We go on- and off-road in the latest iteration of the Land Rover Discovery (most recently known as the LR4 in North America), which has mutated into a stylish, extremely competent and thoroughly modern all-purpose luxury ute.
By Marc Lachapelle
The all-new 2017 Land Rover Discovery is both notably longer and wider, and yet almost half a tonne (480 kg) lighter than its predecessor, the LR4, which brings numerous benefits in terms of agility, safety, solidity and pure efficiency. The move from a classic, separate ladder frame construction to a unit body made up of 85% aluminium – 43% of it recycled – deserves most of the credit. Smooth and aerodynamic, the Discovery’s new shape echoes the styling of its smaller Discovery Sport sibling, launched earlier.
The new Discovery (far left) leads off the fifth generation of Land Rover’s most popular model, with more than 1.2 million units sold since the original (far right) was launched in Europe, 27 years ago. The Discovery first came to Canada in revamped and facelifted form as a 1994 model (second from the right) followed in 1998 by the redesigned Series II (shown here in blue). The third generation followed in 2004, sold as the LR3, and the fourth in 2010, graced with the moniker LR4.
Land Rover Chief Designer Andy Wheel, who led the exterior design team, explained how aerodynamics had been their first goal while sketching and sculpting this sleek new aluminium body for the fifth-generation Discovery. Reducing aerodynamic drag from a mediocre 0.40 coefficient to an excellent range of 0.33 to 0.36 (depending on the model) was an achievement in itself. Reducing wind noise and keeping dust from sticking to glass surfaces were additional priorities and our tests proved that aerodynamicists, designers and engineers had nailed these targets quite convincingly.
The new Discovery was first presented to journalists attending its global launch in a series of clear, comprehensive and sharply-produced videos presented on iPads, in addition to the usual press documents, while they were being flown from Los Angeles to Utah. There, a two-day road trip through amazing vistas, over 680 kilometers of roads, trails and dunes, awaited them.
The new Discovery’s elegant profile features discreet nods to its boxier forebears. Specifically, that slight step in its roof, just above the familiar C-pillar, angled forward. The overall shape also evokes (no pun intended) the Range Rover Sport, an upscale sibling that shares the same architecture. The Discovery is 108 mm taller and 114 mm longer, though, to better accommodate third-row passengers and offer more cargo space. It is also 141 mm longer and 43 mm wider than its LR4 forebear, on a 38-mm longer wheelbase. Yet it looks small and trim in comparison, thanks to its smooth shape.
The Discovery’s instrument panel design, fit-and-finish and materials are a vast improvement over the rather stark ambience in its predecessor, the starkly functional LR4. Rich, supple leather, subtle and tasteful wood inserts, genuine aluminium knobs, mouldings and trim elements, along with shiny black lacquer console trim, all finally give the Discovery the genuine look and feel of true luxury. Which it should have, considering an entry-level SE starts at $61,500 and an HSE Luxury with the TD6 turbodiesel and all available options currently has a suggested retail price of $100,600.
Although gloriously replete with computers and electronics systems, the new Discovery still relies on classic, black-on-white, round analog gauges to inform the driver of its velocity and engine speed. A small, configurable screen between these two provides additional info of your choice, framed by fuel and temperature gauges and topped by small, digital displays that show current speed and the speed limit, when this data is available electronically. The GPS-backed system was impressively accurate and quick in the vehicles we drove during our road trip in Utah and Arizona.
The Discovery’s front seats are fully adjustable and impeccably sculpted, providing generous overall support. They proved remarkably and unfailingly comfortable for long hours on the road, or trail, during our two-day, on- and off-road trip in and around stunning national parks, canyons and deserts in the southern part of Utah and the northern edge of Arizona. Of specific interest to Canadian drivers and passengers, the same seats can be heated or cooled and the leather-draped steering wheel heated, depending on the Cold Climate package you choose to add. And there is a massage function in there too.
The new Discovery’s design brief called for an optional third-row bench seat that could be used by full-size adults, and the development team delivered just that. This photo of a cutaway model does not quite do it justice, as demonstrated earlier by Chief Product Engineer Alex Heslop who sat back there, tight and upright, all 6 feet 4 inches of him. He thus proved the seat well-adapted to the “97.5-percentile male passenger”, a truly rare occurrence for any SUV, these days.
The secret to making the Discovery’s optional third-row seat accessible and comfortable for the very tall was to carve extra headroom out of the rearmost section of the roof, just above the seatbacks and immediately behind the giant panoramic sunroof. Head restraints, for the second- and third-row seats, are substantial, as they should be. The good news is that all five can be folded simultaneously from the touch screen in front when not in use, improving rear visibility greatly. One of many clever features in this fifth-generation Discovery.
Four-zone climate control is available with the various, optional Luxury Climate packages. You also have the choice of either a pair of USB or 12-volt charging points, both inexpensive extras, in addition to a couple of 5-volt power sources. Separate HDMI inputs are offered with an optional rear seat entertainment system through which passengers in the outer middle seats can listen, play or watch different pieces, games or films. In total, the Discovery can provide up to six 12-volt sockets and nine USB charging points across its three rows of seats.
The second- and (optional) third-row seats can be folded to take full advantage of the Discovery’s 2,406 litres of cargo volume. The seats can be folded or raised, selectively or collectively, by four different means. You can first do it old school, with switches mounted in the cargo bay. Switches inside the C-pillar also let you move the second-row seats to access the third row or adjust the latter. In fully modern vein, you can also move the seats from the touch screen on the instrument panel or do it remotely by using the InControl app on your phone.
A single-piece, power tailgate made of composite material replaces the horizontally-split or side-opening designs of the four previous generations. It is the largest ever used by Land Rover. It can be opened by pushing a button outside, with the electronic key or, optionally, by sweeping your foot under the bumper. This model has the classic hitch but Land Rover also has also designed a neat ‘electronically deployable towbar’ for the new Discovery. Total towing capacity is 3,720 kilograms with the supercharged gasoline engine and 3,500 kg with the turbodiesel, both 3.0-litre V-6 units.
The launch included climbing rock formations in the Utah desert to demonstrate the Discovery’s off-road prowess and the rigidity of its sleek new unit body. A full-time four-wheel drive system with a Torsen-type centre differential is standard. A system with high and low ranges you can switch up to 60 km/h is optional. Also available is the All-Terrain Progress Control technology that lets you set a speed from 2 to 30km/h, no matter how difficult the terrain and conditions, and let electronics do the rest. The ATPC system works and it is bundled with an active locking rear differential.
On the centre console, the main control knob lets you pick between the Terrain Response 2 system’s automatic and five distinct driving modes for: normal driving, slippery surfaces (grass, gravel and snow), mud and ruts, sand and rock crawl. The adjoining switches are for the hill descent system and low range. The largest switch makes the optional air suspension raise or lower the vehicle and two more, at the left, will help you turn the ATPC or electronic stability control systems on or off. It all works rather well, with minimal lag.
A 10.2-inch touch screen is the heart of the Discovery’s new InControl Touch Pro infotainment system, a clear improvement over its predecessor. Numerous control menus and a wealth of information are accessible through this interface, including five screens depicting your progress and the vehicle’s status while driving off-road. The 14 degrees in ascent angle are nothing exceptional but 27 degrees in slope traverse angle is getting close to the Discovery’s claimed maximum of 35 degrees.
The optional air suspension has many benefits. It first improves ground clearance from 220 mm with the standard coil spring suspension to 283 mm when fully raised. The approach, departure and break-over angles all improve notably to 29.5, 28 and 25.5 degrees. Wheel articulation goes up to 500 mm and the Discovery can safely ford a stream, pond or river 900 mm deep. The air suspension automatically lowers the body by 13 mm at more than 105 km/h to reduce aerodynamic drag and fuel consumption, and by up to 60 mm to improve access or hook up a trailer.
This front view shows the large and entirely functional inlets that help the air flow more smoothly and quietly over the Discovery’s flanks by channelling large chunks of it over different paths, outside high-pressure vortices. The black strakes are part of the Dynamic package that also includes the black grille, hood lettering and exterior mirror shells, notably.
The more affordable versions of the Discovery are powered by the same supercharged 3.0-litre V-6 you will find under the hoods of the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport. It develops a round 340 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque for a claimed 0-100 km/h sprint in 7.1 seconds. It is a commendably smooth, flexible, quiet and strong engine, well served by the ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox, but it has rather little character. Which might be just what the typical buyer is looking for in a family-friendly luxury SUV.
The Discovery is slightly bigger, heavier by 41 kilos and certainly not as brash as its Range Rover Sport cousin. It also loves the off-road stuff but nonetheless tackles paved roads with great aplomb and stability, a planted feel and fluid, linear transitions, even with the rather muted tactility of its electrically-assisted rack and pinion steering. Body roll is quite reasonable in corners and damping well sorted. The standard Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system will even brake the inside wheels to quash any threat of oversteer or understeer in more extreme situations.
Riding on slightly taller tires and smaller 20-inch wheels than the ‘Dynamic package’ driven earlier, the Td6 diesel-powered Discovery felt every bit as confident and competent on the road and perfectly at ease in all off-road exercises. It had the more classic aluminium grille, trim and lettering, complete with dust streaks on the hood and mud splatters on the matte black rocker panels. Not as quick off the line as the gas-burning Si6, it proved more than fast enough on longer stretches of Utah desert roads. And just utterly quiet at any given speed. Brilliant, indeed.
In Canada, Discovery is available with a turbocharged, 3.0-liter V-6 diesel that delivers 254 hp and a stout 443 lb-ft of torque at only 1,750 rpm. This engine, shared with the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport, is said to propel the Discovery from 0 to 100km/h in 8.1 seconds, coupled to the same, eight-speed, automatic gearbox. Official NRC fuel consumption ratings have not been published yet but the Td6 consumes about a third less fuel than its gasoline-fed counterpart. No word yet on the availability of Jaguar Land Rover’s stingier four-cylinder Ingenium diesel engines in this line-up.
Deep sand, heavy and moist under its sun-baked crust, was a good test for the Discovery’s optional, dual-range, all-wheel drive system. With Terrain Response 2 in sand mode, it eventually climbed the tallest dunes, its diesel engine growling away in low range. The triangular orange flag atop a tall and thin white pole is a must while driving over huge, rolling sand dunes that can hide a Defender, if not a Hummer, in their creases.
The diesel-powered Discovery Td6 proved a more than able off-roader with its regular, all-purpose, Goodyear Eagle tires, in size 255/55R20. To navigate the deep, silty, orange-coloured sand of spectacular Coral Pink Sand Dunes Park in Utah, our expert Land Rover hosts brought tire pressures down by more than half, from 34/37 psi front and rear to radically lower values of 15/18 psi. This was to lengthen rather than widen the tires’ footprint in order to maximize traction in deep sand.
To replicate the practical virtues of the previous model’s horizontally-split tailgate behind the new, single-piece composite gate, the ever resourceful and imaginative Land Rover development team has created a power-operated inner tailgate for the new Discovery. When standing upright, the sturdy panel is a practical way of containing all cargo. Especially when third-row seats are erect, leaving a mere 258 litres of cargo volume between them and the tailgate. This will keep things such as grocery bags from flopping out.
And when the panel lies flat over the rear bumper, it’s tailgate party time, indeed. Land Rover says the carpet-finished panel itself is strong enough to hold a maximum load of 300 kg. Good for three fully-grown adults, unless a couple of them are NFL defense line players. The panel is power-operated with the electronic key fob or buttons in the cargo bay.
The Dynamic design package, a $2,000 option for HSE and HSE Luxury models, gives a more rakish and contemporary look with black grille and fender vent strakes, side cladding and tailgate trim in the same hue and glossy black lettering and mirror shells, plus 275/45 Goodyear Eagle tires mounted on 21- or 22-inch alloy wheels with a dark grey finish. Inside, you get an ebony headliner, a Windsor leather-wrapped steering wheel, some contrasting stitches, titanium mesh trim for the instruments and door inserts, dark aluminium trim for the center console, chrome-plated shift paddles and a set of sport pedals.
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