2017 Discovery in the sand
Patrick Rall's picture

2017 Land Rover Discovery First Drive: Softer Look, Same Incredible Capabilities

The all-new 2017 Land Rover Discovery has a much sleeker, softer look than the boxy Discovery from the previous five generations, but this sportier look is achieved without diminishing any of the offroading capabilities which you would expect from a proper Land Rover.
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Land Rover has long been known for offering vehicles with world class offroading capabilities which allow them to go just about anywhere in the world. Land Rovers can be seen everywhere with and without roads, so anywhere you will find vehicles – you will find Land Rovers. Even in the world’s toughest conditions, Land Rover vehicles have long proven their ability to go anywhere vehicles can go.

For generations, Land Rover vehicles have shared a boxy, form-follows-function exterior design which has become a trademark of sorts, but over the past few years, the brand has begun to shift to a curvier, more modern design with the arrival of the current Range Rover. The 2017 Discovery is the latest vehicle to make the move from the flat-sided design to a sportier, sleeker look which better fits in the luxury segment, but does it still offer the capabilities expected of an SUV sporting the SUV name?

To find out if this new luxury SUV still offers the same capabilities as the past generations with a more-rugged appearance, I spent two days driving around Utah and Arizona on-road and off-road - and at no point did the 2017 Land Rover Discovery fall short of amazing.

The Softer Looking 2017 Land Rover Discovery
Since the Land Rover Discovery was introduced back in the late 1980s, it has featured a distinctive two-box design with lots of flat surfaces all around. Really, from 1989 through 2016, the Discovery had flat sides, a flat hood, a flat front end, a flat rear end and a relatively flat roof with a unique window integrated into the “hump” over the rear seats. While the styling would get more modern with each refresh in 1994, 1998, 2004 and 2009, the two-box shape was consistent throughout the first 27 years of the Discovery – but that all changes with the 2017 Land Rover Discovery.

discovery life

The 2017 Discovery maintains the same basic shape as the previous versions, but the newest Land Rover to hit US shores is the curviest Discovery to date. In addition to curvier front and rear ends with the headlights and taillights stretching around to the sides of the vehicle, the new Discovery has more fluid body lines along the side, more aggressively angled C- and D-pillars and a curvier top line – with a new (albeit less prominent) glass roof hump towards the rear of the vehicle.

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The 2017 Discovery is, without a doubt, the sharpest shift in exterior styling for any Land Rover vehicle and with the industry shift to curvier luxury SUVs – this change is necessary. After all, the days of flat-sided vehicles with flat fascias and a flat hood are long past, so to keep up with the modern tastes of the luxury market – Land Rover has made their new Discovery far sleeker in every way.

The result is a gorgeous luxury SUV with real room for 6 adults, but in many cases, a softening of styling can lead to a softening of a vehicle’s abilities. Fortunately, that isn’t a problem for the 2017 Discovery, as this new SUV is just as capable of handling the world’s roughest conditions as the Discovery models which came before it.(More on the next page)

Two Great Engines with Plenty of Power
My time driving the 2017 Land Rover Discovery started with a lengthy on-road portion where we got to experience the new luxury SUV in the setting in which it will likely be used the most by American owners. While the new Discovery offers incredible offroading capabilities, the fact of the matter is that many people who buy a premium luxury SUV like this new Land Rover will not do much offroading. In fact, many Discovery owners might not ever leave paved roads, so for those folks, we spent a few hours driving on the paved highways and byways of southern Utah.

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My first 2017 Land Rover Discovery test vehicle was equipped with the HSE Luxury trimline and fitted with the 3.0L gasoline engine which delivers 340 horsepower and 332lb-ft of torque. When paired with the standard 8-speed automatic transmission, this gas V6 affords the new Discovery strong acceleration capabilities whether you are rolling away from a stop sign or working to pass slower-moving traffic on a long, straight Utah highway. This small V6 also allows the Discovery to comfortably keep up with fast-moving traffic and while this isn’t a vehicle that you are going to take racing – it never feels underpowered during normal driving situations. Whether you are putting the pedal to the floor or just gently speeding up with traffic, the new Discovery is as smooth as glass as it works through the gears, with a surprising level of throttle response when need all of the available power.

On the second day of testing the 2017 Land Rover Discovery, we swapped out HSE Luxury gasoline model for an HSE Luxury with the 3.0L turbo diesel, which delivers 254 horsepower and 443lb-ft of torque – so it is a little shorter in horsepower, but far torquier than the gas engine. The diesel Discovery packs more mid-range power, but it isn’t quite as sharp from a stop – which is to be expected when going from a supercharged gasoline engine to a turbocharged diesel. Mind you, the difference in power delivery only affects the performance of the new Discovery at certain points in the powerband and the added torque makes up for that in most ways, but the gasoline engine is just a bit crisper in terms of acceleration.

Whisper Quiet Ride in “Normal Conditions”
Other than the various acceleration metrics, the gasoline and diesel 2017 Discovery each handle paved roads just as well as the other – making for one remarkably smooth, quiet SUV. When driving on paved roads, the new Discovery transfers almost none of the road noise or wind noise making it into the cabin and even when driving on the wide-open highways of Utah at 65mph with a crosswind, the Discovery HSE Luxury offers one of the quietest rides I’ve experienced.(More on the next page)

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This smooth ride is thanks in part to the standard electronic air suspension setup of the HSE Luxury package, which constantly monitors the movement of the vehicle on the driving surface to offer the best mix of capability and comfort possible. Like many new SUVs, the new Discovery has drive modes which lead to its incredible off-road performance, but when driving the new Land Rover on paved roads and unpaved dirt roads – leaving the system in “auto” mode gave us a smooth ride in every non-extreme driving condition. Not until we hit a dry river bed, a rough ORV trail, a series of rocks to crawl and a sprawling selection of sand dunes did we experience anything shy of premium luxury ride quality, but on paved roads and your average unpaved roads – the new Discovery is as smooth as any comparable SUV.

After logging hundreds of miles in the 2017 Land Rover Discovery HSE Luxury with each of the engines offered in the US, it was clear that this luxury SUV offers the level of refinement and comfort on-road that is required from a vehicle in this class. This is a beautiful SUV inside and out which perfectly balances handling and ride quality, so those prospective buyers who will never leave paved roads will surely find this to be one of the best options on the market.

But what about those prospective buyers who do take their vehicles into rougher driving situations? The people who have always looked at Land Rover as a brand of all-purpose vehicles which combine a luxurious cabin with world class offroading capabilities won’t be satisfied with a Discovery that is just prettier. To those folks, the modern look takes a back seat to the vehicle’s capabilities, but the engineers knew that and they created a new Discovery that is prettier on the outside without compromising any functionality.

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To prove this, our drive route through Utah and Arizona included hours of off-road driving in conditions which would have rendered many SUVs useless – but the 2017 Land Rover Discovery proved to be just about unstoppable in every setting.(More on the next page)

Proven as a Proper Land Rover
While our drive route included some early portions of driving on unpaved roads, those nicely groomed dirt paths were passable for any average SUV, but Land Rover has always focused on offering greater capabilities than your average SUV. We got our first look at the offroading capabilities of the 2017 Discovery on some rougher trails with some shallow mud, loose rocks and deep enough ruts that a rear-drive truck or SUV – or something that sits somewhat low – would not have been able to make it from one end to the other.

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However, the first real test of the 2017 Land Rover Discovery came when we entered a dry riverbed along the border of Utah and Arizona. What had once been a long, winding river about 6-8 deep to the solid shore had been transformed by draught to a tight, narrow path or sand and rocks. At times, one side of the path would be several feet lower than the other, forcing us to inch along with the nee Discovery at extreme angles – all while making sure that we didn’t turn into one of the steep walls to the riverbed. Having performed off-road testing with all sorts of newer vehicles, including some rugged pickup trucks, I would guess that larger vehicles would have struggled to snake through the tight turns of the dry river while other smaller SUVs would have struggled to stay upright and progressing forward. On the other hand, the new Discovery made it to the end of the path without any trouble, making what would have been a stressful situation with many vehicles into a fairly simple drive in the newest Land Rover.

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After climbing up out of the new Land Rover Discovery, we spent another hour or so on the open road before getting to our next exercise in unstoppability – rock crawling. We turned off of the paved highway and made our way down a fairly simple dirt road, eventually arriving at a series of steep rocks which clearly cut our path in half. My first thought was that there had to be a path that we could not see with an easier path up the rock pile, but after talking to one of the Land Rover off-road guides, it was apparent that we were going to drive the new Discovery right up this massive pile of rocks.

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This exercise began by driving the new Discovery up a steep rock face with relatively smooth footing, allowing us to experience how well the new Land Rover can climb an extremely steep, smooth incline. As we reached the climb, I had my doubts and about halfway up the climb, the front-to-rear angle seemed extreme enough for us to tumble backwards down the hill, but we didn’t…of course. The new Discovery made it to the top of the first rock crawl, giving us a chance to catch our breath before heading into the next section of rocks. In this second section, the incline was not as extreme, but the rocks were staggered from side to side, forcing us to make our way up the path with only 2 or 3 wheels on the ground at times. As you can see in the images here, even with the new Discovery wrenched to seemingly impossible angles – the chassis is firm enough to maintain control.(More on the next page)

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Finally, after starting our second day of driving the 2017 Land Rover Discovery both on and off of paved roads, we arrived at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in southern Utah. As you might guess, this area is ripe with towering sand dunes, so in addition to being a challenging task for any SUV – it was also my first time playing in deep sand of this nature. We spent a few hours making our way up and down the steep sand dunes, carefully scooting down one side before hammering the throttle to climb the next slope. While there were some people who got stuck, the only time that the new Discovery couldn’t dig through the sand was when the driver had buried it deep enough where the undercarriage was resting on the sand. Even in sand that was more than a foot deep, I found that the new Land Rover Discovery was happily capable of climbing every sandy peak, often while slinging the reddish sand high into the air.

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During the course of my two days of driving the 2017 Land Rover Discovery, I participated in some of the roughest offroading I have ever done in any SUV – let alone a premium luxury SUV packed full of premium amenities. I drove the new Discovery in a rough dry riverbed, up a steep rock face and through sand deep enough to swallow up a small car, and in every situation, the new Land Rover performed beautifully.

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We drove this new Discovery in conditions which are far rougher than many Land Rover owners will ever encounter, but the point of having us test these new vehicles like this was to show that if an owner ever needs to deal with less-than-ideal driving conditions – the new Discovery will be able to get from point A to point B. Most Discovery owners will never go offroading like we did in Utah, but for someone who wants a vehicle which has been engineered to tackle the toughest roads on Earth, the newest Land Rover will answer the bell time after time.

The Final Word
The 2017 Land Rover Discovery might have a softer, more modern look, but none of the rugged offroading capabilities which you would expect from a Land Rover have been compromised in making this sleeker SUV. This new Discovery has a more luxurious look inside and out, so the average luxury SUV driver will find it to be better than the outgoing models in terms of daily driving comfort, but more importantly, this new look comes with all of the legendary offroading capabilities that have made this brand so popular over the course of the last century.

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If you want a premium luxury SUV which will comfortably seat 6 adults (or 2 adults and a quartet of kids) in a plush cabin, there are plenty of options in the US market. When you want a premium luxury SUV which offers the same level of passenger space and comfort while also being one of the most off-road-capable vehicles sold in America – it is hard to find something that can outperform the new Land Rover Discovery.


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Comments

More than ever the new Land Rover looks like a Ford Explorer. People did not buy Landys for their sleek design. They bought them for them being macho and boxy and capable and unique. We need the tough looks, with luxurious interiors, with reliable and powerful powertrains, and yes fuel efficiency is a must. Do not build sissy looking Rovers that look like Ford Explorers or Subaru Foresters or new Kia's. I would like to see this new sleek Disco get spanked by a cheaper Toyota 4Runner or Jeep Wrangler.