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Scotland – Driving along on a slippery, muddy track, I spot a massive boulder ahead in the right-hand-side wheel tracks with little space to pass on the left. As I stop, a friendly Land Rover Experience guide appears from the forest and tells me in a thick Scottish accent: “Please select low range and the rock-crawl-drivetrain mode, lad. Then aim your right front wheel at the obstacle and drive over it”.
Surely not, I think, but I do as I’m told and the Discovery prototype breezes over the rock as if it were merely a kerbstone in a car park…
The fifth iteration Disco has a lot to live up to as 27 years of history can attest. Land Rover has followed the previous trend of basing the Discovery on the Range Rover Sport, but in this instance it has resulted in a substantial departure in construction philosophy. Gone are the ladder-frame chassis and steel body and in their place, an aluminium unibody. Vehicle engineering manager Jean-Philippe Soula riding along in the second row assured me that the new construction method results in a stiffer and stronger structure than before. The fact that there were no rattles or squeaks from the interior while covering some extreme terrain emphasised his point.
Lighter and more spacious
Soula remarked that the unibody construction contributed significantly to the mass-minimising exercise, resulting in a total saving of 480 kg over the predecessor in certain cases. Other main areas of mass reduction include the hollow cast aluminium suspension components and the new inline four-cylinder turbodiesel engine (only available at a later stage locally).
The absence of the ladder frame allowed for an optimised multi-link suspension set-up at the rear as well as extra space for the third-row occupants. This was proven at a stop-over point where I easily seated my 1,93m frame on the rear-most pew. The last row even gains seat heaters and a USB charging point in HSE spec.
With the boulder-crossing still fresh in my memory, I approach the next obstacle: an innocent-looking water crossing. The Land Rover Experience guide on duty warns that the water is deeper than it appears and requests that I keep moving until I reach the other side. As the Disco enters the water, the nose dips alarmingly and the water level rises to just beneath bonnet level.
It is a good thing that the air intakes to the engine are above both front wheel-arches to prevent water ingestion. Again, the Discovery impresses as it parts the liquid in a commanding way and scales the muddy bank on the other side if it were paved…
The external styling does take some getting used to as it’s such a departure from the previous box-shaped versions. Land Rover did incorporate some original Disco elements, such as the slightly raised rear roof section and the prominent C-pillar, although the latter is now at an steep angle. The platform, from the nose up to the second row seats, is similar to the Range Rover Sport and it shows in the styling of the front area.
Towards the rear, the vehicle is squarer (and higher) than its esteemed stablemate, but it also reminds of the younger brother, the Discovery Sport. The vehicle definitely portrays an upmarket air, but I am unsure if the general public will be able to distinguish the close cousins from each other when passed at speed.
There is very little feedback through the steering wheel as I continue the demanding track through the forest. The surround-view camera image on the infotainment screen is useful to ensure that the front wheels are still pointing in the straight-ahead position. Land Rover left the toughest obstacle for last and it comes in the form of a steep climb littered with rocks of various sizes.
The air suspension in its highest setting raises the ground clearance to an impressive 283 mm, which is certainly needed here. A slight prod on the accelerator is all that is needed for the powerful but refined 3,0-litre V6 turbodiesel to deploy 600 N.m to the transmission. From there, the electronic systems and multiplate differentials (centre and rear) channel the motive force to the wheel with the most traction and the two-tonne Discovery wafts up the hill with its occupants in complete comfort. Wheel articulation of 500 mm on each corner ensures that the tyres have plenty of chance to take a bite at terra firma.
The interior is an evolution of what is found in the Range Rover, but more focused on practicality. There are a plethora of storage spaces, including a centre console that can take up to four tablets. My favourite secret storage space is behind the climate control buttons – a press of a button swivels this panel out of the way to reveal a hidden cavity able to store a wallet and smartphone. The seats are beautifully crafted and comfortable, while the high roof-line amplifies the feeling of spaciousness throughout the cabin. Fit and finish, including material quality, are unquestionable.
On any surface
We had the chance to drive the prototype vehicles on dirt only at a maximum speed of 40 km/h, so I reserve judgment on the on-road behaviour. If the Range Rover Sport is anything to go, by then the Discovery will also excel in this department. There was one more surface we drove on that few owners will get to experience: the deck of the latest aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy under construction in the Edinburgh shipyard…
From the early taste of the new Discovery prototype, it is clear that it is again an immensely capable off-road vehicle and it carries more convenience features than expected of a vehicle in the segment. Yes, it has lost some of its character and uniqueness in the styling department, but this should not influence its overall sales success. If the tenacity of the Land Rover team in organising the military ship adventure is anything to go by, then the new Discovery should exceed expectations.
Fast factsModel: Land Rover Discovery HSE Td6
Engine: 3,0-litre, V6 turbodiesel
Power: 190 kW at 3 750 r/min
Torque: 600 N.m 1 750–2 250 r/min
0-100 km/h: 8,1 secs
Top Speed: 209 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 7,2 L/100 km
CO2: 189 g/km
Transmission: 8-spd auto
Maintenance Plan: M5/100 000 km