When it's not covered in ice, Kaldidalur Road is a gravel track that winds between two glaciers in Iceland's Thingvellir National Park. During winter, most who travel this eerie whiteout expanse do so from the backseat of a knobby-tired Super Jeep on a tourist excursion from Reykjavík. I'm driving it in something a bit tamer: Land Rover's new Discovery Sport, a crossover destined for the Garage Mahals of the American burbs. The Sport is Land Rover's entry-level model and will inevitably be disparaged as a "cute-ute" or "soft-roader," but out here in the Icelandic highlands, where the Sport picks apart the terrain like a mountain runner in crampons, those put-downs seem like a joke.
If the Discovery Sport looks familiar, there's a reason: It shares a platform with the Range Rover Evoque, which has been buttering the company's bread since 2011. But while that urbane five-seater hews toward luxury and looks, the Discovery Sport's pitch is capability. Both share a two-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine and a nine-speed automatic that calls up smooth passing power. The mechanical differences are mostly in the rear end, where the Discovery Sport has a suspension intended for tougher stuff. Its multilink rear axle allows more than 13 inches of up-and-down wheel movement (more than Ford's Baja-ready Raptor) to crawl over uneven slickrock, navigate rutted access roads, or bound over a parking median to beat stadium traffic.
The Disco Sport's unflappable character comes from a high-tech terrain-response system, which adjusts throttle response, stability control, and other factors, and doles out torque to whichever wheels will keep it stable given the conditions. The more you use the terrain-response system, the more you come to trust it: During sketchy sections you feel well within the car's mechanical limits and look down to find yourself shocked by the speedometer.
Although it starts at roughly half the price of the brand's rough-luxe leader, the Range Rover, the Sport still has more off-road potential than most of its buyers will ever use. Land Rover claims it can plow through up to two feet of water without damage, twice the Mercedes GLK's rating.
Land Rover shares R&D costs with Jaguar, and the Sport is the start of a tech push for the company. An eight-inch nav touchscreen can bread-crumb your path when you go off-road; you can opt for cameras that read speed limit signs and collision-detecting braking. And despite all that rugged posturing, the Sport is loaded with features any mall transport could aspire to. The rear seats flip down to make nearly 60 feet of cubic storage, and unlike with any of its competitors, you can opt for a third row with two pop-up seats. Each of the six passengers gets an air vent and his or her own charging port, ensuring powered iPads and Candy Crushing for all — for those times when there aren't any glaciers to look at.
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