For almost three decades, the Land Rover Discovery had one simple objective: Go anywhere. On that premise the Discovery (or the LR3/LR4, as it has been known in the U.S. since 2004) succeeded as one of the most legendary all-terrain vehicles worldwide. Aesthetically, it left something to be desired, however, with its boxy function-over-form shape, unusual stepped roof and asymmetrical liftgate. Creature comforts were sparse, and ride comfort could be described as stiff and bouncy. It was an acquired taste.
The all-new 2017 Land Rover Discovery is designed to appeal to a much broader audience. It looks more like a typical SUV, while the interior gets a modern update and more high-tech features. Its on-road manners have been improved, but die-hard fans shouldn’t cringe at the thought of a kinder, gentler Discovery. It’s just as capable of handling punishing terrain that would leave other vehicles stranded.
The 2017 Discovery fills the gap between the smaller, less powerful Discovery Sport and the luxurious and pricier Range Rover in the Land Rover lineup. Prices start around $51,000 for the base SE trim and top out at $80,000 for a fully loaded HSE Luxury model. A supercharged 3.0-liter V6 engine is standard and comes rated to produce 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque. From the midlevel HSE trim upward, a turbocharged diesel variant that churns out 254 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque is available. An eight-speed automatic transmission sends power to a permanent four-wheel-drive system. Estimates have the gasoline engine returning 18 mpg combined and the diesel option 23 mpg.
Starting with the five-passenger SE trim, standard feature highlights include a panoramic sunroof, a hands-free power liftgate, leather upholstery and Land Rover’s new InControl infotainment system. Step up to the HSE trim and you get bigger wheels, LED headlights, a power tailgate, a power-adjustable steering wheel, tri-zone automatic climate control and additional cabin storage. At the top of the range, the HSE Luxury adds a third row of remote power-folding seats for seven-passenger capacity, an air suspension, a two-speed transfer case, premium audio, upgraded upholstery, additional leather trim, front and rear heated seats, and a heated steering wheel.
Many features are available on supporting trims as options. Other add-ons include a drowsy driver monitoring system, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a traffic sign reader, adaptive cruise control with full stop capability, frontal collision mitigation, lane keeping assist and a head-up display. For added comfort and convenience you can also upgrade with four-zone climate control, massaging front seats, a surround-view camera system, an automated parking system, a rear entertainment system, an advanced towing system and a waterproof activity key.
On paper, the 2017 Discovery is about the same height and width as the LR4 it replaces. Lengthwise, it’s about 5 inches longer. In person, however, the Discovery looks smaller due to its tapered and sculpted styling. The softer design should make it more attractive to less adventure-bound shoppers, though compared to other luxury SUVs, the Discovery’s bigger footprint could make it a handful in tight city settings.
Our extended drive was limited to the top-of-the-line HSE Luxury model, which benefits from the standard air suspension. Once parked and a door is opened, the ride height drops by 1.6 inches for easier passenger access and the rear height can be further lowered for cargo loading. Once underway, the ride height returns to its normal setting, dropping slightly at highway speeds. During low-speed off-road driving, the system raises the vehicle by almost 3 inches for greater ground clearance.
Once seated, front passengers will notice the rather aggressive side bolstering as well as the firm and flat cushioning. The bolstering does a good job of securing occupants in place, especially since the Discovery feels top-heavy and a bit tippy. After a few hours of driving, however, we began to notice some posterior discomfort from the lack of padding. Taller adults will comfortably fit in the second row of seats, and the slightly elevated position gives them a good forward view. The third row will also accommodate taller adults, but the low cushions and narrow passage to access those seats make them better suited to smaller passengers.
Cargo capacity is limited to a few carry-on suitcases behind the third row, but that space expands to a generous 45 cubic feet with those seats folded and a maximum of 82.7 cubic feet behind the front seats. Configuring the seats is easy thanks to the Intelligent Seat Fold function. It allows you to configure the second- and third-row seats with controls on the infotainment screen, the liftgate, the rear doors or remotely through a smartphone app. The tailgate is a nod to previous Discovery models that featured a two-piece hatch, with the bottom section folding down to provide a seating bench and to facilitate easier cargo loading. This power-folding tailgate can support up to 660 pounds, and the cargo floor is flat all the way to the front.
For smaller personal items, the Discovery’s cabin has plenty of bins and pockets, as well as dual gloveboxes. Families will also appreciate the numerous device charging options. There are up to six 12-volt power sockets and nine USB ports available.
On pavement, the 2017 Discovery’s large dimensions are noticeable yet manageable. The tall ride height and narrow width do produce some body roll when cornering, but on the whole, the big SUV feels confidently planted. Compared to its predecessor, the Discovery is positively agile. Unlike some rough-riding off-road SUVs, the Discovery delivers a smooth, comfortable ride over potholes and bumps, though you may feel a few more imperfections than you would in the typical family SUV.
The gasoline-powered V6 is our preferred engine to get all of the Discovery’s 4,751 pounds moving. Throttle response is quick when leaving from a stop as well as when passing slower traffic. Land Rover estimates the Discovery will reach 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, which is about average for the class. When it’s properly equipped, the maximum tow capacity is 8,201 pounds.
The diesel option is slower to react to throttle inputs with a short pause before power finally builds. It also adds 165 pounds in overall weight. Acceleration is slower at 7.7 seconds and it’s also marginally louder. For the few who regularly take their vehicles off-road, the diesel’s low-end torque may be enticing for rock crawling, but the gasoline engine is also up to the task and easy to modulate. Normally we expect diesel engines to have an increased tow rating, but in this case it drops to 7,716 pounds. Add in the $2,000 premium for this engine choice and gasoline power gains an easy advantage.
Whichever engine you choose, the Land Rover Discovery is easy to drive. On the highway, it tracks straight with minimal steering input needed from the driver. Wind and road noise is pleasantly silenced, allowing the Meridian premium audio system to shine. Thanks to the tall windows, outward visibility is better than in most other SUVs, and a standard rearview camera and optional surround-view system remove any remaining guesswork.
Speaking of modes, the others mirror those on the 4 E-Hybrid: E-Power, the default which prioritizes electric driving and depletes the battery most freely; Hybrid Auto mode, which blends gas and electric power most efficiently; and the two Sport modes, which both keep the engine on and prioritize electric assist with the non-plus mode maintaining a constant battery level instead of maximizing battery charge.
Later this summer we’ll take the helm ourselves to determine whether the Turbo S E-Hybrid is more four-door 918 or crazy-pricey Panamera Turbo.
Don’t be fooled by the new Discovery’s more graceful styling. It’s just as capable as its predecessors. With the air suspension, there is up to 11 inches of ground clearance and it can wade into water up to 35 inches deep. Even without all-terrain tires, we managed to scale challenging obstacles, roar over sand dunes and crab across muddy trenches with ease.
Land Rover’s Terrain Response system handles most situations in the fully automatic mode. Selecting the specialized modes may involve some guesswork because the icons aren’t immediately clear and aren’t labeled. For really demanding topography, you have to turn the transmission dial to neutral, tap the low-range gear button (also not that recognizable) and push the high ride height switch. The traction control system known as All-Terrain Progress Control removes any worry by determining the appropriate amount of power to climb seemingly insurmountable objects. Think of it as low-speed cruise control. All the driver has to do is steer.
As much as styling and adventure figure into the new Discovery formula, so, too, does technology. Land Rover’s InControl infotainment system is a vast improvement over its predecessor. The wide 10-inch display in the dash has sharp graphics and is easy to read, but the touchscreen interface doesn’t work as well as the dial controllers used by competitors. The menus themselves are fairly intuitive, but making a selection requires more attention than we’d prefer when on the move.
The InControl system adds some remote functionality through a smartphone app. Users can lock and unlock the doors, control the windows, start the climate control, reconfigure the seats, remotely start the engine, locate the vehicle and perform a host of other functions without even being near the car. These features aren’t that unique, but the optional Activity Key is a notable option. This Fitbit-like waterproof wristband allows owners to leave the traditional key fob in the car and lock and unlock the doors by holding the Activity Key against the “D” in the Discovery badge on the liftgate.
We recognize most SUV owners don’t need something as off-road capable as the 2017 Land Rover Discovery, but we also know there are plenty of off-road adventurers who are drawn to the Discovery for that very reason. Both camps have something to like with this new Discovery. On the top trim models we sampled, there’s ample comfort and luxury mixed with smart design and features aplenty. And when it comes to conquering rough terrain, few alternatives can challenge the Discovery’s capabilities.
Among the small group of off-road-capable, luxury SUV rivals, the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Lexus GX 460 are worth considering. More traditional, on-road-biased SUV alternatives include the Audi Q7, Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class and Volvo XC90.