From rugged and dependable farm hand to family work-horse, Land Rover have stumbled (or not) upon what could easily be one of the most desirable branded products currently on sale in the form of ‘Discovery’. Now clearly segregated from the slightly stiffer ‘Range Rover’ product suite, the new Discovery 5 is now the core model of the Land Rover brand. We have definitely had our chance to preview what the new Disco 5 was going to look like in the endless teasers and ‘Discovery Vision’ concept of a few years ago, but upon a proper reveal, we can now make an educated analysis of what Land Rover have done right, and wrong, with the family favourite.
The first point is to note the phenomenal success of the Discoveries 3 and 4; themselves almost perfect rationales of the split between family hauler and off road warrior. For me, the biggest compliment has to be paid to the 3 as it was such a clever interpretation of the best bits of the original, but put into a modern context that was both unpretentious and desirable. What’s interesting is how they did so without a huge amount of technological competence behind them. The Discovery 3 weighed an unbelievable 2.7 tonnes and had only a PSA-sourced 2.7 V6 diesel or thirsty Ford and BMW derived V6 and V8 petrol’s on offer. All of which were easily outclassed by rivals, not taking it's 600kg weight disadvantage compared to class rivals into account . What was clear is these shortfalls and compromises were not enough to stop everyone from the middle-class mum to pseudo off-road enthusiast wanting one. It has been an interesting time to see how Land Rover have been able to capitalize on the rise in SUV sales by diversifying the brand and focusing more acutely on their target audiences.
We had all been told by Land Rover where they were taking the ‘Discovery’ brand by way of the smaller and admittedly disappointing Discovery Sport, but like the full-sized Range Rover, the new Disco 5 needed to embody the core elements of Discovery, without compromising function too much. Technically the new 5 is built on the same aluminium intensive platform as the Range Rover, meaning an impressive 600kg weight reduction, while the new engines may still not be to the German standard regarding mpg and co2, they are more than competitive enough for it to no longer be an obvious drawback. It’s also been a relief that Land Rover has not forgotten its lineage and embedded serious off-roadability into the new Disco, increased departure angles, deeper wading capabilities (900mm!) and improved axle articulation should ensure the new 5 is just as high on the shopping list for off road junkies as it’s predecessors.
Aesthetically the new Discovery 5 is clearly of the same family as it’s former, but if there was a word in which accurately summed up the changes it would be curve, or more specifically ‘curvature’. Looking at the front, the Disco 5 sits nicely within the rest of the Land Rover portfolio, but it's clear that although the basic proportions have not really changed (the Disco 5 is slightly longer but lower and narrower than the 3 & 4) Land Rover’s decision to integrate the wheel arches into the main bodywork in contrast to the previous cars more defined units increase the visual weight lower down the car and make it look a little saggy from front angles. Like the previous Discovery's, there is no volume extending shoulder line, instead, a crease runs from the taillights through the door handles, but unlike the 3, the line doesn’t meet up with the clamshell bonnet, instead terminating on the front wing detail. This is a look mirrored in the smaller Sport, but whereas it works on the Sport, the larger dimensions, combined with the Disco trademark raised rear roof section make the rear end look bloated, a look substantiated by the inbuilt wheel arches.
Perhaps the biggest change, and where this word curvature comes in, is how Land Rover has more aggressively shorn off the vertical lines front and rear to really soften the look of the car. Whereas the previous car was blunt, the 5 has a softer demeanor on road, but because the car is so tall, and most of the graphics along the front and back of the car are now longitudinal, they actually narrow the car, making some angles look a little bit gawky. The rear end of the car is also good and bad; I do lament the loss of a split tailgate, yet I am relieved they have maintained at least some asymmetry, but I believe that Land Rover could have pushed the idea further. I loved the previous cars look, it was so distinctive and completely unique to the Discovery, yet this attempt more looks like an afterthought of ensuring that element gets worked in the design, even if it has no effect on function. Aside from all this, the Disco 5 has at least maintained its own modernized style, incorporating Land Rover into its makeup, yet still evident that it's not another Range Rover clone.
Inside the compromise of maintaining rugged appeal has gone some way to keeping the interior classless, but again, this to me looks like an opportunity for Land Rover missed in using this all new Disco to write new rules regarding the family car interior, rather than latching onto other Land Rover design language. What saves the Disco here is the infotainment screen, but it would have been nice to more of an evolution on the theme rather than a plus 30% photocopy. What is without doubt is that Land Rover have mastered the concept of no compromise family cars, the large seats, huge variability of space and usability for whoever will buy it is clear, making this new Disco a very easy car to justify and desire, much like another ex Ford owned premium family car (Volvo XC90).
I feel like the Discovery 5 is Land Rover’s subtle hand; although success has found them over the last few years, unlike the bottomless pits of R&D funding that other manufacturers throw around like Monaco kingpins, it's obvious that Land Rover are still operating with care. It's clear some decisions, or lack of innovation regarding the design and detailing, are no doubt a result of cost management. The full sized Discovery needed to be the hero, the defining model within the Land Rover camp that unlike Range Rover, could have been a little more adventurous design wise. The engineering effort put in no doubt has it’s plus points, and as a whole, although I am not bowled over by it, I’m also not disappointed. I think that the time is coming when massive change will be required by manufacturers to meet the growing desirability and usability of future vehicles like Tesla is doing now. The modern interpretation of a classic British off-roader like the Discovery is enough now to maintain it’s enormous following, but what about 20 years from now?