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by David Lillywhite, 29th April 2017

Utah’s astonishing landscape was the backdrop for the launch of Land Rover’s new Discovery. The car out-dazzled it

You’ll almost certainly know plenty about the new, fifth generation Discovery already. Even if you’ve not read LRM’s analysis and early off-road test, you’ll have seen plenty of publicity from Land Rover. Should you care? Yes, even if only because income from the new model will support the Defender replacement, the ‘Reborn’ restoration programme and the drive to produce out-of-stock spares for classics. But you should also care because it’s a Land Rover, and as true to the original Discovery brief as was the 1989 original. It’s still a go-anywhere leisure vehicle, with unprecedented effort having been put into making it comfortable and convenient for the family. But you probably knew that. What none of us knew until now is how it would drive on the road.

The Discovery’s world launch was in Utah, USA, a world away from Solihull, but somewhere that provided all manner of surfaces and conditions: hot, dusty trails, pot-holed tarmac, smooth, fast highways, rocks, mud, snow and soft, ever-changing sand dunes. We covered hundreds of miles on- and off-road over the two day launch. So how did it feel? First impression is that it rides so much better than its predecessors and, crucially, its rivals. Over potholes, over ridges, over rippled Tarmac, it’s smooth and extremely controlled. There’s body roll, and occasionally its height is telling through the twistiest B-roads, but overall it’s one of the best SUV-type vehicles we’ve ever driven in its combination of handling and ride.

Huge efforts have been made to make the new suspension – twin wishbone at the front, flexible link at the rear – much more compliant than on previous models. All UK models will be on air springs, with all the height-adjustment benefits that brings, though coils will be fitted to certain export models. Much of the improved ride is down to reduced weight though, down 480 kg to 2115 kg for the four-cylinder diesel thanks to the new 85 per cent alloy structure (by the way, it’s 141 mm longer than the Disco 4 but lower and narrower). And engines? There’s a 180 PS (177 hp) four-cylinder 2.0-litre diesel that won’t be sold in the UK, a 240 PS (237 hp) version of the same unit (Jaguar Land Rover’s new in-house Ingenium engine), a 3.0-litre V6 diesel and a 3.0-litre supercharged V6 petrol.

We drove the 340 PS (335 hp), 450Nm (332 lb-ft) petrol V6 Si6 first, and it was smooth, quiet and progressive but almost too good, as stupid as that sounds. Somehow it didn’t feel Discovery enough, and fuel consumption of a tad over 20 mpg will make it hard to live with. Next up, the 2.0-litre diesel Sd4, a sequential twin-turbo unit. Obviously a diesel from outside, from inside it’s unobtrusive but not as quiet as the V6 petrol. It’s got an endearing little growl, heard but not felt through the controls, and it produces a whopping 500 Nm (369 lb-ft) of torque. It needs to be revved if you really need to get a move on but it feels exactly right for the Discovery. On our test it returned around 35 mpg; it could achieve 40 mpg in less extreme conditions.

The single turbo V6 diesel Td6 is the same but more, with 258 PS (254 hp) and 600 Nm (443 lb-ft). A little growlier, torquier, much more relaxed in use but heavier in fuel consumption and in weight, the latter of which can be felt occasionally through the corners and off-road. We achieved around 29 mpg in this one. All engine variants drive through the same, well-proven eight-speed ZF ’box; quiet and smooth, almost seamless in its changes, and well-suited to the power characteristics of the engines we tried. It’s likely that the gears will need to be hung onto for longer to get the 180 PS moving. Steering is electronically-assisted. It’s relatively quick and responsive, at a mere 2.3 turns lock-to-lock, and the weighting feels spot-on without too much feeling of electronic falseness. But between the three vehicles we drove, the feeling immediately off-centre varied noticeably.

The 2.0 diesel was spot-on, always stable and planted. The 3.0 diesel was similar but slightly heavier, though tyre pressures were a little low according to the in-car indicators, having been let down for off-roading and then pumped-up again. The 3.0 petrol was overly sensitive, making it tiring on the straights, for every movement would translate to a change in direction. We suspect that tyre pressures weren’t quite right there either but we don’t know for certain. It was otherwise hard to fault. The driving position is widely adjustable and comfortable even over interminably long, straight drives. The seats are too flat for you to throw the car around but it’s unlikely many buyers will do that. All three rows of stadium seating will accommodate seven typical adults in almost equal levels of comfort, though the two in the back row still have to clamber in through a tight gap. Unless there are three in the second row, life in the back row can be made more comfortable and airy by folding forward the middle seat of the second row.

Beware, though, that with third row in place (they unfold electrically from the floor) there’s barely any boot space. We’ve talked about the off-road behaviour previously, but it’s worth saying again, that this is claimed to be better off-road than any previous Land Rover vehicle. There’s the usual electronic Terrain Response 2 system, which can be left in auto for most situations, as well as Hill Descent, Progress Control, Wade Sensing and more; we tackled extreme rock climbs, steep sand dunes and deep rivers without problems. Ground clearance is 283 mm, wading depth is 900 mm, both improvements on Disco 4. After that, talk of connectivity and storage feels trivial, but once again this is the best a Land Rover has ever been. There are storage pockets everywhere; even a waterproof one in the boot for wet clothes (there’s also a waterproof wristband key to use). There are also up to nine USB sockets, four power sockets and in-car wifi, and all manner of remote control gadgetry to do everything from finding where you parked the vehicle to folding down the seats. Which to buy? The four-cylinder, 2.0 240 PS diesel is the winner, hands down.

It’s superb. The only proviso to that is if you’re towing hefty loads on a regular basis – then we’d recommend the V6 diesel for that extra torque. Although the new Discovery is lighter than the Disco 4, it will still tow up to 3500 kg, and it’s fitted with the excellent semi-autonomous Advanced Tow Assist facility. Remember that the outgoing Disco was voted Tow Car of the Decade, an accolade that Land Rover won’t want to lose. This new Discovery is going to be a huge seller – before it had even appeared in a single showroom, more than 20,000 had been sold. We don’t think it’s as distinctive in looks as previous Discoverys but it’s a much, much better vehicle. 

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