Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way right now, then we can crack on and talk about how this car drives. The looks. They were contentious when this car was unveiled in Paris last autumn, and they’re just as talked about now. Gone is the boxy, utilitarian outline. Gone is the square-on clamshell bonnet, and gone is the split tailgate.
FEB 21st 2017
Review: Land Rover Discovery
Instead, the front has the familiar Land Rover family styling – sleek, curvaceous, more “lifestyle”, perhaps. The corners are rounded, the stepped roof is pared down, and the tailgate is one piece of metal. Eek. One can see the values of the outgoing Disco rising dramatically as everyone who loves the rugged old look clings on to their cars.
But Gerry McGovern, Design Director at Land Rover, has been in the job a long time and is firm in his aspirations to glamourise the range. His approach has certainly not put off customers, despite the criticism from motoring journalists, and it’s not quite as extreme as it might first appear. Take, for example, the disappearance of the split tailgate. The one-piece operation means a bigger aperture for loading stuff – i.e., it’s MORE practical than the outgoing model, and there’s still a flap inside that flops down for the Hunter brigade to sit on at point-to-points to lever off their wellies.
Plus, the luxury, lifestyle design on the outside continues inside, and here it pays big dividends, especially in the Discovery. Who would honestly prefer the inside of the outgoing model, with its tired plastics and dull black leathers? The new model is a smart tribute to Amy Frascella, materials boss, who has done some very clever things with colours, and materials that look like leather but aren’t, and open-grain woods. There are subtle shades of monochromes, patterned textiles, tightly stitched dashboards and the edge of leather turn up to create piping on the seats. The three rows of seats can be folded electronically from the front or via an app on your phone while you’re still loading your shopping trolley in the shop, and there’s a hidden cubby hole behind the climate zone in the dash. It’s a lovely, lovely place to sit and for the first time, made me wonder why I’d buy a Range Rover.
And how does it drive, now it’s gone all big girl's blouse on the outside? Big sigh of relief. The Discovery is still the best off-roader you can buy. Of course, 99.9 per cent of owners will never test their Disco’s off-roading capability, but none the less they want the reassurance that, should they find themselves on a rock face or in a sand dune, their car can get them out of it.
We drove the new Disco in the Grand Escalanate-Staircase National Monument in Utah. This is 1.9m square miles of the Mojave Desert, Colorado river, snow-covered ponderosa pine forests, river beds, rocky escarpments, pink sand dunes and 350 miles of Tarmac roads in two days. It was as phenomenally competent as ever.
The new Discovery comes with three engine choices: the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, 236bhp/368lb ft Ingenium turbodiesel from the group, the old 3.0-litre, 254bhp/443lb ft V6 turbodiesel or 3.0-litre, 335bhp/332lb ft V6 petrol. The ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox remains, with a two-speed transfer box for low-ratio crawling.
On the road, the first point of difference you notice over its predecessor is the Disco’s lack of NVH (noise, vibration, harshness). It’s oh so smooth and quiet, a real mile-eater. The second point to note is that the V6 diesel is the pick of the bunch. The 2.0-litre is just about OK, but probably not when all seven seats are occupied in this 2.3-tonne car. And the standard air-sprung suspension on all four wheels is just a joy, as well as lowering and raising the car for off-roading beyond its 283mm of ground clearance (it has 900mm of fording capability and half a metre of wheel travel).
Off-road, this car reigns supreme. Land Rover did not shy away from a truly horrific course in Utah that really took this model to the edge of what it can do. We started off gently enough, with sandy tracks and silted riverbeds. Leaving the Terrain Response 2 system in auto was fine – the car decided how much torque to apply, or when to brake each wheel. But then we hit the rocky, slippery bank of the river. With this car in rock-crawl mode, we activated All-Terrain Progress Control, which allow you to limit the car’s forward or reverse speed to 1mph, while it gently applies enough torque to get each wheel up the gradient. It’s truly terrifying. But it didn’t falter.
The Discovery, then, is still the most competent off-roader you can buy, and one of the best-appointed SUVs on the road. It’s as simple as that.
Price as tested: £64,195 (from £43,495)
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