Mountain Wheels: All-new Land Rover Discovery seeks SUV-loving families
2017 Land Rover Discovery
Powertrain: 340-HP supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 or 254-HP turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel V-6
EPA figures: 21 MPG highway (gasoline), 26 MPG highway (diesel)
For serious off-road fans who aren’t just Jeep-ophiles, the iconic Land Rover Discovery has been a modern take on one of the best-known adventure vehicles, seen in some of the remotest parts of the world.
But if the most recent iteration of the tall and boxy Discovery — known in the U.S. as the LR4 — struck many as being a little too cubic and safari-focused, rather than suited for the suburban treks it’s going to be doing in 99 percent of modern SUV owners’ lives — then maybe the time was right for a slightly new direction.
Subsequently, the 2017 Discovery appears as a much more smoothly rounded machine, fitting more closely with the general design aesthetic seen in all of Land Rover and Range Rover’s new products.
And while it’s certainly got the ridiculously well-developed off-road capabilities the brand is so well known for — we spent a couple of days in Utah tackling blizzard conditions, plus rock-crawling, blasting through sand dunes, river bottoms and mud bogs, and Discovery emerged victorious — the not-so-hidden story here is Land Rover’s intention to build a vehicle with broader appeal to those families now single-mindedly focused on capacious SUVs as their go-to choice.
To that end, one cannot discuss the full-sized Discovery (there is also a smaller, Range Rover Evoque-derived Discovery Sport) for more than two seconds without mentioning the full-sized seats in its third row, plus family-focused features such as nine possible USB charging ports, cupholders and storage to give a minivan a run for its money. Even the climate control faceplate on the dash flips back to reveal more storage.
Does that sound like Land Rover is trying to appeal to two different worlds at the same time? Yes, but as the Jaguar/Land Rover company has finally reached a point where its sales volumes are becoming significant, the brand is looking for opportunities to offer North American buyers a product that suits their lifestyle but is not quite the Park Meadows Mall/Aspen Main Street glamor queen, as is the case with the fancier Range Rover line.
Starting at approximately $50,000, it’s not cheap, and loading on all the goodies makes it even less so, but considering that’s almost half the normal price of an entirely non-off-road-oriented Cadillac Escalade, the new Discovery will attract some mid-upscale buyers who might not have previously thought of themselves as Land Rover types.
For them, it’s a pretty fabulous experience, as this is a cool-looking, high-tech automobile that’s less bulky than the larger full-blown Range Rover models (or any of those General Motors/Ford shipping containers on wheels), with a blend of comfort and functionality that’s still quite removed from domestic or Japanese three-row SUVs.
Power choices are relatively simple — a 340-horsepower supercharged V-6, a nice medium-strength setup that will get you 21-plus-MPG on the highway, or a torque-o-rific 3.0-liter 254-HP turbocharged diesel, guaranteed for 26 MPG or higher on the road.
Both are great for efficient pavement motoring; you can easily travel at high speeds with the former, and the diesel will happily and steadily chug along when you eventually/maybe do that sideways rock crawling in Moab (the All-Terrain Progress Control system also allows Discovery to handle the throttle on its own, leaving you to concentrate on hitting boulders in the right spot).
It can wade through more than 35 inches of water and with the air suspension, can suddenly get quite tall and agile, with 11.1 inches of clearance. Alternately, it’s also able to comfortably haul up to 8,201 pounds of trailer — a cool, retractable trailer hitch and an automatic self-steering tow assist system also aid in those duties.
The old LR4 was certainly one of the bulkiest vehicles around and the new Discovery gets a lot of its efficiency as a result of losing more than 1,000 pounds of weight (it’s now 4,751 to 4,916 pounds). Aluminum underpinnings mean the chassis is still so rigid that you can open the doors and the rear liftgate while dangling on two perpendicular wheels, one of those off-road shock-and-awe features.
Without the second-row seats slid forward, those third-row seats — which are quite genuinely full-sized — do not quite offer the legroom you’d find in a Sprinter van, but the arrangement does allow for legitimately comfortable adult seating if you mess around a bit. In the back, a full panel of seat controls (there’s even a power-deployed inner tailgate as a picnic/après perch in the rear) demonstrates the unending British fixation on Bond-worthy switchgear. Or, flatten everything and get a massive 82.7 cubic feet of total cargo space.
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