Gareth Butterfield spends a week in the new Land Rover Discovery
THE new Land Rover Discovery has arrived and, crikey, it’s big. It’s actually imposing, rather than simply being dimensionally obscene. It sits high on its air suspension and the front lights look seriously aggressive. I like it. A lot has been said since its launch about the asymetrical rear, but it’s never bothered me and, now I’ve seen it in the flesh, I quite like it.
Land Rover’s Discovery has always been the practical, hard-working sister to the sumptuous Range Rover, but a softer, more family-focused sibling to the mighty Defender.
The range available to a Land Rover fan is now huge compared to what was on offer when the Discovery was first launched, but this latest version still plots a careful path somewhere between the bewildering array of models produced by the firm.
And while the Discovery has built its reputation as a strong, dependable workhorse with practicality at its core, this new version feels very different. It feels luxurious and expensive. It actually feels a lot like a Range Rover, and that’s no accident – plenty of the bits you’ll find in the Range Rover are carried straight over to the Discovery. So is it an aristocrat in hobnail boots? Or a farm labourer in a sharp suit? I can’t wait to find out, but I’m busy today so I’ll have a proper poke round tomorrow.
I’M up early to spend a bit of time getting to know the “Disco”. First job is to figure out how to lower the ride height, or I’ll never be able to get the wife in it. Thankfully the Discovery comes with trick air suspension as standard. And, at the push of a button, I can select “access height”, which sees the whole thing hunker down like a bus. So on with business.
The first thing you’ll realise with the Discovery is that none of its trademark practicality is lost in this car. There are storage solutions and clever design features everywhere. There’s two gloveboxes, for example, and huge door pockets. There’s a huge storage space beneath the central armrest, and then another hidden space beneath the slide-away central cupholders. There’s even – and it took me a while to find this – a handy soft-lined cubby behind the flip-down climate control panel to stash a couple of phones in. I love that.
In the back, there’s an almost flat floor and three good seats with their own climate control panel, a heating system, and they even recline electronically.
But there’s more. Behind the seats, stashed away neatly in the floor, is another pair of seats. It’s a true seven-seater and, yes, adults can fit in them very comfortably.
I lost count, while I was poking around, of the number of USB and 12V sockets in the cabin because they are literally everywhere. And I love the twin panoramic roofs, the fold-down picnic tables and the fact the doors close over the sills, so that when you get into the car you don’t catch your corduroy on a muddy panel.
The best bit’s in the boot, though. The electric tailgate lifts to reveal a huge load area, even with the back seats up, and while that door lifts, a shelf lowers that you can sit on. It’s clearly been fitted as a nod to the Range Rover’s fold-down hatch section, which serves as a bench from which you can watch your gardener toiling away, or use as a seat from which to shoot a grouse.
On the left-hand side of the boot is a panel covered in switches and buttons. One set electronically raises and lowers the middle seats while another set pulls off the same trick with the rear seats. You have to fold up the headrests yourself, which is a bit bothersome but, folded down, the seats disappear into the floor, leaving a vast load area.
Also on this panel is an extremely useful button which lowers or raises the suspension. So if you’ve overloaded yourself with hay bales and you can’t quite heave them into the boot, you can drop the car a few inches and lighten your load. It’s brilliant.
TODAY is the first chance I’ve had to go for a proper drive in the Discovery. Over the last few days I’ve been to the shops and back a few times and I’m still getting used to its size, but now it’s time to see how it feels on the open road.
The 2018 version uses the aluminium chassis from the Range Rover and the Range Rover Sport, so it’s significanly lighter than the old Discovery, which felt like it was made out of old railway bridges. Despite the new car’s size, its weight reduction is certainly evident. It feels remarkably sure footed and its fine road manners inspire confidence on twisty roads. It’s no sports car, but it is surprisingly agile.
My test car is fitted with the V6 diesel engine, which is the one I’d pick. There’s a four-cylinder petrol engine that I’m told is pretty good, and a petrol V6 – but the old diesel lump is marvellous. It suits the surprisingly opulent interior and the laid-back driving experience well.
The Discovery’s engine range is hooked up to Jaguar Land Rover’s eight-speed gearbox and, although it’s not the quickest-shifter in the business, it works well in this car. It’s also controlled by the elegantly rising gearnob, which is great to see.
Another thing I’m a huge fan of is the new infotainment screen. It’s bigger, and much better thought-out than before. One of the best on the market now, in fact.
I’M spending the day at an agricultural show today and this means parking the Discovery in a bumpy field. It’s the most arduous off-roading I’ll be doing in the Disco this week, but it’s mildly exciting nonetheless.
Off-roading capability is the trump card of any Land Rover product and this car park is literally a walk in the park for a Discovery – but I still feel compelled to raise the ride height to its highest setting, select the appropriate driving mode (even though it’ll do it automatically if it needs to) and turn on the off-road display so I can see the suspension working for its living.
Even though it’s becoming a common sight now, the Discovery still draws a few admiring glances from the country set. Turning up to an agricultural show in a Discovery is like turning up to a disco in a flared suit. It might not be necessary, but it’s just the right thing to do.
It’s also been a chance to pull it up alongside some of its predecessors – as there’s a lot of older Discoveries here. It really is significanly bigger. And this makes me marvel all the more at the fact it’s been made nearly half a tonne lighter. Bravo, Land Rover.
I’VE got a day stuck in the office today, so I’m not going to be driving the Land Rover. But in between thumbing through reams of results from yesterday’s show, I take a moment to price up a Land Rover Discovery.
Using the online configurators is always a fun game. You can have a Discovery for £47,405, apparently. But I’d quite like the V6 diesel so that starts at £57,005. Ouch.
The HSE Luxury, the one I’d pick because I’m dreaming now, so I’ve got loads of money for once, starts at an eye-watering £70,405. Crikey.
I played a bit more and, simply by adding a few of the things I can’t live without on a car and I’d neared £75,000. Once it crept towards £80,000 I sat back feeling quite depressed at the fact I’d never own a Discovery. Especially if I didn’t get back to work, because then I wouldn’t have a job and a salary at all and eventually some large men would come round and take away my television.
THE Discovery goes back tomorrow. It goes without saying I’m going to miss it. I feel sad in a way that its identity has been changed beyond recognition and it now feels less like a workhorse, and more like a Range Rover that’s had the practicality turned up a notch. And, while that’s made the Discovery less accessible to its loyal fans, it’s transformed it into something genuinely remarkable.
Here’s a car which is basically a jack of all trades and a master of nearly all of them. It’s so incredibly versatile – going from a tough, dependable off-roader to a luxury cruiser at the touch of a button.
It’s almost certainly the most practical car I’ve ever driven. And I really, really want one.