For thousands of years, people have crisscrossed the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau, seen the rock monoliths of Zion National Park and marvelled at the sunset-coloured striations of the Vermilion Cliffs. And before people crossed this land, the dinosaurs did. In some places, their footprints remain, preserved to remind us how tiny we are.
Even if you've never travelled here, you've seen it in Billy the Kid and The Lone Ranger. On foot and horseback people have traversed this land, the pioneering Mormons by horse-and-buggy. John Wayne maybe had a Jeep. But nothing, and nobody, in thousands of years crossed this patch of earth as easily as we are, right now.
Land Rover's latest, the Discovery, is supposed to be the most rugged and capable SUV in the current lineup. It occupies the middle of the Venn diagram between minivan and mountain goat. On a loose dirt road at 70 kilometres an hour, driving under power lines, threading the needle between towers, the pneumatic suspension and cushy seat soak up the bumps. Cowboys would've killed for such creature comforts. Equipped with Advanced Tow Assist, it hauls 3,500 kilograms and driver-assistance gadgets make this a (relatively) idiot-proof off-roader. Think of it as, How to Conquer the Frontier for Dummies, by Land Rover.
Crawling over boulders near the Grand Canyon, the Discovery was at ease even if its drivers were not, fearing tip-over. But with all-terrain progress control engaged – cruise control for off-roading – you take your foot off the pedals, point the steering and wait as the vehicle crawls up whatever you put in front of it.
For driving on sand dunes – in case there happen to be any on the way to Starbucks – turn a little knob on the centre console to the "cactus" symbol and the car prepares itself. You don't even need to know what a centre-differential is, let alone lock it. The car takes care of everything. The suspension rises to offer more clearance in the soft stuff. No matter if you've got the V-6 turbo-diesel or the V-6 gas engine, the car whips up a sandstorm on its way to the top of a dune. It's violent.
And check out these numbers: 34-degree approach angle, 900-millimetre wading depth, and a 35-degree side slope. Off-roaders will understand, but all you need to know – if driving beyond this car's limits, you'd best be in a Baja buggy.
With five SUVs currently in Land Rover's lineup, and a sixth on the way, there is bound to be some overlap, yet it is surprising that the new Discovery makes the Range Rover Sport seem redundant. Both have seating for seven, are highly capable off-road and come standard with the supercharged V-6. The Land Rover is surprisingly well-appointed, too. So, if you're thinking about a Range Rover Sport, save yourself around $10,000 and get a Discovery.
For 95 per cent of prospective buyers, the off-road capability on display in the new Discovery is overkill, obviously. Land Rover knows this. But it sells cars. It's nice to know you could conquer the West after dropping the kids at soccer practice.
- Base price: $61,500 (gas), $70,500 (diesel)
- Engines: 3.0-litre supercharged V-6; 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V-6
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km, EU figures): 14.2 city, 9.3 hwy (gas) 6.5 highway (diesel).
- Drive: All-wheel
- Alternatives: Range Rover Sport, Audi Q7, BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLS, Lexus GX, Infiniti QX60
- LOOKS: For all its capability, the Discovery doesn’t look so tough. It replaces the LR4 in Land Rover’s lineup. The Disco is softer, curvier. The LR4 was a garden shed on wheels, an homage to the straight line. It wasn’t a great vehicle – it was an absolute pig on gas – but it looked cool and it was useful. They were able to make the new Disco softer-looking because the upcoming next-gen Defender (which will come to North America) will satiate those who still want a shed-on-wheels.
- INTERIOR: It’s luxurious enough to make you wonder why the Range Rover Sport exists. Land Rover’s latest touchscreen infotainment is available, which is good, but the graphic design leaves a lot to be desired. On the base Discovery SE, the seven-seat comfort pack is a $2,650 option which adds two third-row seats, air suspension and low-range. There are plenty of USB outlets and a rear-seat entertainment system.
- PERFORMANCE: The V-6 diesel makes 254 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque. The V-6 gas makes 340 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. The diesel doesn’t sound like it from the cabin, and doesn’t make the transmission hunt for gears like the gas engine. The diesel would be our pick.
- TECHNOLOGY: Coil suspension is standard, but our test cars were equipped with the optional air suspension, which provided a comfortable ride on all terrain. It’s comfortable rather than sporty, which is how a big SUV such as this should be. The Terrain Response 2 system is optionally available as well. It automatically adapts the differentials and air suspension to conditions, making for idiot-proof off-roading.
- CARGO: The one-piece trunk opens upward. An optional powered inner tailgate flap folds down, like a pickup truck’s tailgate. There’s 2,500 litres of trunk space in total and 1,231 L behind the second row.
If you fancy yourself a "Discoverer" and/or have kids, the Discovery is as much SUV as anyone could really need.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.
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