ST. GEORGE, Utah—Everything’s just a little bit bigger here in Utah. Actually, that’s a lie: everything’s a lot bigger here.
The massive rock formations that look like they were custom-made for a Matt Damon flick about Mars, for example. Or the massive blue sky that becomes the host of stars like you’ve never seen before, bereft of the light pollution that big-city life brings. The way you can latch on to one of the many satellites seen orbiting the globe and follow it clear across the sky with no interruption is amazing, and so very relaxing.
Sky so blue it looks painted, sand so red it looks dyed, and desert greenery so pastel it feels like you’re on a model train set, with everything painted just oh-so-perfectly; the colours are magnificent. The way many houses and the cars in their lots have been given a certain patina doesn’t look worn or tired; it just looks right.
As I sit here, perched on the verandah of my suite at the Amangiri hotel that itself looks like it will be the next Bond villain’s secret lair, I realize exactly why Land Rover has decided to use this backdrop as the setting for the launch of their all-new Discovery SUV. It is one of the biggest changes the model has seen ever since its 1989 debut, and it needed a big stage on which to showcase it.
Called the “Disco” by many of its adoring fans, Land Rover’s longest-running model after the Defender bowed out after the 2016 model year, has never looked quite like this.
Even non car-geeks will likely recognize a classic Discovery (later called LR3/4 in North America) when they see it: all squared-off, high-riding, and high-roofed.
That’s no longer the case; for 2017, the Discovery (base MSRP: $61,900) has eschewed all that for a more rounded look that aligns with the Discovery Sport below it, and the various Range Rover models above it.
I thought this may pose a bit of a problem when I first saw the Disco launched at the 2016 Paris Motor Show, but LR is steadfast in its belief that while there will be some Disco “purists” that may be rubbed the wrong way, they need to attract a more modern buying populace and this is the way to do it.
So, while it may not look quite as distinctive to those in the know, the ’17 Discovery remains a handsome beast – the latest Range Rover fascia is a good one, what with its low-profile grille and squinting headlamp lenses – and the proportions are less awkward overall. A few telltale Disco styling cues remain, however, such as the C-pillar angle and offset rear license plate mount.
The rear fascia is given a clean look thanks to the full-width light bar as well as the hidden wiper. Too bad the exhaust outlets aren’t actual exhaust outlets; when it came time to move the design from concept to production phase, they couldn’t get the exhaust to line-up but left the faux outlets to provide a more anchored look overall. The more slippery shape, meanwhile, lowers the Cd to 0.33, making for better fuel economy (we saw 11.2 L/100 km from the diesel) and less wind noise.
The interior appears and functions as you’d hope it would, considering the Discovery’s utilitarian luxury digs. All Discos get three-row seating, and the numbers are staggering: 21 storage bins, nine USB ports, 60 gigs of storage, and 2,500 litres of cargo room, assuming you fold the rear seats flat.
Of course, if you’re going to go toe-to-toe with the Volvo XC90, Audi Q7, and Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, you’d better be comfortable.
While the seats aren’t quite on par with industry leader Volvo, they are a very close second, with plenty of adjustability to support a variety of body types. I especially like their ribbed cushions and the exterior colour-match piping seen on our orange tester. Very chic.
They’re “smart,” too, in that they can sense what’s going on around them and adjust accordingly. If you need to flatten the third row, for example, the second row will automatically slide forward a little to allow the headrests to slide behind. It’s all done either via switches mounted into the rear cargo wall, the touchscreen up front or by a phone app.
About that third row of seating: Land Rover claims you can comfortably fit two adults back there, and while that’s true once back there, getting there in the first place is a bit of a “tall” ask for the longer-limbed among us. That being said: I’m not even sure why it’s important to talk about fitting adults in the third row. Most owners will either be leaving the seats folded, or reserved for short drives with short people, like their kid’s teammates.
With those nine USB ports, at least parents know they’ll be able to keep passengers entertained for the duration of the journey. Heck, when you can fit up to five iPads in the front centre console, you’re golden.
We, of course, didn’t have any kids with us, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty for us to enjoy. The 13-speaker Meridian sound system, for example. It’s optional, but, boy, does it sound good, even though it may be down on the speaker count compared to some of the competition.
Equally fun to use is the new InControl Touch Pro infotainment system, which provides a nice, wide touchscreen that looks good and is properly responsive. It’s not all perfect; it’d be nice to more easily manipulate what you’re seeing in both panels of the split-screen display, and certain commands require a few more button presses than I’d like.
Available driver aids run the gamut from active lane-keep assist to adaptive cruise control and even a trailer back-up display. The systems can all be adjusted by the TFT display between the gauges, controlled via wheel-mounted buttons.
None of that was really going to help us where we were going, however. Well, it would on the highways leading up to our various destinations, but once there, it was all about how the latest Discovery can still hack it in adverse conditions. “Adverse” like the almost-quicksand at the ATV-haven Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, or on the slippery rock formations just outside of Big Water, Utah.
Six drive modes are on offer: Auto, Rock Crawl, General Driving, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts and Sand. They all have various effects on the throttle, steering, brakes, TCS and suspension. You can also shift gears manually, and there’s a two-speed transfer case on hand for all your rock-crawling needs.
Which we would make very good use of once we arrived in Big Water for some Disco-bouldering.
Select neutral, plip the button marked “Lo” and you’re good to go. At least, we were told we’d be good to go; considering this is a 2,080-kg luxury SUV (albeit one that is 20 percent lighter than the LR4 it replaces) we thought there’d be no way. Jeep Wranglers and Hummers, sure; but this?
Turns out, yes. This will do just fine, thank you very much. Granted, there was a little slip at one point that forced us to start again, but that was all. We were in the gas version for this test (340 hp, 332 lb-ft), which is actually the better climber of the two even though the diesel (254 hp, 443 lb-ft) makes more torque; see, the gas engine makes more torque at lower revs, and has perfect 50-50 weight distribution.
We even opened the doors and got out for photos while precipitously balancing on three wheels; a demonstration of just how rigid the chassis and body is. The hardest part, it turns out, was getting back into the car. Have you ever tried sliding into a leather seat at a 20-degree angle without falling out? It’s no picnic.
Tech plays a part here, too; the Disco features a forward-and-down facing camera so you can see what’s coming at you when all you’ve got through the windshield is a view of the deep blue Utah sky. Very smart.
Off-road test number two involved a dune bash at the Coral Pink Dunes; the desert-like environs are pretty much exactly where you’d picture the Discos of old, competing in the Camel Trophy off-road challenge or out on safari. We selected – you guessed it – Sand mode for this; our tester’s optional air suspension was set to its highest setting, tire pressure lowered from 35 to 15 psi, and we proceeded to mash through the sand piles, clawing our way up steep embankments in sand so fine I’m sure I’ll be pulling it out of my boots for weeks.
The key here is to make sure you keep momentum, as slowing down or braking too hard will have your car sinking in, eventually past the point of no return. The Discos weren’t invincible here – some did get stuck – but the fact that we were rolling on stock all-season rubber with no additional off-road chassis tuning is mighty impressive.
Of course very few – if any – owners are ever going to do this, but as the Land Rover folks on-hand at the event said: the knowledge that it can be done is worth it for many buyers. Plus, the added peace of mind can’t be discounted when it comes to tackling icy Canadian winters.
Indeed, out on paved public roads is where you’ll find most of these, and in those kinds of circumstances, the ’17 Discovery doesn’t disappoint.
The air suspension also comes to play in the-day-to-day; the vehicle can be lowered for easier entrance and egress, and it automatically drops by 15 mm when travelling above 105 km/h to better aid with aero. The diesel, of course, is the fuel economy star, here, and the torque it provides makes highway travel a breeze. With Mercedes removing their Bluetec diesel option from the GLE line-up for 2017, Land Rover’s timing is good, as it could pull some away from the German brand.
The V6 is the more athletic-feeling of the two; it sounds the business, with a tinge of Jaguar F-Type in its induction and supercharger noise, and it’s easier to get moving from rest. It’s also lighter than the diesel engine, making for more agile progress.
Either way, the Discovery is as capable as it’s ever been, but now with the added benefit of proper seven-person seating and much more car-like chassis and suspension tuning.
In the Disco we continue to trust.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.