The all-new fifth-generation Land Rover Discovery loses weight, gains practicality, space and technology yet comes with the same enormous breadth of ability both on- and off-road as before. Here we test drive the new 2.0-litre diesel version.
In the metal
It was an unenviable and yet enviable job replacing the Land Rover Discovery. And we mean replacing, as this Discovery is very much all-new, carrying nothing over from its predecessor other than its name. Given that the Discovery 4, was little more than a few body-coloured cladding revisions over the Discovery 3, which had been around seemingly forever, the Discovery's boxy, stepped-roof stance and shape was a familiar, even reassuring, sight on our roads. A design icon, even; set-square styled, it wore its utility and practicality like a Scout's badges sewn on their sleeve. The new one retains some Discovery style signatures (there's a hint of the stepped roof, for example), but it's a pretty sizeable departure overall from the familiar, traditional Discovery form.
The new Discovery inevitably shares elements of its look with the smaller Discovery Sport and the company's premium Range Rover models, hauling it upmarket. It is handsome and, usefully, slipperier than ever - to the benefit of efficiency. The detailing around the lights and grille is bold, the shut lines tight, the surfacing neat. Overall it's successful, though from some angles the rear looks a touch bulbous, while the skewed rear number plate is the stuff of OCD-afflicted symmetry-lovers' nightmares. That jarring element hangs on a now single piece tailgate, while a fold-down flap within the boot creates a ledge so loved by Land Rover Discovery owners and previously delivered by a split rear hatch.
Opening that tailgate reveals not only a vast opening, but a sizeable interior. The Discovery is offered with a seven-seat option though the five-seat layout is standard in Ireland. Opt for seven pews and they'll undertake all sorts of electrically powered folding and shifting, using buttons inside the boot or the touchscreen up front or even a smartphone app, ensuring that, when you pick six of your 'refreshed' pals up from the pub in it they'll think you're some kind of seat-conjuring wizard. They'll all fit in, too, as long as those in the rearmost seats aren't too freakishly proportioned; the Discovery is an admirably capable and massively capacious team/family bus. A well-connected one, too, depending on specification, as it can be fitted with as many as nine USB ports and four 12-volt sockets, allowing you to turn the interior into a cable-spaghetti mobile charging point for iPads, iPods and anything else that modern life, or your kids, demand. If you need to connect it all there's the option of 3G mobile Wi-Fi for as many as eight devices, too. There's plenty stowage to hide it all, as well, with cubby spaces everywhere, many deep enough to swallow all those fully-charged iPads.
There's no denying its cleverness, then, and for the most part it all feels a step upmarket inside. The design is neat, though some of the plastics in the lower portions of the cabin feel a bit cheap, while the instruments are jarringly conventional by today's digital standards and the screen between them is rather low res too. While we're nit-picking, Land Rover's touch-screen infotainment system lacks the operational ease of those from its best rivals, and does at times seem to run at a speed akin to a laptop riddled with viruses, while the Meridian stereo sounded surprisingly flat in all versions we drove, lacking the sort of stadium concert punch and premium audio clarity offered in the likes of the Volvo XC90. Specify the optional head-up display and the fact the info it projects onto the screen isn't quite straight is a bit annoying. We're not saying its rivals are perfect, far from it, but impressive overall as the interior is, a little more polish in some areas would add to the upmarket, sophisticated feel.
No other vehicle offers the breadth of ability that the Discovery does, as it'll clamber, climb, and wade over, under and through terrain that'd see a lug-booted, roped-up special ops soldier running home and crying to their mummy. That other-worldly off-road ability is possible thanks to Land Rover's updated Terrain Response system, which operates the hugely complex and capable four-wheel drive system with push-button, twist-knob simplicity. Great, though obviously, the reality is that all but a handful of owners will tackle anything more treacherous than a deep pothole, tall speedbump or unpaved carpark, but at least its four-wheel drive system gives it security on the road and aids with its sizeable 3,500kg towing ability.
Hauling it all along is a range of engines introduced now by a four- rather than six-cylinder turbodiesel. It's offered in either 180hp or 240hp guises, sampled here as the higher powered Sd4-badged version. Those still wanting a six-cylinder turbodiesel can choose the 3.0-litre V6, while there's also a petrol V6 if your life goal is to become your local petrol station's biggest benefactor. The use of that downsized diesel has been made possible by a drop in the Discovery's weight; at best, the new Discovery loses 450kg in comparison to the old car, thanks to more extensive use of aluminium in its structure.
Even so, it's no lightweight, as the Discovery still tips the scales comfortably in excess of two tonnes. Don't try to replicate the 8.3-second 0-100km/h time then if you want to sample that Sd4 diesel in its best light, as asking for its all brings plenty of revs to the inevitable detriment of refinement. Keep it a bit more sedate and use the 500Nm of torque from low revs and it's brisk enough. A lot of the credit for its easy, if not scintillating, performance is attributable to the eight-speed automatic transmission's supreme ability to seamlessly pick the correct ratio. Imperceptibly, too. There's enough power then, rather than a surfeit of it, making us think that the lower powered four-cylinder might struggle to shift the Discovery with any conviction. The V6 turbodiesel obviously is faster, but it's not such a sizeable leap as you might imagine, making the 2.0-litre Sd4 the pick of the range.
The four-cylinder turbodiesel engine also removes a fair bit of weight over the front axle, to the benefit of agility. Even so, the Discovery has never been about sporting prowess, and the new one follows that furrow. It is capable in the bends, and the steering accurate enough, though the slight lean reduces your enthusiasm long before you get anywhere near the limits of its grip. If that's your bag, buy a Range Rover Sport http://www.completecar.ie/car-reviews/article/Range_Rover/Sport/Sport/175/3253/2014-Range-Rover-Sport-review.html. No, the Discovery does exactly what you'd expect and hope it does, which is convey in comfort, even if the optional air suspension (steel coil springs on entry-level models) does sometimes get unsettled by sharper ridges on the road surface. That air suspension allows all sorts of raising and lowering for access (as well as off-road clearance) or high-speed stability, though we'd need to sample the conventionally coil sprung car before recommending shelling out the extra for it.
What you get for your money
Prices start at €57,815 for the 2.0 TD4 S with five seats. That engine with seven seats costs €71,700. Following the familiar S, SE, HSE and HSE Lux trim walk you'll need a V6 under the bonnet if you want air suspension and the full suite of four-wheel drive low ratio technology that gives the Discovery its ridiculous off-road ability. S covers the basics, such as they are in a modern car. SE adds some luxuries like standard satnav and safety equipment like Lane Departure Warning, while HSE and HSE Lux feature particularly luxurious specifications. Most are unlikely to find SE wanting, though.
Bringing the Land Rover Discovery bang up to date, the new fifth generation SUV retains all the old car's strengths, and builds on them. Hugely capable, vast inside and clever, it's a shame for all the downsized engine's ability that its rivals can still manage lower emissions despite greater power and more cylinders. That aside, the Discovery is verging on real brilliance, and if you want your SUV to take you absolutely anywhere, it's the only choice.