While the overt curvaceousness and shameless luxury visited on Land Rover’s fifth generation of the iconic Disco model comes at a price, its virtue is intact, writes Anthony ffrench-Constant
By Anthony ffrench-Constant
You'd be forgiven, on catching a first glimpse of this fifth generation Discovery, for coming to the conclusion that the process of painting Land Rover customers into a style corner is now complete. Following the recent demise of the Defender, those that couldn’t or wouldn’t steal someone else’s turned to the last generation Discovery a la recherche du boxiness perdu, and all the practicality that said packing crate appearance promised. So, whilst those that really want a doer not a poser wait with baited wallets to see just how much stylising the Defender brand can stand, it’s interesting to assess the extent to which the added voluptuousness visited upon the Discovery has blunted its much vaunted capabilities as a go-anywhere all rounder, if at all. This all-new curvaceousness is certainly costly.
Though you can buy a new Disco for as ‘little’ as £43,495 (powered by a 2.0 litre turbodiesel that most will favour), this range-topping, V6 turbodiesel variant comes in at £64,195, or, once laded with optional goodies in the specimen I drove, over £75,000. Seventy five grand for a Discovery... That used to be Range Rover territory. Happily, though the new car is fractionally larger than its predecessor, it shares its new Range Rover siblings’ predilection for weight loss. With the bodyshell now 85% aluminium, the lightest new Discovery weighs a substantial 480kg less than its lightest predecessor. It still tips the scales at over two tonnes, however, which sounds a deal for a 2.0 litre diesel to lug around... Francis Bacon once wrote that ‘There is no beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion’. This certainly applies – for those that find it good looking – to the smaller Discovery Sport. Mercifully, the Discovery proper has the length to merit a proper aft section, not only making for far more comfortable proportions, but also far more comfortable occupation of the third tier of seating. Indeed, the only strangeness on display is the off-centre positioning of the rear number plate; a nod to the asymmetrical tailgate of yore. The demise of the old twin-set tailgate has not gone down well in Discovery circles, but there is now a fold-down flap which can bear the weight of a pair of Purdeys, and their owners.
On board, the interior receives an upgrade even more dramatic than that of the exterior. Those familiar with Range Rovers of all sizes will feel instantly at home in a cockpit borrowed shamelessly, and to excellent effect, from the posher brand. The opulence of leather abounds, particularly above muddy Wellington-top level, and both build quality and the standard equipment specification are acceptably high in an arena in which cars such as Audi’s Q7 constitute the opposition. Though this somewhat hastily constructed frame has yet to be entirely convinced by Land Rover long-haul seat comfort, the cabin is undeniably spacious. The sliding/ reclining second row seats boast some 960mm of legroom and, more significantly, it is actually possible for grown-ups to not only access, but also – unlike aboard the Discovery Sport – sit in, the third row. Better yet, an Intelligent Seat Fold system allows for the powered manipulation of both rear tiers, in any combination, from either the touchscreen or buttons on the load-space wall, and even using a smart- phone app. As an idea, the latter isn’t as daft as it sounds, particularly since the 10” centre console multimedia touchscreen is – though largely intuitive and good looking – far too slow to respond to fingertip inputs.
We seem to have reached a point on British roads where the benefits of the high seating position offered by an SUV have now been entirely negated because everyone else is in one too. The Discovery addresses this simply by sitting its occupants so high that not only can you see over the roofs of lesser rivals, but also enjoy a fresh perspective on the surroundings of roads you thought you knew well.
This nose bleed altitude, allied to the overall quietness of the V6 powertrain, the smoothness of the eight-speed automatic transmission and the cushioning of electronic air suspension, engenders an entirely pleasing sense of splendid isolation from lesser traffic and, indeed, the rest of the world.
From a standstill, the Disco does take a moment or two to hitch up its petticoats and respond to the throttle, but once on the move it responds with an engaging combination of bustle and waft; the engine thrumming over two tonnes of machine to 60mph in under eight seconds.
Like all vehicles from the Land Rover stable, the Discovery handles far better than something of pocket battleship size has a right to. Within reason. The accurate, appropriately weighted steering never lets you forget just how much mass you’re in charge of, and nor does a suspension set-up which allows for the reminder of a degree of body roll through the corners.
Ultimately, then, though undeniably brisk, progress has more to do with sitting back and soaking up the scenery than subjugating it. Let’s not forget, however, just how able the off-road Disco is when it comes to the latter.
Despite its new, monocoque construction, the car still boasts a ground clearance of 284mm, 500mm of wheel articulation and a wading depth of 900mm. Land Rover says it’s the most capable car off-road they have ever made – including the Defender All of which makes driving the Discovery something of a unique experience; an indomitable car that will take you anywhere in the world you wish to go, and then ruthlessly isolate you from your destination with an irresistible combination of comfort, calm and undeniable charisma.
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