Much better than before, though a little family heritage has been lost
Driving the new Discovery is like meeting a school friend you’ve not seen for years. But he’s no longer the jeans and T-shirt guy he was before. He’s dressed in those brand-new tweeds worn by town people who think that’s what country folk actually wear, and he’s sporting a rather natty cravat. You’d only be slightly surprised to see him whip a monocle or pocket watch out of his waistcoat.
Your instinct is to make your excuses and leave, but your curiosity is stronger. So you stay and chat, and gradually realise that behind that veneer of acquired refinement lies the same old fellow who was once your mate, but now he knows a lot more, has accomplished a lot more and is capable of talking with great eloquence, and no longer just about beer and women. You get along terribly well and on the way home you’re berated by your internal monologue for being so swift to judge.
So I’ll say it now: the new Discovery is an outstanding car. I’d have it over a new Audi Q7, Volvo XC90, BMW X5 and everything else in the class save the Range Rover Sport. The improvements in build quality, performance, handling, ride and refinement are so enormous as to make further comparison to the old Discovery effectively redundant. I understand it remains extraordinary off-road, and as useful a place to sling children and their mates as has yet been conceived in the automotive domain.
I dislike few things about the car: the rear styling is awful, the little drop-down ledge that replaces the proper split tailgate is no substitute at all and the information, entertainment and navigation systems are well behind those of its rivals, despite being new and likely therefore to be around for a while.
That’s not much on the debit side and it’s overwhelmed by everything the new Discovery does so well.
But a part of me still wishes the transformation was not quite so complete. In the week that I had it, I don’t think I once thought of it as a Land Rover. To me it’s a more affordable, practical Range Rover and who but an arch contrarian could argue with that? But I miss that rugged chunkiness. However much better it is as a car, it is commensurately less clearly identifiable as a Land Rover.
What am I complaining about? Those who buy the new Discovery for its sleek sophistication will far outnumber those who turn away because it no longer feels authentically Land Rover. Indeed, they’ll probably be glad. The company has made the right decision and I acknowledge that being even slightly sad about that puts me in a small minority.
But it does make me wonder what a Land Rover is today, other than the company that makes a wide range of SUVs in different shapes and sizes yet all looking more or less alike, based as they are on a single styling theme. So while I congratulate Land Rover on the excellent Discovery, I do so in the hope that when the new Defender arrives it shows that Land Rover has not entirely forgotten where it came from.
FACTFILE (Discovery TD6 HSE)
3.0 litres, 6 cylinders, turbocharged
442lb [email protected] rpm
eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
POWER TO WEIGHT
114bhp per tonne
TOP SPEED 130mph