Land Rover has brought back a familiar name — Discovery — but its face and behavior are far less recognizable. And that’s a good thing.
The SUV formerly known as the LR4, now in its fifth generation, has evolved into a more family-friendly animal and it’s more civilized on the road, too. Its old boxy shape has been replaced with soft, rounded curves in front and rear. It’s more comfortable, with 16-way adjustable seats. And there is advanced technology to simplify your life, like a trailer-assist feature and remote-folding seats that can be adjusted from a smartphone.
But don’t worry, Land Rover purists. The lighter, more nimble Discovery is no less capable off the beaten path. An all-terrain system monitors off-road territory every 100 milliseconds and adjusts traction, throttle and steering response. And this bad boy can wade through 35.4 inches of water, aided by electronic air suspension and 11 inches of ground clearance. It can even “breathe” while the grille is below the surface.
Discovery, known by Rover lovers as the Disco, was a late release for 2017 and went on sale over the summer. Its aluminum body enabled it to shed more than 1,000 pounds though it’s not exactly svelte with a curb weight of around 4,900 pounds.
Two engines are available in the U.S., one of them a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6. It gets 254 horses but a ox-like 443 pound-feet of torque, and is capable of towing 8,000 pounds. But, to introduce the 2018 model, the Td6 actually towed a 121-ton, seven-trailer semi-truck in a wild demonstration in Australia. So, yeah, this SUV can haul.
There’s a $2,000 premium for the diesel engine but it’ll pay back with better fuel economy — 23 mpg city/highway compared to 18 mpg with gas engine. Expect less when towing a semi-truck.
Many in the U.S. may prefer the added highway punch of the 3.0-liter supercharged V-6. It produces 340 hp, 332 pound-feet of torque and gets to 60 mph in under seven seconds. Both engines are mated to Land Rover’s familiar, smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission.
On the road, Disco feels like a family hauler now, with a compliant ride and four-corner air suspension that does a good job of soaking up potholes and railroad tracks. While cornering sometimes was a white-knuckle experience for passengers, the still-tallish Discovery now manages them without adventure or worry.
That air suspension also helps folks get in and out by — get this — lowering Discovery about an inch whenever a door is opened. Classy, huh?
Off the road, few foes can compete with the Discovery. Performance on higher trims is enhanced with a 2-speed transfer case with active locking center differential, hill-descent and rock-crawl controls. A terrain response system adjusts driving dynamics for a variety of surfaces, like sand, mud and snow. It has an approach angle of 29.5 degree and a departure angle of 28 degrees.
Inside, you’ll see elegant leather seats, high-quality materials throughout and a dash design not unlike the typically more plush Range Rover. There is seating for seven in the HSE Luxury, with ample head and shoulder room. The second row is a bit tight on leg and foot room and those seats only slide back and forth manually — odd, considering the other luxuries.
The power-folding system allows rear seat backs to be folded or raised via a smartphone app — a cool feature to show the neighbors — as well as from the InControl infotainment screen. Headrests can be folded, too, for better rear visibility. And a panoramic rear sunshade doesn’t hurt the view, either.
New for 2018 is an interactive driver display cluster with 3-D graphics. And an optional head-up display has more functions and crisper graphics. The 10-inch touchscreen system is somewhat sluggish from the start-up and in response to commands. It gets the job done but requires some patience.
A 14-speaker Meridian sound system is superb, and a rear entertainment system is available for long hauls or to keep little darlings quiet.
Cubbies for stuff are everywhere (family friendly, right?) and there are about a dozen USB ports among the three rows. The center-console pit is big enough for his and her laptops. And cargo room is competitive for the segment: 45 cubic feet with the rear seats up, 82 cubes with them all folded.
Discovery HSE Luxury also is laden with tech safety features, including adaptive cruise control with autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, blind spot monitor and driver drowsiness monitor.
Discovery has come a long way from its days as a capable but simple, boxy, top-heavy beast. Yeah, it still claws its way over boulders and tows semi-trucks, but the ol’ Disco has learned some new road manners.
Barry Spyker was the automotive editor and columnist for the Miami Herald.
2018 Land Rover Discovery HSE Luxury Td6
Base price: $65,950
As tested: $79,950 — includes Drive Pro Package ($2,350), All Terrain package ($1,250), Rear Seat Entertainment ($2,270), Vision Assist ($1,000)
What's all the excitement about? Land Rover slaps the Discovery nameplate on a more civilized, family-friendly SUV; seats can be power-folded via a smartphone app
Powertrain: 3.0 liter turbocharged 6-cylinder diesel with 254 hp and 443 pound-feet of torque; 3.0-liter supercharged gas-engine V-6 also is available
How's the performance? Steady, quiet and powerful enough to tow 8,200 pounds
What about the fuel economy? EPA-rated at 23 mpg combined (21 city, 26 highway)