Land Rover started the current SUV craze. Back in 1989, it launched a model that was more road-oriented than the Sherpa-like Defender, and more affordable than the old-money Range Rover. The Discovery was born and the world was stopped in its muddy tracks.
Typically, Land Rover then rested on its laurels. Since that original, there’s only been one genuinely all-new Discovery, the 3, launched in 2004; the Discovery 2 and 4 were just upgrades of what came before. So, for some time now, the Discovery has been off the pace.
“Thank you kindly,” Audi and Volvo have been saying, as they place yet another Discovery 4 owner in a fancy new Q7 or XC90. Finally Land Rover has had enough: the Discovery fightback starts now.
The way the latest version looks is a real shock. The old Discovery was a Lego brick of a car, with similarly childlike panel gaps and surfacing. This new one could be a Range Rover, so rich is the finish. It’s sleek and slippery rather than blunt and brusque.
The manly charm of the old one is gone, but nobody really wants that in this class of car in 2017. Besides, some of the old Discovery cues still remain: the step in the roof, the swoopy C-pillar, the weirdly asymmetric rear end that I stared at for two days and still couldn’t fully warm to.
Those two days were spent in Utah. Big country. Very appropriate for the Land Rover, which is still massive, although it’s a shade under five metres and flat-sided enough to be fairly easy to manoeuvre. This is, of course, immaterial in Utah, where the arrow-straight roads stretch into the horizon, but vital back home in Shoreditch.
I knew it would be good. I didn’t expect it to be this good.
There’s nothing really to do on such straight and empty roads, I spent a lot of time exploring the Discovery’s beautiful, Range Rover-like cabin. Honestly, at first glance, you’ll swear it’s been taken from a £140,000 car. Only the lack of Wilton carpeting is a giveaway. Safe to say, it’s a gigantic step up compared to the old one. Existing owners will be staggered.
It’s super-roomy, bigger than the Q7 and XC90, and big enough for seven six-footers. It’s practical, too, with USB sockets, wi-fi streaming and cubbyholes everywhere, plus the sort of extreme off-road ability that makes you glad you’re doing it in someone else’s car. I don’t think I’ve driven something this good on rough terrain.
And on the road it’s an absolute peach. The pillow-soft ride is almost soothing, and the V6 engine hums quietly in the background (rather than clattering industrially) and, crucially, it’s far easier to handle than the old one. Steering is direct and light, it doesn’t wallow, doesn’t make you feel like a bus driver.
Perhaps this is to be expected. It does share an aluminium base with the Range Rover, after all, and has the same steering as the Range Rover Sport. And it weighs almost half-a-tonne less than the old one.
Land Rover made us drive hundreds of miles over two days, over all sorts of terrain (who knew they had sand dunes in Utah?). A mere shopping trip to locals, it was more than enough time to discover the new Discovery is brilliant. I knew it would be good. I didn’t expect it to be this good. Land Rover has at last caught up with itself. And it’s been worth the wait.