It’s a bit early for gags, but this is a classic case of thinking outside the box. Say hello to Land Rover’s fifth-generation Discovery, which does away with the boxy (but characterful) shape of its predecessors in favour of softer, more tapered lines that its makers hope will attract a broader customer base to the model.
The latest Disco – on sale here over the coming weeks – is genuinely an all-new entity, using as its basis a derivative of the aluminium-intensive PLA (Premium Lightweight Architecture) platform used by its Range Rover and Range Rover Sport siblings. This enables it to slash up to 480 kg of lard vis-à-vis the LR4, which was underpinned by the robust but extremely heavy “Integrated Body Frame” chassis.
As you can glean from the accompanying images, the Disco 5 is a wholesale departure from its forerunners, and Land Rover execs say this is in line with the company’s ambitions to attract buyers to the model who wouldn’t previously have considered a Discovery.
You can judge for yourself whether or not the styling revamp is a success. The bluff nose and upright profile of the LR4 was hardly the most aerodynamic shape around, but at least it lent the model with a unique identity that set it clearly apart from every other SUV out there.
In contrast, the newbie is much more generic looking with its raked-back headlights and tapered profile (yielding a much improved drag coefficient of 0.33). To my eye, the Discovery 5 looks okay from the front, but its stance appears bulky and top-heavy when viewed from the rear. Where the LR4 has a squat, muscular road presence, the Disco 5 appears to be up on its tippy toes. And our editor-in-chief says that offset rear number-plate looks like a botched repair job.
On the plus side, the switch to the new architecture has yielded a discernible improvement in the vehicle’s on-road demeanour. The Discovery 5 is still no match for BMW’s X5 in terms of agility, but it’s clearly nimbler than its predecessor.
The big Land Rover may not be particularly involving to steer, but it’s super-quiet and refined at freeway cruising speeds, which means you can cover hundreds of kilometres (as we did at the international media launch in Utah, USA) without undue fatigue.
Cabin quality is vastly improved and the driving position is also a lot different than before. In the LR4 you felt as though you were perched on top of the vehicle, whereas now you feel ensconced within it. Visibility is still good, but perhaps not quite as panoramic as in the LR4 with its huge greenhouse-style windows which most previous owners actually preferred.
The Discovery 5 will initially be offered here with a 340 hp 3.0-litre supercharged V6 that propels the big SUV to 100 kph in a claimed 7.1 seconds. Out in the real world, the vehicle feels respectably brisk without being a fireball. Land Rover also quotes an optimistic fuel consumption figure of 10.9 litres/100 km, which is a huge improvement on the 14.1/100 km quoted for the long-since-discontinued 375 hp 5.0-litre LR4.
Hooked up to the supercharged V6 is the familiar ZF eight-speed automatic, and it’s the same smooth-shifting unit here as it is in its numerous other applications across the JLR group.
The off-roading purists out there might be inclined to write off the Discovery 5 on the basis of its switch to monocoque construction, but our first taste of the vehicle leads us to believe it’s still highly capable in the rough stuff. At the media launch we tackled some deeply rutted tracks, rock crawling over massive boulders, sand-dune hopping (at Coral Pink Sand Dunes National Park) and ploughing across an unbelievably soft, boggy mud-bath that you couldn’t possibly traverse on foot.
The Discovery 5 (equipped in this case with optional low-range gearing) walked across it all, with the air suspension (featuring double wishbones at the front and an integral link set-up at the rear) offering up to 284mm of ground clearance and enough wheel articulation (up to 500mm) to cope with everything thrown at it during our drive program.
But the clever bit is how the Terrain Response 2 system invisibly manages the torque split to each of the four wheels, enabling the vehicle to find traction even in places where one felt it would get mired. You do feel a bit disconnected from the action though, as you basically need only to steer the vehicle; the vast array of electronics takes care of the rest.
Measuring 4970mm from bumper to bumper, the Discovery 5 is a significant 141mm longer than before, and the added length means it’s a genuine seven-seater, although the third-row pews are best left to the junior brigade. There’s more than enough headroom back there, but legroom is a squeeze if you slide the adjustable second-row seats to their rear-most position.
Also bear in mind that you’re left with very little luggage space (258 litres only) if all seven seats are in place. But there’s a cavernous 2406 litres to play with if you fold down all barring the front seats.
There are numerous seating/luggage configurations, and you can electronically fold/unfold the seats via a control panel at the rear, the central touchscreen at the front or even via your smartphone. This means you can already activate the reconfiguration while you’re still in Ikea, buying that new set of outdoor furniture you’ve always had your eye on.
There’s a barrage of storage compartments and cubbyholes scattered throughout the cabin. The hidden space in the centre console is large enough for four iPads, while the centre armrest can hold five iPad minis (or an optional chiller compartment).
Other surprise-and-delight features include a vast panoramic roof (the largest Land Rover has ever fitted) and you can also opt for a ground-quaking 825w Meridian sound system. As per the F-Pace, the Discovery 5 is available with an optional Activity Key that you wear around your wrist, and this could come in handy for surfers, mountain bikers etc.
You can tow up to 3.5 tonnes via the Electrically Deployable Towbar (it disappears from sight when not in use), and there’s Advanced Tow Assist, which makes reversing easier with a trailer attached (you literally ‘steer’ the trailer using the Terrain Response rotary controller).
All things considered, our first acquaintance leads us to believe the Discovery 5 fares well in many of the key criteria that will be important to its target audience. We’re not convinced its styling has progressed in the right direction, but the sales figures at the end of the year will provide conclusive proof as to whether or not Land Rover has nailed it.
Also be aware that the price (starting at Dhs 237,200 including service package in the UAE) soars if you start ticking some of the numerous options on offer, and this means well-kitted versions will cost significantly more than the range-topping LR4. The Discovery has gone upmarket in a big way, as evidenced by a pricetag of Dhs 324,400 for the First Edition model.
Photos by Land Rover.