Car Reviews First Drives

2017 Land Rover Discovery First Drive: Highlights from the Highlands

Off-roading in Scotland and brief on-roading aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier

Off-roading in Scotland and brief on-roading aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier

It was a day of firsts for a pair of renowned British modes of transportation—a vehicle and a vessel—both almost ready for prime time.

It started in the Scottish highlands on the rugged terrain of the Blair Atholl Estate, where the 2017 Land Rover Discovery was sent out on a track of mud and ruts, of rocks and water. The day ended at the Rosyth Dockyard to board the HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest and most complex aircraft carrier of the British fleet, where a small group of North American journalists were the first international civilians allowed aboard.

The Discovery seven-passenger SUVs we drove are almost ready for production—Land Rover has built about 150 right-hand-drive prototypes at this point. In February the automaker will start assembly of saleable models for its domestic market at its Solihull, U.K., plant. By March, North American-spec models go into production for sale in late May or early June. Pricing starts at $50,985 USD for a base SE with the V-6 gas engine. More than 10,000 advance orders have been placed globally.
2017 Land Rover Discovery prototype on the HMS Queen Elizabeth 22

March will also mark the end of eight years of production on the HMS Queen Elizabeth. The 920-foot-long vessel with 750 sailors aboard will leave Portsmouth to be fitted for action. It’s a process that could take another three years before going into service to support F-35B fighter jets and Merlin helicopters.

Our day in the Discovery was mostly off-road with the exception of a short drive up the ramp at the top of the aircraft carrier, which was a publicity stunt but was still totally awesome.

It will likely be the only time a Discovery takes a spin on the deck of the massive ship, which, along with sister ship the HMS Prince of Wales, represents the future of the British fleet and an investment of 6.2 billion pounds ($7.9 USD billion). The HMS Queen Elizabeth can’t be put into service fast enough—on the day we climbed an endless series of stairs to reach its massive deck, the U.K.’s last aircraft carrier, the HMS Illustrious, was decommissioned and began her journey to Turkey to be scrapped.

Land Rover’s investment in the Discovery is much more modest but equally impressive. Parent Tata has invested about $600 USD million in the Solihull plant and added about 300 workers to make the family SUV alongside the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport. All three are unibody or monocoque construction as opposed to the outgoing LR4, which was body-on-frame. The Discovery is only 85 percent aluminum because it has a steel subframe.

And although the Discovery is billed as Land Rover’s family vehicle, it was designed to be far more capable than your average people mover. Its full-time four-wheel drive and a two-speed transfer case offer both high- and low-range gears as well as a four-wheel-drive system with a single-speed transfer box. Torque is split 50-50 between the wheels.

Terrain Response 2 allows you to pick the mode for your conditions: general driving, grass, gravel and snow, mud and ruts, sand, and rock crawl. The fifth-generation Discovery is also equipped with hill-descent control, which adjusts speed via the steering wheel when engaged. All-Terrain Progress Control is essentially cruise control at off-road crawl speeds in order to navigate over rocks, through deep cut ruts, and in slippery mud. It automatically assesses the terrain every 100 milliseconds and will switch modes accordingly. That’s far faster than a human can react to a changing landscape beneath him or herself. Changing the mode adjusts the throttle, steering response, and traction control. During our drive we discovered that changing modes automatically engages hill-descent control when in low range.

The SUV has a 34-degree approach angle, a 30-degree departure angle, and a 27.5-inch breakover angle. Drive assist on the touchscreen shows the position of the wheels at all times and what axles are locked, and the navigation system provided a satellite view of the Scottish woods on the estate we spent the day crawling through.

For deep-water fording, there is a labyrinth air intake just under the hood. Essentially, it allows the vehicle to breathe when it’s almost up to the hood in deep water and the front grille is completely submerged. Wading depth is now 35.4 inches for a vehicle with 11.14 inches of ground clearance. The vehicle does have a feature called “wade sensing,” but it will not be allowed in the North America, where deep-water forging is discouraged.

It is not invincible. On a wet Scottish day, our Discovery slid down the sloped side of the greasy track. There was no coming back, especially as we were on regular all-season radials. Perched with all the weight on the left side of the vehicle at a rakish enough angle that the door could not be opened, regular winch attempts from our Land Rover Defender support vehicle were not enough. We were stuck beside one of the only trees alongside the route, and we lashed our tow strap around the native mountain ash and back to the Defender for a better angle, which successfully extracted the SUV.

2017 Land Rover Discovery prototype stuck on road 02

The ruts only got deeper the rest of the trek, but the hardy Discovery did not waver.

The 2017 model has three engine choices globally, but only two are available in the North America. They include a 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 gas engine, which generates 340 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. It surged a bit at low off-road speeds. The single diesel option for us is the larger 3.0-liter turbo V-6, which puts out 254 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. The diesel is as quiet as the gas variant—no compromises here. Other parts of the world also get a 2.0-liter Ingenium four-cylinder diesel. All are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The SUV’s independent suspension is control arms in the front with an integral rear link, providing a comfortable ride in the rough terrain. The four-corner air suspension lowers the vehicle when speeds exceed 30 mph (48.3 km/h). We will have to wait for on-road testing to discern how well it handles on regular roads and to get a better sense of the electric power steering and perfectly balanced 50-50 weight distribution.

It is quite a comfortable vehicle inside, as well. After 27 years of Discovery, this latest generation increased the wheelbase by 1.5 inches, which provides more knee and legroom in a vehicle where adults fit in all seven seats, each one of them heated. The second row can travel a full 6.3 inches for easier access to the back, and there is 82.7 cubic inches of interior cargo space. Each seat can be folded down independently for 21 different seating configurations, and the two back rows fold in 14 seconds. Conveniently, the front touchscreen allows you to dump the headrests for better rear sightlines. A nice feature is the inner tailgate in back, which can support 660 pounds (299.4 kg). It makes the perfect picnic perch.

The Discovery dropped 1,058 pounds (479.9 kg) compared with the outgoing LR4 but can still tow 8,201 pounds (3719.9 kg). It also has a tow-assist feature, which allows you to steer via a knob in the center console while watching your progress on the center screen. We look forward to testing this feature, as well.