Functional aesthetics, these are. Unlike the neighbouring F-Pace, the new 2018 Land Rover Discovery is not poised to scoop any design awards. But this is a car that needs to juggle a great number of fantasies, central to which is a history of being able to drive anywhere in cocooned luxury. Commendable wheel articulation, a 900mm wading depth, seven seats and 3500kg towing ability name just a few of the technical highlights. Those perceived rough off-road edges ultimately chamfered to a classy business status. Every time a rival launches a premium SUV and tells the media how capable it is off-road, this is the benchmark they’ve used. Factors unlikely to soften the Disco on the eyes but it does provide some context for a nameplate that’s sandwiched between the regal Range Rover and the invincible Defender.
Off-road prowess, raised on the standard air suspension, is immense. There are driving aids equal to the number of USB ports commanded by the second-generation Terrain Response with low-range box. Each time you twiddle it around, the car’s brain selects its own throttle mapping, drivetrain mode, steering response, suspension-set-up and traction control slippage. Or you can gain precisely the same progress by letting the car work it out for you using the All-Terrain Progress Control, a sort of cruise control system that diminishes driver-input (steering) to make the impossible look easy. Aiming a million-rand Disco with feet off the pedals is a similar sensation to the first time you put your faith into active cruise control – sweating nervously as you eyeball the danger ahead.
Still, that said the majority of development work was poured into refining on-road manners which began by lowering the subframe architecture for a nimbler centre of gravity. The first Discovery to be based on Land Rover’s all-aluminium architecture chops 480kg off the scales.
Don’t expect X5 agility though, this doesn’t squat through corners because up front there’s a heavy V6 in petrol or diesel, a beefy transfer case in the middle, and over two tonnes of weight afflicting Disco’s balance point.
In the pipeline is the 2.0-litre 4-cylinder Ingenium engines which will bolster the powertrain options – another batch of fuel quality tests is causing the delay – but at the risk of falling into the trap of downsizing prejudice, a great number of the car’s USPs are extracted from a wanton of grunt. The launched comprised the 3.0-litre TDV6 turbodiesel with 190kW, 600Nm or the 3.0-litre Si6 petrol with 250kW and 450Nm both fixed to the 8-speed ZF auto. For performance, the petrol pulls powerful fast strokes against the lazier TDV6 but at nearly double the consumption on a similar route.
Behind the wheel I’d say the Discovery feels bigger than a Range Rover, or at least something that lends veracity to the statement of a commanding driving position. Size is well replicated in here; large clear buttons, storage spaces that imply the word discovery, and through it all a level of ergonomics that tread between the flowing lines and a blend of steeper angles that promote outward visibility for precise placement when off-roading. Space for seven is exemplary in a stadium-style package with provisions for charging full to the gunwales.
Safety systems implement a number of common autonomous tools that on paper aren’t quite as ground-breaking as rivals but do alleviate the stresses of long distance travel. Sadly none of the cars we drove came with the adaptive cruise control while crossing a solid line triggers a faint vibration from the wheel, but unlike an XC90 it won’t steer you back into the lane. Blind spot monitoring together with a litany of cameras give you an increased sense of your surroundings.
Land Rover Discovery has fully embraced the tech-fangled pathways between itself and smartphones, skipping beyond usual media/telephony stuff (on a brilliant Meridian audio system) to offer functions that will be filed under the ‘cool but largely irrelevant’ column. Folding the rear seats via an app on your phone? Fun the first time but physical buttons suffice.
The posher Discovery is softer, leaner, cleverer, cleaner but arguably on the road not up to the dynamic enjoyment or autonomous level of its peers. For those looking to channel their inner Kingsley Holgate there simply is no more capable, ginormous 7-seater to traverse all types of terrain en route to a Kalahari bushfire in the land of ‘Mama Africa.’
Land Rover Discovery TDV6 SE
- R1 109 250
- 2993cc, 6-cyl turbo diesel, AWD
- 190kW, 600Nm, 8A
- 7.2l/100km, 189g/km
- 0-100km/h in 8.1secs, 209km/h
- VERDICT: Manages small compromises to bisect Defender and Range Rover