While driving the new 2017 Land Rover Discovery across the barren but beautiful Utah terrain, and after traversing near-vertical boulders, 16-inch-deep sand dunes, and mud with tentacles, I experienced an epiphany. There might be an engine in front of me, four wheels beneath me, four doors surrounding me, and seat belts securing me to comfortable leather-capped chairs, but any kinship the 2017 Discovery has with the average SUV currently roaming suburbia is remote.
Nevertheless, the new Land Rover Discovery excels at nearly every task. It serves the roles of the luxury-lined SUV; the family hauler with seating for seven; the towing rig that tackles up to 8,200 pounds; and the off-roader's faithful working dog. It's a waterdog too, able to wade through rivers and ponds at over 35 inches of depth, which is four inches above the tippy tops of the tires, at which point an opened door turns the Discovery into an overpriced swimming pool.
Perhaps Land Rover could even appropriate the U.S. Postal Service’s unofficial motto for the Discovery: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays this SUV from the swift completion of its appointed rounds.” The creed certainly fits this impressive jack-of-all-trades.
New aluminum bones
Replacing the LR4 in Land Rover’s lineup, the 2017 Disco is totally new right down to its aluminum-intensive bones. Those bones replace the traditional body-on-frame construction used for the LR4, LR3 and prior generations of the Discovery with a new unibody vehicle architecture, trimming a bewildering half-ton of weight off the old LR4 while strengthening its foundation at the same time. Still, despite the crash diet, the new Discovery is not exactly a featherweight, tipping the scales at about 5,000 pounds.
Equally as significant, the new Disco wears a completely different suit. Granted, the form factor of a three-row SUV is only so free, but the 2017 Discovery cuts a far more elegant and organic shape when it is parked next to, let's say, a building, than the old boxy LR4, which could have been mistaken for one.
Up front, the prow is as aggressive and tautly pulled back as the LR4’s face was blocky and erect. This theme plays out across the Discovery’s flanks, the SUV’s B-pillars coming closest to forming a vertical line. Thick C-pillars lean forward to meet the roof where it kicks up a wee bit in a stylistic nod to Land Rovers of the past, which employed the trick to provide better rear headroom and visibility. The rearmost pillars also lean forward and are painted black in order to give the appearance of wraparound glass and a floating roof.
The SUV's rear end is completely re-thought, with horizontal LED taillights and a convex shape to the liftgate, which is now a conventional one-piece affair unlike the split clamshell of the prior LR4. That lower shell of the clam provided a convenient bench on which to sit and change shoes, boots or simply to view the remote landscape you'd … discovered. That function is not lost, though. Land Rover has fit a sturdy inside shelf to the Discovery, one that pivots down for the same purpose. Rated to hold 660 pounds, it accommodates three adults who are simultaneously re-booting their feet.
In addition, the larger liftgate provides a small measure of poor-weather cover by hanging open and above, like the world's most expensive umbrella. Curiously, though, Land Rover has stuck with the offset, left-biased license plate recess, present on the old LR4’s split-gate design and looking even more odd on the new model, which lacks the funky gate geometry. Chalk its presence up to character.
Disco tech: drivelines and 4-wheel-drive prowess
Two different engines for the North American market give the Disco its new moves. A 340-horsepower supercharged 3.0-liter V6 is standard, cranking 332 lb.-ft. of torque through a ZF-sourced 8-speed automatic transmission and a sophisticated 4-wheel-drive system. The EPA hadn’t finalized fuel economy ratings as this review was published, but Land Rover expects it to return 18 mpg in combined driving.
You can increase combined mileage to 23 mpg by choosing the optional 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V6 engine for an additional $2,000. It makes 254 horsepower and 442 lb.-ft. of torque, and gives up nearly a second in the run to 60 mph. Still, Land Rover estimates that it can reach highway speed in 7.7 seconds, which is quick enough.
Both drivetrains deliver adequate acceleration for a sizable and still-heavy SUV, though the diesel lacks passing power on the highway. Also, the automatic transmission lurches a bit when coming to a partial stop, seeming to select a gear lower than what would be smoothest.
The more charming and cheeky bits reside way under the Discovery. The full-time 4WD system uses an automatically locking center differential – one of three differentials – directed by a multiple-mode, max-grip Terrain Response traction and powertrain calibration system. By using a dial on the center console, Terrain Response gives the driver control over various drivetrain settings mapped to various surface types. Though many SUV makers have employed this technology to improve traction and performance in snowy, muddy, sandy, and rocky conditions, it was first pioneered by Land Rover.
Air suspension at each corner can lift the Disco to provide up to 11.4 inches of ground clearance, at which point the angles of approach, breakover and departure measure 29.5, 25.5 and 28 degrees, respectively. Translated, this means the Discovery’s resistance to scraping its bottom over hill and dale is formidable. Indeed, as I learned first hand, the new Discovery's nonchalance on challenging terrain is, indeed, all it's cracked up to be. In fact, it's epic.
On pavement, where most Discovery owners will spend most of their time, the new SUV represents a significant improvement over its predecessor. Because it weighed so much and rode so tall, the old LR4 suffered significant body roll in corners. In addition, Land Rover geared the steering slowly, making maneuvers in parking lots tedious.
By comparison, the new Disco will never be mistaken for a sports car, but its on-road behavior and pavement manners have graduated from finishing school. It still rolls in corners, but not enough to send up capsizing alarms.
Interior shows Range Roverism more than Land Roverism
Land Rover also dresses the new Disco in a stylish new suit inside, and it should outlast anything merely fashionable.
Everything you’ll touch feels, clicks and flicks like it is rendered from high quality materials. A rotary transmission dial rises from the Discovery’s console allowing the driver to select a gear, while a separate one manages 4WD settings, designs that are similar to Range Rovers rather than rugged Land Rovers. The entirety of the Discovery’s clean, unfussy cabin is worthy of an SUV with a "Range" prefix rather than a "Land" one.
New seats and familiar-looking but revised buttons and dials perform traditional tasks. A large central touchscreen display masters major infotainment functions, though it's sluggish to load and respond, indicating that it could use greater processing speed. While the mechanical and electronic components do their jobs, six 12-volt power outlets, a Wi-Fi hotspot that can service eight devices, and as many as nine USB ports handle the tasks of keeping devices powered and occupants entertained. The center console can also store four iPads while chilling your beverages and brie of choice.
If there is a primary flaw with regard to the control layout, it pertains to the power window controls. I kept reaching for them on the armrest rather than their actual location high on the windowsill. Time will improve accuracy, I guess.
The Discovery is high on the "utility" promise of an SUV, too, with 45 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second-row seats and nearly 83 cubes with all seats folded down. Thoughtful helping hands include an optional seat folding system, triggered by the infotainment screen, hard buttons in the cargo area, or even remotely via a smartphone app, dropping all second- and third-row seats.
Addressing the elephant in the room
When it comes to Land Rover, there is an elephant in the room that must be addressed. According to J.D. Power surveys, Land Rover has improved in terms of dependability in recent years, but it still does not rank as highly as some other brands in the luxury segment. Quality and dealership service rank low, too, according to the research organization. Consumer Reports also places Land Rover near the bottom of its most recent “brand report card.”
To be fair, no such results are in yet for the new Discovery, because it isn’t on sale yet. The first ones are scheduled to arrive in showrooms in May starting at $50,985 and climbing all the way past $75,000. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that Land Rover owners tend to be less satisfied than those who buy other brands.
Still, as a smaller manufacturer than most of its luxury sector rivals, Land Rover has managed to survive in a far more competitive environment than it's ever experienced. Just about every single automaker in the North American market now makes a luxury crossover or SUV, and they all promise at least an hors d'oeuvre of off-road competence.
The new 2017 Discovery is different, offering a five-course meal of off-road and on-road flavors, a genuine rarity in its class.
First Pictures: 2017 Land Rover Discovery Photos
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