles. Yet like its ancestral pedigree, the new model can handle the uneven road and even excel at taking driver and passengers through parts unknown.

The British car maker, which like its sister company Jaguar is owned by an Indian manufacturer, recently rolled out the brand-new 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport. The first models arrived at Baker Motor Company of Charleston in May. Base prices run below $38,000, while a well-stocked choice at the dealership cost about $53,000.

Based on the streamlined Land Rover Evoque brought out four years ago, the Discovery Sport can tout its off-road warrior side. “It’s more refined, not as (wilds-friendly) as the LR4,” Miller says, but the Discovery Sport is “very capable” off-road.

Still, the new Land Rover likely will be sought for features most used on the road, such as third row seating. Miller says that’s not available from BMW, Audi and Lexus among others. The Discovery Sport includes what it calls “occasional seating,” two pop up seats behind the three passenger second row. Miller says the arrangement is designed to comfortably carry an adult on a short trip.”

Similarly for Moms on the go, the Discovery Sport boasts a lift gate that automatically opens fully at the touch of a button in the front seat and in back. Buttons in the cargo hold instantly spring the two row seats up or down. The cargo “loadspace” is 62.8 cubic feet.

Meanwhile, Land Rover didn’t short the SUV on power. The Discovery Sport logs a four-cylinder turbocharged engine able to generate 240 horsepower and 250 pounds-feet of torque, the measure of twisting strength that gives the vehicle its surges of speed. The 2.0-liter engine is mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission, also found in the Evoque. Steering wheel paddle shifters that simulate manual drive are available.

In promotional materials, the company highlights further performance and safety features in the Discovery Sport, including:

Terrain Response, which factors in engine, gearbox, differentials and chassis components to make the drive and comfort top-notch. “The vehicle feels sure-footed no matter what the terrain,” Land Rover notes in its vehicle guide.

Dynamic Stability, Roll Stability and Electronic Traction controls that “actively monitor the vehicle’s behavior” to bolster safety, according to Land Rover.

Hill Descent Control to monitor speed coming down steep mountain roads, and Hill Start Assist to keep the SUV from rolling backwards when pulling away on a sharp incline.

Trailer Stability and Tow Hitch ‘assists’ help with coupling the trailer and pulling a boat, for instance. The vehicle can tow up to 4,400 pounds.

Land Rover also spotlights its “command driving position” in which the motorist has an elevated view of the road and surroundings, it said. The car maker cites optional “driver aids” such as Lane Departure Warning and Blind Spot Monitor — which also senses vehicles closing from behind and, via the center console screen, can warn if anything’s around when backing up.

“We believe this is going to be our entry level (model),” the kind of SUV for younger motorists that keeps them returning to Land Rover, sales manager Miller said.

Judging from a quick drive of the Discovery Sport with options, Land Rover can expect a fair share of interested customers.

The new SUV offers easy access and spacious seating in the front cabin and the second row, while providing ample space in the cargo bay. The back seats also can be folded or raised without effort.

From a driving standpoint, the Discovery Sport proved to be quite responsive especially for an SUV. The engine showed plenty of acceleration particularly on the interstate, handling was precise and braking quick and smooth. The digital display in front of the steering wheel offered easy to find information on mpg, tire pressure and even whether the car was close to crossing a lane line. Meanwhile, the center console offered a user-friendly touch screen layout making it simple to switch audio functions or check on the road route. The electronic lift gate was a breeze to operate.

If the Discovery Sport could use adjustments, it would be the overall visibility inside and the price gap from base to fully loaded. The vehicle’s top somewhat obscures sight lines. Making up for the tight rear view are large, well-positioned side view mirrors.

Also, the Discovery Sport comes in at an enticing price for a luxury SUV at below $40,000 but could prove steep, with options, at more than $50,000.

Looking at all factors, Land Rover has developed a very appealing follow-up to the Evoque to give the carmaker a unique edge both on the road and off.

To learn more about the 2015 Discovery Sport, visit Land Rover West Ashley located at 1511 Savannah Highway in Charleston.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.