The D_TRB review: Land Rover Discovery
Got your doubts about the new four-cylinder Discovery? Find out if they're justified...
We’re at a very odd angle. Rain is falling through the open driver's window, landing on the transmission tunnel, and I'm not entirely convinced that all four wheels are in contact with terra firma any more.
By all means and rights, we probably shouldn't be moving. The new third-gen Discovery, shod with road tyres and otherwise completely standard, is perilously positioned on a muddy, deeply rutted hillside path.
To the left, a long drop into the woods below and an impromptu chance to test its five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating for ourselves. To the right, the easy way out. Except the easy way out is a torturous, rain-soaked corner that's about as flat as the Matterhorn. It's also extremely steep, covered with rocks and surrounded by bodywork-threatening trees.
"Are you sure this is the exit from the car park?"
We engage the new 'All-Terrain Progress' control, Land Rover's off-road cruise control, and set the target speed to its lowest setting of 1.2mph. The steering gear bumps against the lock stops as the wheel is spun around, and the Discovery nudges its way onto the slope.
The electronics wind up the engine, shuffle torque between the axles and tweak the brakes, and the Land Rover – despite having its nearside rear wheel hanging in the air – cruises around the bend without any effort or intervention.
So, if you were worrying that this far softer-looking Discovery had lost its off-road edge, fear not. This is a full-size, seven-seat SUV that’s more than capable of tackling the rough stuff, to the extent that it’d probably leave its boxy predecessor trailing in its wake.
That’s primarily because, in order to convincingly replace such a much-loved and capable model, Land Rover has gone to town on the new Discovery. It features a new platform, new engine options and new technology – all of which is aimed at improving its prowess both on and off the road.
It’s also designed to be more practical, easier to live with and less expensive to run. Which, for one reason, is why you’ll find the option of a four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel in the brochure. Yes, we sucked air through our teeth when we heard that, too.
After all, Jaguar Land Rover’s new Ingenium diesel hasn’t proven itself particularly good so far – and other cylinder-deficient luxury SUVs, like the XC90, leave a lot to be desired in the powertrain department.
This generation of Discovery is particularly colour sensitive, so pick wisely.
This isn’t a cheap car, either; the range starts at a sensible £43,495 but our high-spec four-cylinder HSE Luxury test car weighed in at £62,695. Compensation comes in the form of plenty of kit, including quad-zone climate, cooled and heated front seats, a surround camera system and LED headlights.
Best point out that was before options, mind. With a few upgrades, including massaging seats and a head-up display, our four-cylinder Land Rover was knocking on the door of £75k. Don't throw the brochure out of the window in despair just yet, though.
For starters, the 2.0-litre diesel puts out 238bhp at 4000rpm and 369lb ft at a usefully low 1500rpm. On tarmac it’ll propel the 2230kg Discovery from 0-62mph in a suitably swift 8.3sec, and with enough room you can wind the it out to 121mph.
Further good news comes in the form of a claimed economy of 43.5mpg. The Land Rover we tested was hovering around an indicated 30mpg without effort but, even at that rate, you’ll have to drive around 500 miles before it drains its 77-litre fuel tank. Emissions aren’t bad, either, at 171g/km of CO2.
More impressively, it’s quiet, smooth and eager. Squeeze the accelerator and the Discovery picks up speed with ease, and the engine never feels laboured or lacking in torque. Its flexibility makes the Discovery a very pleasant car in which to potter around, as it rarely leaves you wanting.
The ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox is similarly slick, swapping ratios unobtrusively. You can manually select gears, using wheel-mounted paddles, but you rarely have to interfere; even off-road the gearbox gets the right ratio for the job, helping you avoid getting bogged down and having to embarrassingly wave down a passing Land Cruiser.
Other engine options include petrol and diesel V6s.
When you get this new generation of Land Rover on the road, it further becomes clear how far improved it is compared to its predecessor. The old Discovery rolled around more than a wheelie bin in a storm and generally felt quite unwieldy, particularly around town. This, however, is a far more responsive and precise affair.
Gone is the hefty, slow steering of old, replaced by a far swifter and lighter set-up. The ease with which you can turn the wheel might come as a surprise at first, and takes a little getting used to, but it does make driving the Discovery less tiring over longer distances. There’s plenty of front-end grip on offer and through corners the Land Rover feels composed and reassuring.
This willing handling, in conjunction with wheel-mounted gear shift paddles, makes the Discovery an engaging and gratifying car to drive across country; drop a gear, accelerate through the corner, change up, rinse and repeat. Bolstering your confidence further are its brakes, which offer plenty of easily judged stopping power without being overly grabby.
A small digital display sits between the conventional analogue dials.
Inside, you’ll find what’s basically a widened, upgraded Discovery Sport interior. Everything’s easy to use, and there’s a vast amount of room – it’s an airy, comfortable and relaxing place to sit. Even at motorway speeds it’s quiet, while the pliant air suspension serves up a smooth ride and takes the edge off the sharper bumps.
The rear seats are a little less comfortable than the armchair-like affairs up front, but the neat trick is that adults can sit in the rearmost row without stooping, folding up their knees or being forced into overly intimate positions. It’s even relatively easy to get into the back, thanks to B-pillar-mounted grab handles that let you swing into place.
Practicality is also a Discovery strong point. There are myriad storage points, including a refrigerated box in the centre console, and the seats can be dropped and raised at the push of a button. Some may lament the departure of the split tailgate – but there is a little fold-out bench on which to sit, should you wish to relax while you reload your over-and-under.
Other highlights include a towing weight that hits the maximum legal limit of 3500kg, a wading depth that's up from 700mm to 900mm (it floats, after that, so don’t ask for more), while the adjustable air suspension allows for clearance of up to 283mm.
It gets a two-speed transfer case for low-speed crawling as well, and the full-time four-wheel-drive system features electronically controlled centre and rear differentials to maximise traction. These work in conjunction with a host of advanced driver aids to cut driver workload and stress.
The only real gripe – somewhat awkward rear-end styling and infuriatingly, unnecessarily offset rear plate aside – is that in higher specifications the interior quality and equipment list does not tally with the list price.
You could spend a similar amount on an Audi Q7 and get a superb-looking cabin replete with a fully digital instrument cluster, a brilliant media system and intuitive touch controls. Land Rover’s Discovery, however, looks and feels rather basic and staid by comparison.
Not that this has stopped many in their tracks, as Land Rover claims it has taken 25,000 orders globally already. Some 5200 of those orders are from UK buyers, most of which are claimed to be spending around £60,000 on their new Discoveries. Or at least financing them to that amount.
It's not an unjustified decision, though. This is better to drive than an XC90 and as an overall package it's more capable than the likes of an Audi Q7. Specify it carefully and you'll net yourself a fine SUV for the money – and one which could very well do everything you could possibly ever demand of it.
Perhaps even to the extent that you could overlook that offset rear plate.
The new Discovery 5 is on sale now. Prices start at £43,495 for the entry-level S model.