Driven. Land Rover Discovery

The lines between Land Rover and Range Rover models are more blurred than ever before, yet their appeals remain distinctively different, as c&p finds out in the all-new Discovery

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The Range Rover Sport is a truly great car. It’s stylish, powerful, capable, large and surprisingly sprightly for something so big. Alas, this region is overcrowded with owners of this car that are boldly convinced their expenditure grants them bully rights. Respecting queues, proper access to roundabouts, single slot parking at the mall or the use of indicators are, suddenly, forgotten skills in the Range Rover Sports owner’s arsenal. In conversation, someone dear to me said the following: “I prefer it to the Cayenne because you cannot force your way in one of those. People don’t respect the Cayenne, but they do the Range Rover”. I rest my case.

The Discovery has a different image though. A family person, a lover of nature, someone with a caravan or a horse, a camper, a financial district rebel surfer or a bird spotter might own one. It’s stylish, powerful, capable, large and surprisingly sprightly for something so big. Where did I hear that before? And it carries all the comforts of the Range Rover, and few of the ‘attributes’ one might assign to the owners. And is, in essence, the same car.

Well, not exactly the same car, but the same size, same front and rear wheel tracks, same wheelbase, same height, same onboard entertainment system and they share the same engines. Which is a great advantage, as the cold shoulder aura of the Range becomes an unprepossessing demeanor on the Land, offering presence and friendliness instead.

From the outside the new Discovery represents a sharp aesthetical departure from the boxy predecessor and, although extraordinarily similar in dimensions, it appears more streamlined and aggressive from the front. The headlights are now integrated and the front grille is both raised over, and split by, the front bumper in much the way they did it for the Range Rover.

The bottom skid plates are now very visible at the front and back, giving the car an aura of ruggedness that contrasts with the smooth and fluid lines of the profile. The signature, raised roof becomes a subtle bump and, oddly, even with no hanging spare wheel, the number plate is still tilted to the left, in a wink to times past.

Our First Edition comes with the supercharged 3-litre V6 engine that delivers 333bhp and 332lbs.ft of torque. It’s an engine you may remember from models such as the Range Rover or the Range Rover Sport, which combined with a diet that’s seen the Discovery shed a colossal 480kg since the previous (LR4) generation, has helped reduce its 0-to-100kph sprint time by a whole second to 7.1. The reduction in weight corresponds with a philosophical change in body construction as it is now built with an aluminium-intensive structure. In layman’s terms, this means Land Rover has included a bit more alloy this time round.

These dietary improvements are immediately felt on the road, making the Discovery a comfortable and confident ride on regular routes where its predecessor could, at times, seem like a lumbering mastodon. The steering is quick and well weighted (2.7 turns lock-to-lock) and, while no sports car, provides good feedback while taking corners. Also unlike the LR4, the throttle now serves a purpose. You can push it down a bit for a slight increase in transfer speed, or all the way for those in a hurry, and the Discovery accommodates with great poise and responsiveness.

The effectiveness of the new Discovery’s weight loss is also reflected in the fuel efficiency, with a combined consumption of 10.9l/100km and emissions of 254g/km of CO2. To put those figures into perspective, they’re similar to those of a Mini Cooper Countryman, incidentally made by a division of a company that owned Land Rover between 1994 and 2000. And they’re better than those of Ford’s Taurus, which is a much smaller and less practical vehicle.

A sports car the Discovery is not, though. Any unrequired excess on the throttle is immediately paid for at the petrol pump as, while achievable, that 10.9 fuel efficiency figure will jump into the high teens at the merest hint of a time trial. And in the end, it’s not worth it for this is a car built for comfort, not outright speed.

Our model comes with the optional air suspension and Land Rover’s ‘Body Control’ system. This means that cornering feels safe and that, once you master the transfer of mass, you can attack turns with gusto. Alas, you also need to master that body roll which, although predictable, may unsettle your passengers (I speak from experience). The eight-speed automatic gearbox is as quick as expected for a car with a very evident all-terrain focus.

If you’re used to the more American style of SUVs, which are often noise boxes of wind, rickety plastic panels and zero feedback, or the Japanese, which can be vibrating and springy on speed bumps, the Discovery compares admirably and my experience in the cabin, while running over sleeping policemen or negotiating roundabouts, is one of total control. Even on the obligatory desert section of our test, the Discovery manages to keep us cool, in silence, comfortable and clean. I’m far from being a Tuareg but, even so, I manage to not get stuck on the sand even once.

Touch the sand and start tinkering with the drivetrain’s rotary control. The temptation to do so is too high although, unless you really know what you are doing, you are probably better off just letting the myriad sensors do their jobs and decide for you. So, the car gets into slow mode, raises itself up a few millimetres and the four-wheel drive transmission sets itself to grunt.

At this point the legend of the unstoppable surfaces, the Discovery wading up and down smaller dunes without hesitation, and cantering sand carrousels with joy. As I hinted earlier, I am no Tatooine native nor have I interned with Star Wars Jawas. Thus I am not deflating tyres, mainly because I don’t know how much air I should release from them and, in any case, I don’t have a towing friend with me. There’s also the fact that the car is not mine, and it’s expensive. As such, the big dunes, steep falls and outrageous bashing will have to wait, although it feels more than capable enough and was developed to tackle this kind of terrain in its sleep.

The suspension is comprised of independent double wishbones at the front, and a multilink layout with integral link at the rear, which together provide fantastic stability in the most demanding conditions, as well as confidence when nearing the limits of adhesion either on or off road. Across the desert sands it does a great job of keeping the Discovery nice and stable, avoiding those nasty head bumps against the tops of the doors.

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