Land Rover's new large luxury SUV is more refined for the road, but is still quite rugged when it's time to get dirty.
The most obvious difference between the all-new 2017 Land Rover Discovery and the LR4 that it replaces is the new body. Yes, it looks a heck of a lot like a Ford Explorer now, but beneath the more curvaceous sheet metal (or rather, within it) is a unibody chassis that is lighter and stiffer than the model that this one replaces -- about 1,000 pounds lighter, to be specific-ish.
That much weight reduction (or, more specifically, moment of inertia reduction) should bring big improvements to nearly all aspects of a vehicle's performance from acceleration and braking to handling and dynamics to fuel economy and efficiency.
Overall, Land Rover has placed a bigger emphasis on building a Discovery that's easier to live with, boasting better on road handling and a more refined ride than before. No, it obviously doesn't want to sacrifice the off-road capability that is the brand's hallmark -- be sure to check out our first-hand experience testing the Disco's off-road cred -- but the reality is that the average luxury SUV logs the vast majority of its miles on-road.
For that reason, the Discovery's air suspension and tighter chassis have been tuned for the tarmac. More refined Electronic Power Assisted Steering and Brake Control stability assistance contribute to better cornering and handling. The ride is still very truckish when the road gets really twisty, but the Disco feels planted and confident on the freeway.
That's partially because it is literally more planted at freeway speeds. The air suspension lowers itself into a more aerodynamic ride height that both lowers the center of mass, which improves stability at high speeds, and reduces air turbulence beneath the SUV, which reduces aerodynamic lift and drag, further contributing to the feeling of a more planted ride.
Riders plant their rear ends in one of the standard five seating positions. Check the right option box when spec'ing your Disco and the capacity for passengers increases to seven seats. Our example was equipped with the optional Intelligent Fold seating package, which adds power folding motors to the second and third row seats that can lower or raise the benches with either the touch of physical buttons in the cabin, virtual buttons in the InControl Touch Pro infotainment system's interface or a connected smartphone running Land Rover's InControl app.
I was able to squeeze my 5-foot-9-inch adult body into the third row without too much trouble, though I'd probably not want to hang out back there for an extended period of time. About the only disadvantage I could find of the power folding rear seats is that they do cut into the rear stowage area a bit (even in their flat folded configuration) so those who do more cargo hauling than people moving may want to think twice before checking this particular box.
In addition to the power seats, we've also equipped a power liftgate that can be activated with a touch or touchlessly by kicking a foot past a sensor located beneath the rear bumper. Within the main tailgate is a second inner tailgate that lowers like a drawbridge to create a small ledge for loading items (or having a sit) without scuffing the rear bumper. This, combined with the air suspension's ability to lower the vehicle's rear end at the touch of a button, makes the Discovery fairly convenient for loading and unloading bulky items.
The 2017 Land Rover Discovery is powered by a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 engine that makes 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque. If those numbers sound familiar, it's because that power train can be found all throughout Jaguar Land Rover's modern line of vehicles, from the Jag XE to the Range Rover Evoque.
Though lighter than its predecessor, the Disco is still one of the largest vehicles in JLR's stable and a massive mode of transport. The V6 engine rises to this challenge with a strong feeling of acceleration and smooth, quiet highway cruising.
The V6 is mated to a standard four-wheel drive system via an eight-speed automatic transmission -- also standard. Shifts are smoothly executed; the program behind that execution is tuned for driving comfort and fuel economy. There is a Sport program accessible via the rotary drive select knob -- another hallmark of Jaguar Land Rover vehicles that replaces the more conventional shift lever -- triggering more aggressive shift points and improved acceleration.
In this configuration, the Discovery is good for an EPA estimated 16 mpg city, 21 mpg highway or 18 mpg combined. My tested estimate of 16.8 mpg -- over mostly rural highways and fire trails -- falls in line with the EPA's reckoning.
The separation between the Discovery's 3.0L V6 supercharged power train and that of a mere Jaguar XE AWD is the plethora of 4x4 equipment on the business end of the eight-speed gearbox. The Disco features an optional two-speed transfer case with a 4WD low-gearing mode for increased traction and torque multiplication for during low-speed crawling and climbing. The SUV also boasts an optional more robust active rear differential that can be locked depending on the needs of the terrain.
In addition to the standard Sport and Normal on-road driving modes accessible via the shifter knob, the Discovery driver also has an entire second "Terrain Response 2" option that toggles between presets for rock crawling, mud and ruts, sand and snow. Choosing one of these modes adjusts the differential locks, air suspension ride height, throttle response and traction control for maximum grip in each situation. However, this new generation of Terrain Response should, when left in its Auto mode, be smarter and more proactive at sensing the driving surface and adjusting its settings than previous systems. So, in theory, most drivers will never need to fiddle with this system until facing fairly extreme conditions.
The electronics supplement construction that's just plain rugged. The Discovery boasts a maximum ground clearance of about 8.6 inches, a maximum wading depth of 33.4 inches and impressive approach and departure angles (23.6 and 25 degrees, respectively). With all of its gadgets, poor weather and trail riding are basically idiot-proof, but even without the electronic wizardry the Disco should be a fairly capable off-roader in experienced hands.
A unique feature in the Disco's optional feature set is the Activity Key. This $400 rubber wristband looks like a fitness tracker, but it's actually a waterproof, dirt- and dust-proof, nearly everything-proof device that you can use to securely lock and unlock the Discovery while doing activities that might damage the standard electronic key fob. So, you can go surfing, kayaking or river tubing without having to worry about keeping the fob safe and dry.
To use the Activity Key, first toss the standard key fob in one of the center console storage bins and close all of the Discovery's doors. When you're ready to leave the vehicle, hold the Activity Key near the Discovery badge on the rear liftgate for a moment. The doors will then lock and you can leave the vehicle and run a Tough Mudder or whatever dirty activity you've got planned.
While the car's locked, the electronic key fob is disabled, so no one can just smash your window and drive away with the Discovery and its keys. And when you return to the vehicle, simply hold the Activity Key near the tailgate again to unlock the Disco and regain access. During my testing the Activity Key worked exactly as advertised and, while I'm not actually a fan of "activities," I do see how this feature greatly improves the convenience of securing the vehicle and protecting the electronic key in the outdoors.
I'm a huge fan of the convenience features in the Discovery's options list -- Activity Key, Intelligent Fold Seats, hands-free liftgate -- they're all great. I'm also loving the available driver aid tech, such as adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go traffic assist, lane-keeping assistance, automatic emergency braking and more cameras around the body than I really know what to do with. I'm not a fan, however, of the dashboard tech.
The InControl Touch Pro infotainment suite in the dashboard makes a good first impression with its crisp graphics, massive 12-inch display and bright colors. I like the way this system looks and, generally, think it's well organized and easy enough to use.
However, I was quickly frustrated by all of the features that are missing from this luxury SUV's tech suite. For starters, there's no way to use voice command to enter an address for navigation. In fact, there are no voice controls at all that I could find for the nav. The software also lacked text-to-speech capabilities, meaning it could tell me to turn left in a quarter mile, but couldn't tell me what street name to look for at that left turn. These are features that modern budget OEM navigation systems offer, so it was disappointing not to find them here.
Additionally, InControl Touch Pro lacks Android Auto or Apple CarPlay connectivity, which most of the Disco's major luxury competitors offer. Land Rover has its own brand of app integration through the InControl app for smartphones, but I found the list of supported apps to be lacking and accessing those apps to be a clunky operation.
Overall, the system tends to feel a bit laggy when tapping around the interface, which is pronounced when accessing certain functions. For example, the Discovery's various front, rear and side cameras -- which are very useful for positioning and guiding the large SUV in tight quarters -- tend to lag when activating or switching between views.
Perhaps the most annoying thing about the dashboard tech is how it contrasts so severely with how well-sorted the rest of the Disco feels. It seems like Land Rover put a ton of thought into every aspect of the Discovery's performance, comfort and convenience and then just phoned it in with the cabin tech.
The 2017 Land Rover Discovery starts at $49,990 for the base SE model, which is actually pretty well equipped for those who don't mind doing without the two-speed transfer case. Most of the other off-road upgrades -- Terrain Response 2 and air suspension -- are fairly inexpensive upgrades for the SE driver and, well, the upgraded tech isn't really that good anyway.
Our HSE Luxury model adds a great number of comfort upgrades for its $63,950 starting price, including the Intelligent Fold third-row seats and the panoramic electric sunroof. At this trim level, we also get the best off-road equipment available, including standard air suspension, Terrain Response 2 and the two-speed transfer case. With our Drive Pro Package (which adds adaptive cruise control and other driver aid features for $2,350), the Terrain Response 2 Capability Plus Package ($1,250), rear seat entertainment ($2,270) and an assortment of other options, our example weighed in closer to the $80,000 mark.
In that $50,000-to-$80,000 price range, the Audi Q7 Prestige or Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription are much more compelling alternatives for luxury SUV buyers with superior cabin technology or plug-in hybrid efficiency, respectively. Both, I believe, match the Land Rover's level of luxury and on-road performance.
In the Disco's defense, it is much more modern, more street-friendly and more broadly appealing to luxury buyers than the LR4 it replaces, all without sacrificing the off-road capability the brand stakes its reputation upon. Girded up with all of its available upgrades, this big luxury SUV is capable of some impressive feats of traction that can get you pretty far off of the beaten path. And once you get there, thoughtful features like the Activity Key and inner tailgate make life easier for the adventurous type.