Land Rover has been trying to crack the small luxury SUV code for some time now. The company's most recent entries, the Freelander and LR2, didn't exactly set the world on fire. However, the new Discovery Sport may be the one that does, making it a distinctive, viable competitor of the likes of the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Porsche Macan--even though none of those have that much off-road prowess.

Land Rover is known for its backcountry capability, and the Discovery Sport continues in that tradition. Instead of having striking fashion-model looks of its Range Rover Evoque kin, the lines of the Disco Sport are fresh yet purposeful. The looks of the Land Rover are more to my liking. The interior is simple and elegant, and succeeds in that difficult balance between offering luxury and providing an interior that's easy to get mud out of.

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Ground clearance galore

While most owners won't take it off-road, the Discovery Sport has 8.3 inches of ground clearance, what has to be a segment-leading 23.6 inches of fording depth, plus a version of the excellent Terrain Response system that's also found in the Land Rover LR4. The Disco's Terrain Response layout is a set of slim buttons with icons that make it easy to choose the ideal setting for the type of terrain you're about to tackle. But even paved roads get nasty, and the Disco is built to confidently handle mud, snow and the challenges Mother Nature throws our way.

The Discovery Sport is powered by an enthusiastic 240-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. It provides plenty of power to the small SUV; its only knock is the noticeable turbo lag. The engine and 9-speed automatic transmission work well together, but the transmission doesn't have lightning-quick shifts. This isn't a cushy highway cruise-the ride is firm, a fairly normal trait for vehicles set up for off-road adventure. It isn't jittery, but reminders like potholes take some getting used to. The interior is pleasantly quiet, with controls that are more intuitive than in past Land Rovers.

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An SUV's versatility can sometimes be defined in terms of an easily configurable interior, or offering 3-row seating. The Discovery Sport offers both of these: our $49,470 HSE tester didn't come with the $1,750 third row, but is it's a tiny third row (see the Expert Review) and we weren't missing much. But in addition to interior versatility, the Discovery Sport adds another layer of capability in genuine off-road confidence that you can't find in any other vehicle in its class.

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