We’ll give you a pass if you think the new-for-2017 Land Rover Discovery looks like a slightly longer Discovery Sport we drove a year and a half ago in Iceland. The two SUVs share almost nothing, though, and have entirely different missions. The five-seat Sport replaced the ancient LR2, while the seven-seat Discovery replaces the boxy LR4, or Discovery in the rest of the world.
The Discovery Vision Concept previewed this new crossover at the 2014 New York auto show, while the company dropped the production version at the Paris motor show in September 2016. Riding on an inch and a half longer wheelbase, the production car looks like a huge departure from the LR4 — much sleeker and sportier, cleaner and less upright (drag coefficient is 0.32, a 17 percent improvement), with big wheels pushed out to the corners. The clamshell hood is there, of course.
The new crossover rides on Land Rover’s aluminum Premium Lightweight Architecture (PLA), also under the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport. Thus the LR4’s heavy ladder frame is out, unibody construction is in. According to vehicle-line director Nick Collins, the body in white is 85 percent aluminum. The Discovery is about 1,000 pounds lighter than the almost 6,000-pound LR4 and boasts a near 50-50 weight distribution.
Powertrains are familiar: A ZF eight-speed automatic transmission joins a choice of two 3.0-liter V6s, one gas (supercharged, 340-hp/332-lb-ft), one turbodiesel (254-hp/443-lb-ft). The Discovery can tow up to 4,400 pounds, and, being a Land Rover, of course the off-road chops are here: 11.1 inches of ground clearance and 3 feet (!) of wading depth (up a stout 8 inches over the LR4), plus Terrain Response 2, allowing drivers to choose throttle, transmission and traction-control settings based on terrain. Suspension is double-wishbone front and multilink rear, the latter made compact enough for more third-row seat room.
Inside the nicely built cabin, the new Discovery has the company’s much-improved infotainment touchscreen, with a third fewer buttons to fiddle with, plus way better graphics. Features include 3G Wi-Fi, available Meridian 17-speaker sound system, as many as six 12-volt outlets and no fewer than nine USB sockets. Storage cubbies can be found all over the interior, 21(!) in total, including one big enough for four iPads. There are 35 apps available, including weather at your arrival point and one able to read the news to you.
Base Discovery models seat five with the third row optional. We found the back seats perfectly suitable, and actual humans can fit in the third row. Cargo capacity is 82.7 cubic feet, with 45 cubic feet available behind the second row. One cool trick is called Intelligent Seat Fold technology, letting you use a smartphone app to remotely fold or extend the second- and third-row power seats.
We’ve driven the new Discovery twice now, right before Christmas in Scotland and recently crossing between Utah and Arizona through Zion and Grand Canyon national parks.
Land Rover says the Discovery is as quiet and smooth as a Range Rover, and we don’t doubt it. It really is whisper-quiet at, ahem, legal-plus speeds. The weight savings helps on-road performance a ton, steering felt spot-on and the optional air suspension (a must, in our opinion) is biased toward comfort, as it should be. After two solid days in the saddle, we felt no road fatigue.
Land Rover also says this is the most capable off-roader it’s ever built. Including the Defender? Yup. In fact, after prototypes were tested for 28 months in 20 countries around the world, the Discovery became known internally as the King of the Hill. We put that to the test in a Rover’s natural habitat in Utah and Arizona, climbing muddy trails, performing obligatory rock climbs and blasting around sand dunes — all Land Rover requirements, in other words.
As expected, the new Discovery sailed through everything we threw at it, climbing, descending, crawling — no worries. In terms of off-road ability, it felt nearly unstoppable. The Terrain Response settings — general, grass/gravel/snow, mud and ruts, sand, and rock crawl — helped deal with it all, as did the 11 inches of ground clearance. Both V6s felt smooth and refined and plenty powerful, though the diesel gets a slight nod thanks to its torquey off-road abilities. We also felt it best mated to the eight speed.
One neat off-road feature is called All-Terrain Progress Control, acting as sort of a low-speed cruise control on traction-challenged surfaces. Just set the speed, take your foot off the gas, and the car does the rest.
Land Rover might not want to hear this, but with all the room inside and the seven seats, plus the storage and USB ports and connectivity and all the rest, it’s almost like the Discovery is a really, really, capable minivan. If you want a big(ish), tough SUV capable of conquering damned near anything you’d ever likely throw at it while hauling you and six of your pals, then check it out. Prices start at $49,990 for the SE rising to $73,950 for a First Edition model, a launch special — special paint and interior trim, unique badges and the like — limited to about 500 cars.