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The 2021 Land Rover Discovery.

Photography by PETRINA GENTILE/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Land Rover doesn’t have the best track record for reliability, according to the latest J.D. Power 2021 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study. Out of 32 brands, Land Rover came in dead last in this year’s annual study which looks at quality, reliability and problems faced by actual owners of three-year-old vehicles. Still, it hasn’t deterred people from buying them. The brand is a cultural icon that changed history in 1948 when the first Land Rover debuted to the world as a rugged off-roader that could master any terrain, yet still be fit for a Queen.

Land Rover sales in Canada were up 55 per cent in the second quarter of this year compared to Q2 of 2020, according to DesRosiers Automotive Consultants. Those numbers will likely climb higher with the refreshed Discovery three-row mid-size luxury SUV. For 2021, it gets new exterior styling, two new turbocharged engines, and more technology and connectivity features than ever before.

When you step inside the Discovery, it’s inviting and upscale. The cabin is clean, uncluttered and modern with technology and connectivity at the forefront. The look is sleek with few buttons and dials – only for the necessities such as the climate control and volume. There’s a new infotainment system with a larger 11.4-inch touch screen dubbed Pivi Pro, which is easier to use and understands language better and faster than the last version. Also new is a 12.3-inch digital gauge display, a Wi-Fi hot spot for up to eight devices, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, wireless charging in the front row, USB ports in all three rows and over-the-air software updates. Other nice touches include a new four-spoke steering wheel, a nifty cooler box in the centre armrest that keeps everything from water bottles cold to ice cream frozen and a new toggle-style gear-selector that replaces the old rotary dial in the last model for a modern, contemporary look. Smart storage compartments blend in nicely with the surroundings – like a small spot hidden below the centre touch screen behind the climate control system. Push the silver button and the top drops down revealing a storage area that’s perfect for small, valuable items such as smart phones or wallets.

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The Land Rover Discovery has bolder alloy wheel designs.

Inside, there’s room for up to seven people in three rows of seats. All seats are full-sized with excellent headroom thanks to its tall, boxy shape. Redesigned second row seats, which fit three across, are more comfortable because of longer, thicker bottom cushions that provide better under-thigh support. My tester is fitted with optional second-row and third-row power seats, which makes it easier to lower and raise the seats by simply pushing a button. Getting into the third row is a bit tricky and difficult, unless you’re a contortionist. But once you’re in the third row, it’s comfortable for quick, short trips. A sliding front sunroof and a fixed rear roof over the third-row makes it feel less claustrophobic riding in the last row. Three-quarter rear windows also provide excellent all-around visibility from the driver’s seat.

Two engine options are available: a 269 hp 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a 355 hp 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder engine, which is fitted to my tester. Mated to the engine is an eight-speed automatic, which shifts gears smoothly and precisely. Full-time all-wheel-drive and adjustable air suspension are standard across the lineup. On the road, it’s strong, powerful and comfortable with pleasant road manners. But at times, it feels tipsy and top heavy, especially when cornering. And with a few passengers and my dog onboard, the engine is a bit more laboured when trying to make quick manoeuvres such as overtaking and passing slower-moving vehicles on the highway. For going off the beaten track, the Discovery can tackle rocks, mud and even wade through three feet of water. It can also tow up to 3,500 kg if you’re lugging a small boat or trailer to the cottage.

The Discovery is true to its roots, resembling a Land Rover with its bold good looks and boxy, upright design.

But here’s my biggest beef with the Discovery – everything costs extra. Safety features, for example, aren’t bundled together in one package at a set price. Many items are stand-alone options. If you want automatic high-beams that turn on and off depending on the oncoming traffic, it costs $250. How about automatic cruise control with a stop-and-go feature that’ll maintain a safe distance between you and the vehicle ahead without the driver touching a pedal? That’s another $1,550. A full-colour head-up display, which puts vital driver information such as directions directly onto the windshield, costs another $1,100. The sharp styling cues add to the price too – the beautiful Namib orange exterior colour costs $1,900 while the black contrast roof is $900. Roof rails cost $450; while a gesture tailgate, which lets you kick under the bumper to raise or lower the tailgate, is a hundred bucks. It’s unclear whether the choice to unbundle features was a deliberate choice in response to consumer demand, and Land Rover didn’t provide a comment. Are unbundled features something consumers want? Or is Land Rover preparing for a future where tech features are purchased a-la-carte, which are then maintained through over-the-air updates? Either way – it adds up significantly. In total, my tester adds nearly $15,000 of options to the $76,100 price tag, pushing the price as tested north of $90,000, which is more than some competitors.

Still the Discovery has Land Rover cachet, distinct good looks and a spacious, versatile, connected cabin, that makes it perfect for adventurous families on the go.

Tech specs

2021 Land Rover Discovery (R-Dynamic S)

Base price/as tested: $76,100; $92,555 as tested (plus $1,800 freight and PDI)

Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder engine with 335 horsepower and 369 lb.-ft of torque

Transmission/Drive: Eight-speed automatic, AWD

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Fuel economy (litres/100 km city and highway): 12.8 and 9.8

Alternatives: Acura MDX, Audi Q7, Lincoln Aviator, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Lexus GX, Genesis GV80, Porsche Cayenne, Volvo XC90

Looks

The Discovery is true to its roots, resembling a Land Rover with its bold good looks and boxy, upright design. Now, it gets a new front grille, updated headlights and taillights, new front and rear bumpers, and bolder alloy wheel designs – I especially love the large 21-inch five split-spoke gloss black wheels, a $1,550 option, on my tester. The exterior Namib orange colour is a knockout that made neighbours green with envy. Dark tinted rear windows add an air of sophistication with added privacy for passengers.

Interior

The Discovery is filled with standard and optional safety technology, but be careful as many features cost extra and push up the price fast.

Clean, uncluttered and posh interior that’s modern, spacious and comfortable, especially in the front and second-row seats. Tech-friendly features include a new infotainment system with a pleasant voice on the navigation system – it’s a welcoming female with a British accent. And there’s no shortage of connectivity features including wireless charging and USB ports in all three rows.

Performance

Powered by a three-litre turbo six-cylinder engine, it’s smooth, powerful, quiet and comfortable. But loaded with a few extra passengers and my dog, it felt a bit burdened at times, especially when hitting the throttle to pass slower-moving vehicles. Also, at times, it feels top heavy and tipsy when cornering.

Technology

Filled with standard and optional safety technology including adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist and a head-up display. Just be careful with these options, many features cost extra and push up the price fast. Eight airbags are standard.

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Cargo

There are 258 litres of cargo space behind the third row.

There are 258 litres of cargo space behind the third row. But if you need more space, the power seats fold down easily with the push of a button on my tester.

The Verdict

The Discovery has Land Rover appeal; it’s a smart, capable and versatile seven seater that’s perfect for a family adventure or running daily errands with the kids in tow.

Shopping for a new car? Check out the new Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.

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