Even small Land Rovers stand regally above rocks and rivers like English aristocrats on a sunny Sunday outing.
Rovers such as the 2020 Discovery Sport can traverse or grind through just about any obstacle while cosseting passengers in leather and wood – sort of.
The compact Disco Sport flashes all the traditional Land Rover looks and cachet guaranteed to improve your image in the pick-up lane at Junior’s school – when Junior actually goes back to school.
And it should be plenty capable if you get a sudden urge to visit Moab, Utah.
But if you’re accustomed to larger full-size SUVS propelled by big, silky V-8s, you may need to dial back your expectations a notch or two with the four-cylinder Discovery Sport.
Just don’t tell your neighbors.
The bluish-gray Disco Sport I had recently, for example, had one of Rover’s traditional nice-sized grilles angled back slightly and flanked by big headlamps.
A broad hood with a slightly raised center suggested that something powerful might be lurking beneath it – which isn’t exactly true, but, hey, it’s effective imaging.
Meanwhile, a deep character line cut through the Disco Sport’s basically flat sides up high, contrasting nicely with subtle flares over its wheel-wells.
Taut and slightly square overall, the all-wheel-drive Rover rolled on good-looking 20-inch wheels wrapped with 235/50 tires, and was capped by a thoroughly English-looking black top.
But I struggled to find much heat beneath that attractive skin.
Powered by a 2-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder with 246 horsepower – a competitive amount of power – the Disco Sport felt sluggish and soft, characteristics I don’t typically associate with Land Rover or its Range Rover models.
Although supported reasonably well by a nine-speed automatic, the engine suffered from turbo lag and a laggardly accelerator pedal.
At slow or moderate speeds, any prod of the throttle was typically met with a brief pause followed by a gradual increase in revs and power.
Once the engine got spooled up, it did fine, revving lustily to 6,000 rpm. But its modest 0-to-60 mph time of 7.5 seconds, according to Car and Driver, underscores its less-than-lusty performance.
In addition, the compact Disco Sport manages only 21 miles per gallon in overall fuel economy.
I think the main culprit in both cases is weight. With 4,700 pounds to lug, the Land Rover is significantly slower than the lighter BMW X3 or Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 crossovers, which sport roughly the same amount of power.
It’s disappointing because the rest of the Disco’s mechanical pieces perform pretty well.
A well-conceived Rover suspension, for example, gives the Disco commendable handling and a sophisticated ride, particularly at speed.
In town, the Land Rover could get fidgety over bad urban concrete, but it stretched and smoothed out at speed.
Moreover, its well-weighted steering and decent stability in corners made it feel almost agile.
Of course, the body of the tallish Disco Sport leaned a little in corners and curves, but remained composed and stable – other Rover characteristics.
Likewise, the black interior in my $54,000 Disco Sport generally resembled those in larger, more expensive Land and Range Rover models, only with more plastic.
A flat upper dashboard in fine-grain plastic, for instance, dropped onto a thick, protruding mid-dash like other Rovers.
It was anchored by a 10-inch touchscreen that offered Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while a panel beneath it provided knobs for controlling the climate system.
The vehicle’s safety features included blind-spot assist, lane-keep assist, active cruise control and traffic-sign recognition.
As with some other luxury vehicles, the Disco Sport had an electric shifter sprouting from its broad console that could be finicky, refusing to engage “drive” unless a button on the shifter was depressed -- and I often forgot that irritating requirement.
Blame it on age, I guess.
It gave me a little extra time to admire the stylized, square door-tops on the Rover that featured recessed centers with sleek silver bands for door-pulls.
The vehicle’s leather seats also were fairly impressive with relatively smooth bolsters and perforated centers, and offered good leg- and head-room in the second row of seats.
That’s right – second row. Oddly, the compact Disco Sport was equipped with a tiny third-row seat good for only a couple of kids or a jowly English basset hound.
Why a third-row seat in a compact SUV? Beats me, especially when it cuts into cargo space. But it’s there if you ever need it.
A dozen or so options pushed the price on my Disco Sport well into near-luxury territory and included the Technology Pack, $1,110; the Hot Climate Pack with two-zone climate control, $1,280; the third-row seats, $1,200; and the stylish 20-inch wheels, $800.
The high cost of cachet, I suppose.
If your SUV needs include occasional off-roading, the Disco Sport probably makes some sense. If not, you will at least look darn good in it.
2020 Land Rover Discovery Sport
- What I liked most: The Discovery Sport’s lean good looks and typical Land Rover/Range Rover mix of off-road capability and civilized on-road manners.
- What I would change: The engine, which lacks the power and refinement that the rest of the Disco Sport demands.
- MSRP: Base price for Sport SE model, $44,600; as equipped, $53,905.
- Official color: Byron Blue.
- Fuel economy: 19 miles per gallon in the city, 24 on the highway and 21 mpg combined with filler on the right.
- Odometer reading when tested: 3,054 miles.
- Spare tire: Full-size.
- Weight: 4,658 pounds.
- Length-width-height: 181 inches long/75 inches wide/68 inches tall.
- Fuel-tank capacity: 17.7 gallons.
- Towing capacity: 1,653 pounds.
- 2020 Land Rover Discovery Sport in a few words: A handsome high-end compact SUV that falls short in the engine compartment.
- Warranty: Four-year, 50,000-mile overall warranty.
- Final assembly location: Halewood, England
- Manufacturer’s website: Land Rover
- E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Up next: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250