2017 Land Rover Discovery review: Soft on the inside, hard to kill
In a nutshell, the 2017 Land Rover Discovery is rugged, capable, and much more like last year's Discovery Sport model in terms of handling and fuel economy. Improvements have been made on several fronts, not the least of which in how the Discovery now handles itself on around town.
The Land Rover Discovery was formerly known in the US as the LR4. Whatever the reason for the change from the world-known Discovery name to the ambiguous letter-letter-number thing, Rover has realized its mistake and made a much better SUV to go with the return to its globally-recognized moniker.
Throughout the modern era, the Land Rover name has been ubiquitous with off-pavement capability and robust "gettin there" possibilities. Where the US had "Jeep", the British empire had "Rover." Seen continually in safari magazines, on film, and in documentary series, the Land Rover Discovery became a staple of adventure and rugged capability. Alongside the Toyota Land Cruiser, the Discovery was co-owner of offroad adventure around the world. The Wrangler, meanwhile, stayed largely within US borders where it would become the most iconized and accessorized consumer vehicle on the planet.
As time progressed, most of vehicles in the Discovery's class began to show upgrades to their interiors to match the new expectations of sport utility buyers. Rugged capability is still expected today, but in a softer, more family-friendly (and family-toting) way. These days you're less likely to see the roof-mounted luggage baskets, snorkels, and huge "roo bars" (deer guards) across the grille. Instead there's three rows of comfortable seating, climate control for everybody, wireless headphones, rear seat television sets, and attention to detail like sensibly positioned smartphone sockets.
This softness has redefined the role that the 2017 Land Rover Discovery is expected to play, but has not diminished its rugged capability when the pavement ends and the adventure begins. Trail-blazing is still a big part of the Discovery's DNA and we spent a week doing both family-hauling and out-and-about dirt clawing in the 2017 Discovery.
Our model was the 2017 Land Rover Discovery HSE with several added goodies (rear seat entertainment being a major one) and the turbocharged V6 diesel engine. Items of note include the multi-zone climate controls for passengers in all three rows, the refrigerator found in the center console between the front seats, a much more responsive diesel engine, and eye-popping fuel economy.
On the outside, the 2017 Discovery is much different than the previous-generation LR4. The boxy, 1990s-ish look has been replaced with a sleeker, more modern look that hints at the lighter weight and smarter technology carried by this new frame. Land Rover did indeed lighten the weight of the Discovery by nearly 1,000 pounds (453.6 kg) versus the outgoing LR4, without sacrificing interior roominess or equipment capability.
The weight loss comes from a variety of things, but much of it can be credited to the replacement of all body framing and parts with aluminum (aluminium to our British friends) and to the increased use of high-strength steels and more advanced, lighter-weight componentry in the chassis, drivetrain, and other portions of the SUV. The more feathered look of the roofline, the increased rake of the windscreen, and the flatter body paneling are all signals to this more advanced materials used in the Land Rover Discovery's design.
The lightweighting does not mean that exterior bling is no longer available. The standard 19-inch wheels can be upgraded to 20, 21, or 22-inch options. Roof rails and a towing system are also available.
Inside the 2017 Discovery, Land Rover kept this going by redesigning the interior scheme into a two-parts. This split-level theme is best noted when sitting inside the SUV, where the driver will see that above the knees the Discovery is all about luxury and a clean, mannered driver experience. From the knees on down, though, the Discovery is a no-nonsense trail-capable machine with rubber mats, easy-clean flooring, and lots of tie-downs and containment spaces for gear and gadgets. Somehow these two themes meld together really well in the Discovery and make for a great feel overall.
Land Rover has also made some improvements that increase the people-friendliness of the Discovery. The air ride suspension can be set to automatically lower when the Discovery parks, for instance, dropping the body (and entry points) by 1.6 inches (40.6 mm) from standard driving height. This puts the Discovery at about the same height for entry and egress as most large crossovers that lack most of the Rover's legendary offroad capability.
The new design of the Discovery does have one limitation, though. A price had to be paid for the upgrades in refinement and exterior svelte. That price comes in the third row, which is adequate for children and teenagers, but difficult to access and a bit cramped. The slow movement of the second row seats to tilt forward for that access is another issue.
Aside from that, however, we found little to lament about the plush and very well-designed interior of the 2017 Land Rover Discovery. This big, luxurious machine will accommodate one, two, five, or seven people without complaint. Cargo space is, likewise, very generous with options being plentiful thanks to split-fold seating in both the third and second rows, all of which can be controlled from the rear hatch. Rover's unique "extra tailgate" that flips down to flatten the space over the bumper is a nice touch, making loading items a bit easier on the bodywork.
The standard engine for the 2017 Land Rover Discovery is a 3.0-liter gasoline-powered V6 that's been supercharged to 340 horsepower (253.5 kW) and 332 foot pounds (450 Nm) of torque. Fans of Jaguar Land Rover will recognize that as the same engine powering some of the make's sedans to acclaim. Our model of the Discovery, however, had the turbocharged diesel V6, which outputs 254 hp and 443 lb-ft (189.4 kW, 600.6 Nm). An eight-speed automatic and four-wheel drive are standard with either engine.
We thoroughly enjoyed the feel of the purring diesel and the precise shifting of its transmission. Improvements to power output and the transmission's shift patterns have alleviated the slower responses noted in the diesel from the previous-gen Rover. The diesel may not be as fast off the line as the gasoline engine is, but it's definitely no slouch and it felt really confident in both city and highway driving. On the highway, in particular, the smooth movement of the diesel and its drivetrain were noted as high points, with the cabin remaining quiet and the economical way things were handled being mostly background to a smooth ride. Off the road, the diesel outputs respectable torque that aids bumping and climbing very well as the Rover's legendary capabilities reveal themselves.
The diesel Discovery is EPA-rated at 23 mpg (12.5 l/100km) combined, with 16 mpg (14.7 l/100km) in the city and 26 mpg (9.0 l/100km) on the highway. We saw slightly better than that on the highway (about 23 mpg), but less around town (15 mpg). We'd say, overall, that the Rover Discovery with its diesel engine is likely to better its EPA estimates for most drivers in most normal driving conditions.
In that regard, the off-pavement capabilities of the 2017 Discovery are awesome. Even equipped with what are largely highway tires, the Rover did very well in getting through dirt, light mud, steep inclines, and heavy sand. Body clearance can be enhanced with the air suspension and the varied drive modes of the Discovery's terrain select system give it plenty to go from in order to handle itself without much driver input. The Discovery's relatively low center of gravity is good for both highway comfort and offroad capability, we note. Another point in its favor.
That said, the 2017 Land Rover Discovery is still a bulky vehicle. This means that maneuvering in tight spots can be hairy, but the camera system and the smart braking of the inside tires for turns makes this much easier when out in the bush. In town, the Discovery's self-parking features (optional) are a boon to those seeking to get in and out of cramped spaces, whether they be parallel or perpendicular. For those towing, an advanced system with a steering knob is available, though we were unable to try this feature.
More technology comes to the 2017 Land Rover Discovery through a 10-inch touchscreen infotainment system with the latest version of InControl Pro. This is a Land Rover branded version of the Jaguar Land Rover infotainment we've seen throughout its lineup. It's not terribly sophisticated in terms of options, but it features a big, clear screen with easy-to-understand icons and menu options. Nearly everything is as simplified and automated as possible, making it one of the easier systems we've seen on the market. Knowing that, though, we also note that many things one might expect to see on more advanced systems are not there, such as app integration and a robust Wi-Fi hotspot.
JLR's InControl smartphone app does allow the Discovery to be climate controlled and checked on from afar through its smartphone interface. We do like the seating position (notably folding) capability that the smartphone app allows, so you can configure the Discovery before hauling out your latest home improvement goodies. A nice touch.
For the driver, the 2017 Discovery has a lot of assistance available. The adaptive cruise and crash mitigation systems are very well done. Feature like the the "driver attention" monitor, which pops up a coffee cup icon when the driver seems a bit less alert than expected, aren't over-sensitive and are generally responsive without being nagging.
In all, we found the 2017 Land Rover Discovery to be a very well-considered sport utility that retains Rover's expectation of off-road prowess while providing a truly modern, luxurious interior space. The quiet highway ride and smooth driving feel are unusual for SUVs that are as robustly made as this one is.
Pricing for the 2017 Discovery starts at US$49,990. Our test model rang in at $80,000 with delivery.
Product Page: 2017 Land Rover Discovery
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That's some fancy math. How do 16 and 21 average out to 23? Also, it's disappointing that diesel engines are still being offered in consumer vehicles.
Why specifically is this Land Rover better than the less expensive Ford Explorer?