Land Rover Discovery. FIRST DRIVE

Is the brand new Discovery ‘the most capable off-road vehicle ever’ from Land Rover? We find out on the international launch drive in Utah

Engine Power Torque 0-100kph Top speed Weight Basic price
V6, Si6, 2995cc 335bhp @ 5000rpm 450Nm (332lb ft) @ 3500-5000rpm 7.1 secs 215kph 2223kg (151bhp/ton) TBC

The best Discovery to date
New looks may divide potential customers

The most capable off-road vehicle Land Rover has ever made.

The temptation to scoff was nigh unbearable when this comment started doing the rounds during the international launch drive of the new Discovery. What, more capable than the Discovery 4 it replaces? The now retired Freelander? Even – shock, gasp – the Range Rover? Surely not.

I’ll fast forward to the final obstacle on our 600km round trip through Utah, and, yes, admittedly the new Discovery had made short work of the soft desert sands, rocky outcrops and huge, unyielding swathes of mud we’d ventured through between road stints. Even against its own strong benchmark, the additional ground clearance (now 283mm), increased approach angles (34 degrees) and updated All-Terrain Response system that automatically detects the surface and configures the suspension accordingly makes the rough going considerably easier than I’d expected. Fortunately the 900mm wading depths hadn’t been put to the test…

But this? A seemingly vertical descent from the top of our final hilltop into the valley below? On road tyres? I mean, pre-planned test route off-road excursions by their very nature are expected to be within the capabilities of the vehicle being launched, sure. But nope, sorry, uh uh, ain’t ‘appening.

Somehow, there is no slip from the tyres, and no threat that the rear axle is about to break traction, the updated All-Terrain Progress Control maintaining a very, VERY ginger crawl speed, meaning all I have to do is place the front wheels carefully. Nothing. There’s no drama. No sudden jolts that spell imminent doom, and the only unnerving sound is my erratic heartbeat. When we reach the bottom, the Discovery has barely broken sweat, and I remember those words: most capable ever. 

What about the new design and cabin?

Well, when I say ‘new’, I do mean ‘new-new’, as that modern redesign no doubt suggests. The boxy styling long-since revered on the Discovery 4 is now long gone, and while this may outrage traditionalists – particularly the loss of the split tailgate in favour of a one-piece hatch – there’s no denying the more rounded and modern look is a superb one. Okay, I’ll admit the rear doesn’t boast the same squat aggression as the front end, and the tapering of the roofline is not quite as elegant as it could be, but this is purely a practical matter: taper the roofline any further and you lose the ‘step’ above the third row, and thus, the added headroom this provides. Speaking of which….

Much like the Discovery Sport before it – the first member of Land Rover’s brand new ‘Discovery’ family – the Discovery 5 is a bone a fide seven-seater. And no, stow those cynical stares, we don’t mean 5+2 seating. Indeed, Land Rover has gone to great lengths to make the new Discovery as ‘cleverly packaged’ as possible. The stepped roof and surprisingly ample legroom – part of the ‘stadium seating’ configuration where each row is higher than the one in front – have been designed specifically for ‘95th percentile adults’ i.e. those above six-feet tall. With a wheelbase 38mm longer than its predecessor and measuring 141mm longer in total, the cabin is also more spacious, despite being shorter than the outgoing Discovery 4. Chances are though, practical as the rear is, passengers will prefer to sit up front, finely-stitched Windsor leather upholstery and delicate veneer trim making the Discovery’s cabin as close to Range Rover refinement as you can get without the additional $20K outlay. Nit-pick and you could argue that a few less tangibly appealing surfaces around the door pockets mean the Range Rover is still the benchmark.

Structurally, what has changed? And how’s that affected the handling?

Don’t be fooled, for Land Rover has done much more than simply dust around the ornaments with the Discovery. The suspension has been given a thorough overhaul to ensure stiffer damping. Underneath, the ladder chassis has been binned in place of Jaguar land Rover’s aluminium architecture, which both improves structural rigidity and has shaved a massive 480kg off the kerb weight. Granted, at 2223kg, the Discovery is still no welterweight, but it widens the gap between Discos 4 and 5 considerably, particularly when it comes to handling.

The electronic power steering offers reasonable if not bags of feedback – there’s a little disconnect on straight ahead – but remains impressively weighted, nevertheless. The outgoing Discovery, given its height and girth, was also considerably more cumbersome through the corners than its replacement. You’re never going to fully hide that two-ton girth of course, but there’s significantly less body roll through the corners than a vehicle of this size should offer. Throw the front end into the turn – just go with me here – and you can feel the air suspension hunker slightly, ever so slightly, the road-going tyres, having already shown their prowess on the slopes, offering massive amounts of grip. I’m impressed that even, at 21in, the size of the wheels hasn’t unduly affected the ride comfort: again, we’re not quite up to Range Rover standards of refinement, but it’s still glorious, 300km and two days practically floating by.

Tell us a bit about the drivetrain…

All of which leads us to the engine, the 3-litre supercharged ‘Ingenium’ V6. It’s your only petrol option, so it’s a relief that it’s also a belter. Granted, acceleration isn’t quite as sharp as the engine has proven over at sister Jaguar, but a wide torque bank that starts to build from deep within the bowels of the rev range mean pick-up is smooth, and rarely laboured. Get the Discovery up on its toes through the corners and you’ll find yourself working the eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox a little harder than expected, but at a cruise, both the V6 and its 335bhp bring their respective a-games, power proving punchy and readily available when needed (even the gear changes feel seamless). Refinement continues with the engine note, the mechanical V6 hum proving less vocal than it is in the Discovery Sport. Again, we’re not quite to Range Rover levels, but it’s closer than it should be. At a cruise, the new Discovery is peerless.

So, what’s the overall verdict?

There’s little ambiguity then in my overall verdict on the new Discovery, because, quite simply, it’s incredible. Yes, there are niggles that may rankle one or two: the looks, though beautiful, might turn traditionalists away, a supercharged V6 is your only petrol engine of choice, and there’s an ever-so slight vagueness to the steering. But these are hardly deal-breakers, given that 20,000 pre-orders have already been taken before the Discovery arrives in showrooms later in the year. Simply put, the refinement borders that of Range Rover – high praise indeed – the agility of this two-ton brute through the corners may astound you, and you’re unlikely to find a better thought out and civilised cabin design in this segment. Oh, and should you grow bored on the black stuff and care to venture off-road, the Discovery has an answer for that too. You can’t really get more capable than that.

  • Technical specifications available on page 2

Enjoy our Land Rover Discovery test drive?

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