Sorry to be cruel, but this generation of Discovery has long felt like Land Rover’s piggy in the middle. That was true of the design of the visually pudgy three-row when it was launched in 2017.
But more recently it’s become an equally appropriate description of the Disco’s squeezed place in the model line-up: between the rugged utility of the new Defender, and the blingier bling and dynamic excitement of the senior Range Rovers.
While a midlife facelift hasn’t done much to alter the Disco’s handsome but overweight design, it has brought more substantial changes under the skin, and an all-new engine range that has reduced power plant selection to a binary choice.
The previous four-cylinder SD4 diesel and V6 SD6 are both replaced by a new D300 221kW 3.0-litre straight-six diesel. Above this sits a P360-branded 265kW, 500Nm 3.0-litre petrol straight six we have in the 2021 Land Rover Discovery P360 R-Dynamic here.
Both new motors come from JLR’s Ingenium family and incorporate 48-volt mild hybrid assistance, with the P360 also getting an electric supercharger to improve low-down response. Specification levels have been increased and simplified, with air suspension and seven seats across three rows now standard.
|2021 Land Rover Discovery P360 R-Dynamic|
|Engine||I6 turbocharged and e-supercharged petrol, 48V mild-hybrid|
|Power and torque||265kW at 5500–6500rpm, 500Nm at 1750–5000rpm|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||11.3L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||NA|
|ANCAP rating||Five stars (2017)|
|Warranty||Three years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Toyota LC200/Nissan Patrol/Lexus LX570|
The 'facelift' part of the facelift needn’t detain us for long. On the outside, there are new LED headlights and a gently revised radiator grille, with an optional R-Dynamic visual pack adding gloss-black details.
Changes to the cabin are more obvious with the welcome arrival of JLR’s Pivi Pro infotainment system running on an 11.4-inch dashboard touchscreen. This works slickly and features both CarPlay and Android Auto integration, as well as supporting over-the-air software updates.
The outgoing car’s rotary gear selector has also been replaced by a more conventional shift lever for the standard eight-speed auto ’box. Steering wheel and ventilation controls have been redesigned and digital instruments are now standard. Land Rover also says the cushions of the second-row seats have been revised to increase comfort over longer journeys.
The Discovery’s interior still reflects its likely role as a family bus, with materials that seem to have been chosen for durability rather than show, and with no fewer than nine USB-C ports dotted around the cabin. Space for the front and middle rows is plentiful, with the boot offering either a sizeable loadspace or the ability to deploy the two power-operated seats that take up most of it.
Although generally feeling tough, there are some cheap details, though. The contrast in texture and temperature between the metal-effect plastic that faces the steering wheel, and the actual medal gear-change paddles behind it, is particularly egregious.
The D300 diesel feels both muscular and impressively subdued, delivering respectable urge without fuss and only turning vocal when extended harder than most buyers are ever likely to. The P360 is effectively a downtuned version of the P400 I recently got to experience in the Jaguar F-Pace, although its character is very different. Initially, the petrol Discovery feels very similar to the diesel, with a similar sense of effortless low-down torque and noise that doesn’t rise above a distant hum under everyday use.
It takes forceful accelerator pressure to persuade the P360’s transmission to hold onto ratios for long enough to experience the angrier side of its character, with a pleasant zing to the top-end soundtrack. It’s not quick by the increasingly ludicrous standards of performance SUVs, but it is certainly fast enough for something this size and shape, Land Rover claiming a 6.5-second 0–100km/h time.
The chassis gives little encouragement to press harder on-road. The air suspension does a fine job at insulating the cabin and defusing broken surfaces, but the Disco’s priorities are revealed by the fact its Terrain Response system has five off-road modes and only one designed for use on tarmac. The soft springing makes for roll and heave as loadings increase, but it is the Disco’s two-metre width and feel-free steering that really limit confidence on tighter roads.
It’s when you head off the beaten track that the Discovery enters its element. Few buyers of seven-seat SUVs will be planning to travel far into the wilderness, but this one would likely get further than any rival. Land Rover gave me the chance to experience the P360 on some of the steeper and stickier parts of its Eastnor Castle testing site, while wearing the same 22-inch tyres and P-Zero Scorpion all-season tyres I’d driven with on-road.
The Discovery’s combination of switchable low-range gears (standard on the P360), a locking centre diff, and an optional electronically locking one at the rear, made it feel pretty much unstoppable, with the air suspension’s tallest setting maintaining impressive separation from the ground.
Fully raised, Land Rover claims a 34-degree approach angle, a 30-degree departure angle, and a 27.5-degree breakover angle, plus the ability to wade through up to 900mm of water. Those figures are impressive for any SUV, let alone one so big and comfortable.
The 2021 Land Rover Discovery continues to offer an impressive combination of talents, but these revisions haven’t done much to improve its case against its biggest rival: its newer, cooler sister. The Defender isn’t quite as good on-road, and isn’t usefully better off it, but it is definitely closer to the Land Rover values that seem to really turn buyers on.