The Land Rover LR4 was one of the few three-row luxury SUVs you could actually take off-road. But it’s a dinosaur, ancient and clumsy. The 2017 Land Rover Discovery that replaces it is leaner, more comfortable and still goes to work when the pavement disappears. The Discovery badge is back, and it means something again.
(Full Disclosure: Land Rover wanted me to drive the 2017 Discovery so they flew me to Utah, fed me food I can’t pronounce, and housed me in hotels where the nightly rate is higher than the combined value of all of my personal vehicles.)
Everyone knows the Range Rover is a total baller-mobile, finding its way into the driveways of movie stars, business moguls and sports icons. But it’s not for everyone. Neither is the Land Rover Defender, which—while it’s currently in between generations—has traditionally represented the other end of Land Rover’s spectrum: a total bruiser with solid axles and body-on-frame construction.
In between the poshmobile and rugged off-roader sits the Discovery, and with the 2017 model, Land Rover aims to bring to market a more modern, seven-passenger SUV that emphasizes versatility over outright opulence or rock-crawling capability.
And, based on my two days driving the big three-row SUV through Arizona and Utah, I think the result is one hell of a car.
You may not know this, but the old LR4—which debuted in 2010—was actually built on an old-school Ford parts bin platform with roots back to 2004. The vehicle used an “Integrated Body Frame” to meld a unibody passenger compartment to a suspension and drivetrain that sat on a ladder frame, resulting in a comfortable SUV with great off-road skills, but with a curb weight on par with a heavy-duty pickup truck.
The new Discovery ditches that chunky platform for aluminum-intensive unibody construction with steel doors (for dent resistance) and a composite rear hatch. All in, it weighs about 900 pounds lighter than its predecessor. It also looks a whole lot sleeker.
The Discovery’s off-road performance surprised me. It was more than decent, especially when you consider that this thing is nearly 196-inches long. With the optional air suspension at off-road ride height, the Disco offers more than 11-inches of ground clearance and approach and departure angles of 34 and 30-degrees, respectively.
On top of that, the optional two-speed transfer case comes with a 2.93:1 low range, there’s a standard locking center differential and an optional locking rear diff for increasing traction.
Add to the spec sheet a water-fording depth of almost three feet, wheel articulation close to 20-inches, a slew of underbody skid plates and engines with enough torque to pull down a sequoia trees and you end up with a vehicle that has mountain goat capability defying its titanic size.
Of course, the off-road demonstration trails that Land Rover set up for my press drive were fairly tame, limited to muddy riverbeds and sand dunes. But we did get to climb up some steep rocky ledges, with uneven terrain that sent two tires (stock street tires!) sky high into the air. Even there the Disco just continued on climbing, thanks to its clever off-road system that kept power flowing to the wheels with traction no matter what the conditions.
I thought All-Terrain Progress Control—essentially off-road cruise control—would be a gimmick, but it really made ascending and descending steep grades a stress-free endeavor. All I had to do was turn the wheel, and the vehicle’s computers took care of the rest.
The system wasn’t perfect, though, as sometimes the Disco came to a complete stop while the computers figured out how they were going to keep the car moving forward, but by and large—especially for people with limited off-road skills—the system is a godsend.
So the 2017 Discovery is good off-road, but it’s much, much better on pavement. The ride quality, based on my couple of days in Utah, seemed sublime. Seats are supremely comfortable, and the interior materials—for the most part—felt top notch. Handling is great for a vehicle this large and visibility through the front windshield and rear glass is excellent.
The steering manages to actually feel luxurious. It’s not overly assisted, not heavy, but perfectly weighted and very smooth.
Power from either engine isn’t neck-breaking, but at no point did I find myself complaining about a lack of acceleration. The first car I drove was a silver 340-horsepower 3.0-liter supercharged gasoline V6 model, with the same engine out of last year’s LR4. That mill actually not only sounded great, but with a claimed 0-60 time of 6.9 seconds, romping the gas pedal is in no way boring.
The diesel model, despite making nearly 100-horsepower less, really didn’t feel perceptibly slower to me. Nor did it sound any less refined at low engine speeds, where the Disco’s cabin kept that diesel rumble to a minimum. That engine’s 443 lb-ft of torque felt monstrous, and made off-roading a breeze, as I could climb inclines without even touching the pedal.
Initially, I expected to prefer the gas engine for its acceleration and sound, but I walked away wanting the diesel.
Finding fault with the Land Rover Discovery wasn’t easy, but I’ll start from the outside. I think the car looks soft from every angle. There are parts of it that I really like: the lights, grille, and big vents on the front bumper that create an “air curtain” around the wheel wells.
Like I said, the idea is it’s a family-hauler that can off-road, but from the outside it’s way more of the former than the latter.
When I looked at the Disco’s predecessors, which were all lined up outside our hotel, I found myself wishing for a few more sharp angles.
I spoke with Land Rover about this, and they told me the new roundness was a deliberate attempt to create a package that appeals to a wider audience versus the predecessor’s more polarizing squared-off look. While the new styling may very well accomplish the goal, I also think the resulting swoopy curves yield a car that doesn’t look as tough as it really is.
My driving partner and I both agreed that the design is especially odd in the back, where the large butt droops over the rear axle like an abnormal growth, and an ungainly uncovered spare tire hangs down low in plain sight.
On the inside, I noticed a few quirks as well, namely a lot of black and silver hard plastic trim on the center console that was already starting to scratch. I can imagine in a few years, that scarred plastic might make an otherwise gorgeous interior look like the inside of a McDonald’s playhouse.
I also found ingress and egress from the third-row seats to be a bit challenging, and the idea that this thing fits seven full-size, 95th percentile adults seems like a stretch, as even I—at five foot eight—found the rear bench to be a bit tight for my legs.
Actually folding the power seats was a bit confusing as well, as I had to call a Land Rover representative to help me figure out how to get all the seats to the right positions. I suspect this latter point just requires a bit of training on my part, but I wouldn’t consider the power-folding rear seats intuitive by any stretch.
My final gripe had to do with the upper end of off-road capability. For the most part, the Discovery was comfortable and composed on the dirt and rocks, but sadly, it lacked articulation, and that sometimes made for a jarring, loud ride as the shocks topped-out as they rebounded over bumps.
Another thing I noticed was that the sun visors don’t telescope, meaning if you’re a passenger, and the sun is on the starboard side, part of the window won’t be covered, and you’ll have to get used to some rays.
I never did get a chance to drive the base SE model, which starts about $7,000 lower than the next one up, the HSE. Though it does come with leather seating and a slew of other standard luxury features, it doesn’t get the HSE’s height-adjusting air suspension.
I wonder how much that would affect both on-road ride and off-road capability. But then again, is anyone going to buy the base model? This is a Land Rover, after all.
After two long days of driving the new Discovery, I fell in love. It isn’t the fastest SUV on the road, nor is it the best off-road, nor is it the most luxurious, nor is it the prettiest. But the way the vehicle manages to combine such disparate skill sets—on-road refinement, true off-road capability, interior volume, and decent handling—into one package made giving the keys back a genuine struggle.
Even if you don’t factor in the hype and cultivated prestige of the Land Rover brand name, the new Disco feels like a solidly capable family adventure rig. And there aren’t nearly enough of those left in this world.
- Engine: 3.0-liter Supercharged V6 (gas), 3.0-liter turbo V6 (diesel)
- Power: 340 HP at 6,500 RPM / 332 lb-ft at 3,500 RPM (gas), 254 HP @ 3,750 / 443 lb-ft @ 1,750
- Transmissions: ZF 8HP45 (gas V6), ZF 8HP75 (diesel V6)
- Drivetrain: Full time 4WD, optional low range gearbox
- Curb Weight: 4,751 lbs (gas V6) to 4,915 lbs (diesel V6)
- Seating: Five to Seven
- MPG (city/hwy/comb): 16/21/18 (gas V6) to 21/26/23 (diesel V6)
- MSRP: $49,990 (base SE) to $73,950 (First Edition)—diesel engine costs $2,000 extra