The 2017 Land Rover Discovery is more car-like, but more off-roadable than ever before in this, its fifth-generation guise. According to the brand, it’s more adept at dealing with the school run, but also more hardcore than previously imagined.
So, at a glance at least, it appears as though Land Rover has achieved the impossible with this new family SUV, one that it boldly claimed is the “best family SUV in the world” when unveiling the thing back in 2016. But, has it? And at what cost?
Well, it’s a high cost for this HSE Luxury version with the up-spec TD6 drivetrain. This is the most expensive Discovery you can get outside of the Launch Edition model, at $117,461 plus on-road costs—and that’s before you add any options, and our car has plenty of those. The as-tested price for it is a sizeable $141,606 plus on-roads.
We’ll get to the notable options and a run-down of the standard inclusions in a little bit. But first, let me tell you, the big changes to this new-generation Discovery haven’t been at the cost of off-road capability, that’s for damned sure.
Land Rover has always been synonymous with off-roading. If you ask someone on the street to name the most capable dirt-driving vehicle, Land Rover will probably be the most common response. Jeep and Toyota would also be in the mix, but the British brand has serious heritage in this domain. Indeed, the previous model Discovery was known for being one of the most capable off-roaders on the planet.
This new one? Well it adds even more technical capability. Among other things, it comes with an almost unheard-of ground clearance of 283 millimetres in the air-suspension’s highest setting (43mm more than before), and it also boasts an incredible wading capability of 900mm – up 200mm on the previous car.
Clearly, this thing is capable of some amazing off-roading feats. A lot of that comes down to the Terrain Response 2 system, which allows you to choose the right setting based on your surroundings. The HSE Luxury model’s surround-view camera offered an alternative point of view to see which terrain mode was needed.
So if you’re driving along and things are muddy, you choose the Mud-Ruts mode for that. There’s also a Sand mode, another multi-faceted mode for slippery surfaces (Grass, Gravel, Snow), and a Rock Crawl mode. To choose that last setting, you need to engage the low-range transfer case. Yep, it still has one of those, despite all the electronic trickery.
Over some fairly gnarly terrain in the Blue Mountains we didn’t need to choose the low-range setting, because the Mud-Ruts mode in high-range was so amazingly adept and easy to manage.
The off-road mode saw the electric air suspension system set to its most generous height, and unlike some other SUVs with height adjustable suspension, there was surprisingly good compliance in that high-ride mode, without the tell-tale “topping out” feeling. Even with a front wheel up in the air, teetering with terrific balance, while the 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6 engine and eight-speed automatic allowed for composed progress when applying the throttle at low speeds.
This very same section of rough terrain was where we tested all the budget 4x4 dual-cab utes earlier this year, and it’s fair to say that – while incomparable in most ways – the Land Rover smashed all of those vehicles with its astounding capability, even on its optional 21-inch alloy wheels with not-overly-aggressive-but-impressively-wide Continental Conti Sport Cross Contact 275/45 rubber.
Over the rough gravel access roads to the off-road spot, the Disco coasted along in impressive comfort, though those big wheels did cause a few jarring moments over potholes.
There is no denying this vehicle is definitely worthy of the Land Rover badge, and that’s despite the fact this new model has shifted away from its ladder-frame chassis setup to a more car-like aluminium monocoque setup. As a result, the 2230kg (kerb weight) TD6 HSE Luxury model is a sizeable 210 kilograms lighter than its predecessor, the SDV6 HSE - so that’s an impressive achievement.
But off-roading like this is often more of a dream than a reality for most people, and Land Rover has put that front-of-mind for the new Discovery. It is designed to be better on the road.
And that’s where the new Discovery isn’t quite as big a jump as we'd thought it may be.
It is undoubtedly more appealing to the vast majority of people who want an SUV with decent steering response and good comfort as they attempt to go all Evel Knievel over sharp-edged speed humps. But this is still a large, heavy vehicle, by no means as pinpoint accurate to drive as some of its competitors - like, say, an Audi Q7 or BMW X5.
Indeed, the air suspension system – while offering a massive advantage off-road – can’t offer the same sort of controlled progress through corners of some of its competitor large SUVs from Europe, with some notable wallow and wobble during changes of direction, and, again, some shunting in the cabin from the large wheels when it came to road joins.
The engine is pretty much a carryover offering, but with a little bit more power. It has 190kW at 3750rpm, and 600Nm from 1750-2250rpm, and while it is a pushy thing in its sweet spot, there is some notable lag from a standstill, and the engine rumbles the cabin at idle. The stop-start system is relatively refined, though, and claimed fuel use is down from 8.8 litres per 100 kilometres to 7.2L/100km. We saw an average of 9.9L/100km on our test, which encompassed off-road, highway, country and urban driving, mostly with just one occupant.
The biggest plus for the drive experience? It’s hushed. Not silent, but impressively quiet, even on coarse-chip road surfaces.
So, Land Rover reckons the new-generation Discovery is significantly better for family buyers? Interesting…
In what could be the biggest slight on the name of the Discovery in this generation, buyers need to pay extra for third-row seating. The cost? $3400. And, if you want to buy into the brand’s hugely gimmicky Remote Intelligent Seat Fold Pack, which theoretically allows you to control the five rear electrically-operated seats by way of an app on your smartphone, or by way of the touchscreen media system. The cost for that apparent convenience? $4800.
Frankly, that option is a joke. Partly because it didn’t work when I downloaded the app, and partly because electric seats take time – and parents often don’t have time. The kids are running late for school or to get to netball or soccer on a Saturday, and while a conventional seven-seat setup might see you spend, say, 10 seconds opening the boot, reefing up the back seats and sliding the second-row seat forward so they can pile in, this system will take more than 10 seconds just to raise or lower the rear seats. It’s frustrating, and compounded by the fact that there’s nowhere to store the cargo blind. It seems to me like tech for tech’s sake, at the cost of a simpler solution, and the seats also eat into your rearward vision, making it hard to see what's behind you - the big C-pillar doesn't help, either.
And there are other practicality shortfalls. The rear doors are huge, heavy and open wide – some younger kids will struggle to open them. The boot – well, it misses out on the split tailgate it used to have, and Land Rover thought they’d put a silly little shelf section for you to sit on when you’re watching little Ronny at the rugby or Polly at the polo. That’s fine, but it seems unnecessary, and like the seats – it’s operated electronically. I suspect it’ll be one of the most commonly replaced parts in this car, because on at least five occasions when opening the boot, I started to push it down out of the way to load items in. You are supposed to use a button.
It’s these little gripes that – for anyone who spent a lot of time in the existing Discovery, like me – get on your nerves quickly.
But there’s no denying there are some really thoughtful elements to the new Discovery.
It’s hugely spacious, even in the third row, with easily enough room for a six-foot adult to sit comfortably for at least a couple of hours. But it doesn’t have the excellent tiered seating (nor the stepped roofline, to the same extent), so the view forward is cluttered by large headrests. Still, there are USB charge points all around the place, including in hidey-holes at the back. The car can be optioned with up to nine USB points.
The second-row is spacious, too, and our car is optioned with quad-zone air-conditioning ($930). You can option heated rear seats as well. Lots of options to choose from, hey?
Up front there’s the brand’s InControl media system, which is fine to use but doesn’t set any new benchmarks, and still lacks the latest smartphone-mirroring tech of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. You don’t even get digital radio standard – it’s yet another option – but you do get digital television for the front passenger to see and for everyone else to hear by way of an impressive 14-speakers plus subwoofer Meridien sound system.
And this HSE Luxury model gets some niceties like the glass roof including electric sunroof up front, nice leather seat trim on all the seats, electric front seat adjustment with memory settings, heated and cooled front seats, and configurable interior mood lighting. And so it should have all that stuff, at this price.
There are really smart hidden storage areas behind the climate controls (which is also where the CD slot is) and underneath the cup-holders, where you can apparently fit four iPads. And there’s a fridge here between the seats, too, but the noise of the fridge lid closing is anything but premium – watch the video to see what we’re talking about. Further, there are dual gloveboxes, but the top one doesn’t remain open – it springs shut as soon as you let go of it.
So, yes, it’s thoughtful in many ways. But, in this HSE Luxury spec, at a baseline price of more than $114,000 before you add any of those extras, it’s hardly a very special feeling in here. You don’t get adaptive cruise control, nor blind-spot monitoring, nor rear cross-traffic alert, either. Otherwise, the safety story is adequate by class standards, with lane-departure warning, autonomous emergency braking, front and rear parking sensors and that surround-view camera system.
The new Discovery V6 requires maintenance every 12 months or 26,000km, whichever occurs first. It is covered by a three-year, 100,000km warranty plan, with the option of extended warranty packs (up to five years/200,000km total).
There are plenty of ways that the new Discovery is better than it was. But there are other ways in which it feels inferior to its predecessor. To me it kind of feels like a car that was designed so they could so say they were the first to do some things… like those silly seats.
If you’re in the market for one, particularly if you’re thinking of upgrading from the previous model, my advice would be to make sure you put it through its paces in your everyday routine. That said, I can't wait to sample the four-cylinder version, ideally in a lower grade, to see if a more affordable offering can live up to that ideal of being the best family SUV on the planet.
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