Land Rover's Discovery has had its ears boxed in – quite literally. Yes, the all-new Discovery 5 (which replaces the LR4) ditches the distinctive boxiness of its predecessor in favour of softer, tapered lines that its makers hope will grow the model's market share in the cutthroat medium-large SUV segment.
The radical changes run deeper than the surface, because the latest Disco is underpinned by a derivative of the aluminium-rich PLA (Premium Lightweight Architecture) platform used by its Range Rover and Range Rover Sport siblings. This enables it to slash up to 480 kilograms of lard vis-à-vis the LR4, which was based on the rugged but extremely heavy “Integrated Body Frame” hardware.
My first drive in Utah provides proof that the switch to the new architecture has discernibly sharpened up the Discovery’s on-road demeanour, but it’s still no match for BMW’s X5 in terms of agility or dynamism. Propulsion comes from a 340hp 3.0L supercharged V6 that propels the big SUV to 100kph in a claimed 7.1 seconds. Out in the real world, the vehicle feels respectably brisk without being a fireball.
The big Land Rover may not be particularly involving to steer, but it’s super-quiet and refined at highway cruising speeds, which means you can cover hundreds of kilometres (as I do at the international media launch) without feeling knackered.
Cabin quality is vastly improved and the driving position is also a lot better than before. In the LR4, you felt as though you were perched on top of the vehicle, whereas now you feel ensconced within it. Visibility is still good, but not as panoramic as in the LR4, with its huge, greenhouse-style windows.
Off-roading purists might be inclined to write off the Discovery 5 on the basis of its switch to monocoque construction, but they would be mistaken. At the media launch, I tackle some deeply rutted tracks, rock crawling over massive boulders, sand-dune hopping (at Coral Pink Sand Dunes National Park) and ploughing across an unbelievably soft, boggy mudbath that you couldn’t possibly traverse on foot.
The Discovery 5, equipped in this case with optional low-range gearing, walked across it all, with the air suspension offering up to 284 millimetres of ground clearance and enough wheel articulation (up to 500mm) to cope with everything thrown at it during the drive programme.
A 141mm stretch in length means the latest Disco is a genuine seven-seater, although the third-row pews are more child-dimensioned than full-sized adults. There’s ample headroom back there, but legroom is a squeeze if you slide the adjustable second-row seats to their rearmost position. There’s also very little luggage space (258 litres) if all seven seats are in place. But there’s a cavernous 2,406 litres to play with if you fold down all barring the front seats.
There are numerous seating/luggage configurations, and you can electronically fold/unfold the seats via a control panel at the rear, the central touchscreen at the front or even via your smartphone. This means you can already activate the reconfiguration while you’re still buying a load of flat-pack furniture in Ikea. Other surprise-and-delight features include a vast panoramic roof (the largest Land Rover has ever fitted) and you can also opt for a ground-quaking 825-watt Meridian sound system.
I’m not sure if the rounded-off, tallboy styling of the Discovery 5 is a step in the right direction, but as an overall entity, the big Landie is a very capable and well-executed all-rounder.
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