2017 Land Rover Discovery First Drive: Rounded but still grounded
– St. George, Utah
The first-ever Land Rover Discovery was only ever as real to me as the pages of my Automobile and Car magazines would allow. Growing up in Western Michigan, even the families of the rich kids I hung out with were more likely to have a loaded Grand Cherokee than a Range Rover; the British off-road brand somehow missed implanting itself in my young, car-guy conscience.
When I moved east for college, however, the ovoid green badge started to appear a lot more frequently. By that point, the late 1990s, Disco II was on the streets, and plenty of kids had conned their over-indulgent parents into believing only a very posh four-wheel-drive would carry them safely through the teeth of an Ann Arbor winter. I was a Honda geek and a sports car fan at that point in my life, but something in the combination of the English charm, almost cartoonish upright stance, and the achingly cool “Alpine glass” quarter windows in the roof all had me sold.
The first thing you’ll pay attention to is the transformation from rolling brick to something that can credibly be described as “sleek.”
In subsequent generations, the Discovery – or LR3 and LR4 here in the U.S. – was modernized but it never really lost that quintessential, functional-feeling boxy shape. Which is why, as I stared down the sleek, rounded, and altogether different lines of the 2017 Discovery, it was hammered home that Land Rover is really exploring uncharted territory with the model. Which is why there’s been no “Discovery V” or similar language around the vehicle, just a steadfast branding as the “New Discovery.”
Just about everything here is new, but the first thing you’ll pay attention to is the transformation from rolling brick to something that can credibly be described as “sleek.” Designers have included cues to Discovery heritage – if you look carefully you’ll see a roof rise above the third row that harkens back to the Alpine window, which offers a touch more headroom. And from the straight-on rear view a huge, squared-off tailgate reminds you that this is still a tall, capable SUV.
It’s the view from the front that tells the real tale, however. A demure, two-bar grille is almost less impactful than two big vertical vents on the front clip; those openings are designed to funnel air over the specially optimized wheel shapes, and generally help to make this Discovery far more slippery than its predecessors. Coefficient of drag has improved from a downright agricultural 0.40 to a slightly more modern 0.35 – with better fuel economy and lower in-cabin noise two obvious benefits.
Even at well over six feet tall, I can manage a perch in the last row without eating my knees.
Besides being quiet – wind and road noise levels feel nearly Range Rover good here – the new Discovery does a nice job of blending luxury, tech, and ruggedness. Both vehicles I drove wore the highest HSE Luxury packages, meaning the fullest possible options sheet and nicest equipment, of course. Land Rover’s InControl Touch Pro software plays on a 10-inch touchscreen, offering clear graphics (especially for navigation) but a slightly muddled organization and small amount of lagginess when responding to inputs. High-trim touch points like heated/cooled seats trimmed in Windsor Leather with sixteen-way adjustability, are closer to straightforward luxury, while rubberized grab handles and all-weather floor mats remind you that Land Rover used to be the choice of Welsh shepherds, not just the Queen.
Interior space is ample, in all three rows, which is perhaps the strongest heritage line I see from the LR series vehicles to this Disco. Even at well over six feet tall, I can manage a perch in the last row without eating my knees; smaller adults and the neighbor kid you have to schlep back from tee-ball shouldn’t mind a bit.
I am quite curious about the lower-spec versions of the seven-seat Discovery, however. My test vehicles were equipped with Land Rover’s Intelligent Seat Fold equipment – basically using the touchscreen (or an app on your phone) to configure the second and third rows as you’d like them. In some use cases I can see the advantage here: On a run to the hardware store to pickup building materials I can fold seats to open flat-floor space, without having to stand outside in the cold or rain. But in terms of day-to-day access, I’m not sold. The powered seats take forever to move, and if I’m just shoving a 12-year-old into the back row, a manual lever would seem much simpler (and probably more robust over the years).
Light steering and some body roll prevent you from confusing this with a sporting SUV.
Power to haul the brood around can be found in two flavors, gas and diesel. I drove both powertrains on the launch event – on and off road, in Utah and Arizona – and have a hard time choosing a favorite. Discovery can be had with a turbocharged diesel or supercharged gasoline engine, both displacing 3.0-liters over six cylinders, and both connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The supercharged V6 puts out 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, with a 0-60-miles-per-hour figure of 6.9 seconds. Meanwhile the TD6 turbodiesel figures stack up at 254 hp and 443 lb-ft, with a “sprint” to 60 in 7.7 seconds (though better, quicker passing power in the roughly 30-50 mph range).
Fuel economy is clearly where the diesel powertrain stands out, netting EPA mile-per-gallon ratings of 21 city and 26 highway, versus 16 city and 21 highway for the gas-burner. But don’t expect that miserly fuel consumption to save you money (at least not for a while); the base TD6 costs about $9,000 more than the cheapest, gas-powered Discovery SE. Granted, the TD6 comes with the HSE trim level and therefore more equipment, but if I were ordering I’d be sorely tempted to take the supercharged gas engine, lower trim, and a couple of thousand leftover for options of my choosing.
For instance: the seven seat package. For some reason adding the optional third row (and frankly, if you don’t want the third row, start your search over with the Discovery Sport) also gives you the two-speed transfer case and Land Rover’s air suspension. You’ll see in the gallery of images that I did some very aggressive rock climbing in this new Disco – the off-road baby hasn’t been thrown out with the square-shaped bathwater… that’s a weird image but you take my meaning. Raising the vehicle to off-road height, I was able to drive up and over boulder-strewn hillsides, as well as chug through deep, shifting sand. No joke, the LR guys deflated my tires for some pretty aggressive dune driving – something that your typical three-row family crossover will indeed balk at. All of this on the standard all-weather tire option, too.
This is a vehicle I’d be happy to see in my driveway, and happier still to keep calling Disco.
On-road manners are more important, frankly, to the average Disco customer, even if the brand’s careful engineering of genuine wilderness readiness provides a welcome safety net. On pavement, the ride quality is smooth and well managed (and as I mentioned at the top, quiet). I drove some twisting mountain roads between stretches of dirt and highway, and can report that this Disco is not Jaguar-like when it comes to switchbacks. Light steering and some body roll prevent you from confusing this with a sporting SUV. But for everything from grocery runs in SoCal to winter driving in the Maine Woods, Discovery drivers should feel pretty cozy and confident. The ravaged pavement on the roads around Motor1’s Detroit office will probably be smooth sailing, too.
Discovery pricing seems about as aggressive as its maximum wading depth (35.4 inches, in case you were wondering). A starting price of $49,990 undercuts competitors like the Audi Q7 by thousands, and nearly matches the Lexus GX (when you add in delivery and the extra few grand to make Disco a seven-seater). Meanwhile, a front-drive-based crossover like the Infiniti QX60 will also seat seven and offer a fair number of amenities, at a lower price, but it’s several steps behind where driving on bad surfaces is concerned. Throw in that the gasoline-powered Discovery can tow over 8,000 pounds (7,716 for the TD6), and you really do have a kind of motoring Swiss Army knife.
I miss the bluff and boxy looks of the Land Rover SUVs that first drew me to the Discovery and LR nameplates. But it’s amazing that in this radical transformation of appearance, the truck has kept almost all of its rugged ability and forthright nature. Even without those charming little windows, this is a vehicle I’d be happy to see in my driveway, and happier still to keep calling Disco.
Photos: Land Rover