Before you react to the massive stylistic change the Land Rover Discovery underwent for this, its fifth generation, I ask you to consider another model in the Jaguar Land Rover family: the Jaguar XJ.
Like the Discovery, Jag’s flagship sedan also underwent a huge paradigm shift when the latest model debuted for the 2009 model year and, like the Discovery, it was time to ditch decades-old styling cues and find a way to start bringing the vehicle up to speed with the current generation of car buyers.
Also, it had to join rank with the rest of the line-up, which had moved on and modernized. In fact, the last time I can remember a model undergoing such a vast change from one generation to the next was that XJ.
So, as you can see, the Disco (called LR3 and LR4 in North America for its last two generations; that’s no longer going to be the case, and the Discovery nameplate is back worldwide) is no longer the quintessential three-box shape it’s been since 1989. Other details that have gone the way of the dodo include the wraparound rear side windows and split rear tailgate. Still has the offset rear number plate, though.
What we now have is an enlarged version of the Discovery Sport, which made its own debut last year. Actually, put more precisely, it’s a mix of that vehicle and Land Rover’s more upscale Range Rover Sport model. A look at the front end confirms this – honeycomb grille, narrowed headlamp lenses and jeweled LED DRLs – while the side profile screams Discovery Sport, especially behind the C-pillar.
The question, of course, is how this will alienate Discovery purists. There will be some that may take issue, but if you’re striving for new buyers, you can’t focus on pleasing a more traditional buying group that is shrinking. Plus, in a competitive segment such as this, reinventing yourself is the norm. Look no further than Range Rover bringing a diesel to Canada for the first time, or the prevalence of more and more hybrids and plug-in hybrids from luxury manufacturers.
Ah, plug-ins. Know this: three engines will be available – two of which, a diesel V6 and the supercharged V6 from last year’s LR4, will be available in Canada – and none of those are a hybrid or plug-in. Is that a problem? Maybe. But for all its more rounded looks and modernization, it’s essential for a Land Rover of any stripe to still be capable. That means the ability to tow and to climb is paramount. A plug-in hybrid just wouldn’t do.
“(The new Discovery will have) more universal appeal, but at the same time, will be a true Land Rover at heart,” said Massimo Frascella, creative director of Discovery. “Versatility is a core value of Discovery.”
In fact, it’s the defining feature; Land Rover has three separate brand families, each with their own focus. The Range Rover is the luxury model, the soon-to-arrive Defender is all about durability and the Discovery is all about capability. So, regardless of its more rounded looks, it should still be able to ford rivers and climb mountains.
And transport its occupants in comfort while it’s at it.
It is a three-row SUV, and no detail has been ignored when it comes to making all of that work as seamlessly as possible. You can adjust the seats from an app, so they’re already folded forward before the family even gets there. The seats also have built-in AI, so if you’re trying to fold the second row, for example, the first row seats will move forward so you can do so. No longer do you have to first slide the front row, go back to the second row, fold it, and back to the front again.
The seats, meanwhile are in a stadium-style alignment. In addition to that, there are three square meters of flat-load floor with the second and third rows folded, and 21 different storage bins throughout the cabin (coincidentally, there are also 21 different seat arrangements). My personal favorites are the example big enough for four iPads (that can connect to the car’s 3G WiFi hotspot, or its nine available USB ports) that gets revealed by sliding the front cupholders forward, and the hidden bin behind the radio controls.
Sure,the Range Rover line may be the luxury line at Land Rover, but that doesn’t mean the designers were about to slap in some vinyl seats and send folks on their way. With that in mind, new interior colours have been added with names like “Warm Acorn” and “Cool Glacier.” Not wanting to deal with extremes here, it seems.
The challenge, of course, is to make sure that a modicum of ruggedness remains amongst all this luxury.
“We needed to ensure that the materials we developed were authentic, natural and premium,” said Amy Frascella, chief interior designer and wife of exterior man Massimo. “But not precious.” That meant more earthy colours as well as the need to ensure that oft-dirtied parts of the cabin are finished in easier-to-clean and more durable materials.
While the two-piece tailgate is gone, there remains an optional internal “tailgate” of sorts that, when deployed, can handle a 300-kg load, so you don’t have to worry about damaging it when you slide heavier objects in. You can also leave it upright and open in order to store dirtier objects.
Like wellington boots, for example—wellington boots that have likely been muddied after being out adventuring, which, for all its new people-moving chops, is where the Discovery belongs. Off-road, and off the beaten path.
“Off-road autonomy is a major focus of ongoing technology development at Land Rover. It’s where an intelligent vehicle can help you the most,” said chief engineer Alex Heslop. “Discovery can support a novice as well as an expert.”
In order to support that claim, all manner of off-road driving aids have been added, including optional air suspension that can detect if the Discovery’s bottoming out, or wading through water. It also makes use of the cruise control system to provide an off-road crawl road.
While the suspension can be raised, it can also be lowered when on the road to improve aerodynamics while moving over 105 km/h, and for easier accessibility when stopped.
It’s here that you really start to see the Discovery come into focus. Yes; at the presentation, there was lots of talk about how capable and befitting of the Discovery name it was. That’s fine and dandy, but all this focus on ease-of-use just goes to show what really needs to happen: the Discovery needs to stop being considered the quirky outlier by a select and passionate few, and as a real competitor in the mid-size luxury seven-passenger segment by a discerning many.
Don’t forget the Rangie
Of course, with all the hubbub surrounding the new Disco, Land Rover would be loathe to forget about doing something for their Range Rover flagship. Enter the Range Rover SV Autobiography Dynamic, loaded with leather, metals, TVs and general panache that are as close as you’ll get to a Rolls SUV (until that brand does an SUV of their own in the none-too-distant future, of course). It’s also been tuned for performance, with a supercharged V8 making 542 hp.
In addition to the arrival of the SV, Land Rover has partnered up with Swiss watch giant Zenith to create the El Primero Range Rover, a $10,000 (but if you have to ask…) timepiece built with Swiss precision and styling inspiration from the Rangie of all Rangies.