I find that most of the time, the generic bargain brand will do — but every once in a while, a splurge is order, and the Land Rover Discovery is splurge-worthy. The Discovery was all-new for 2017, slotting above the smaller Discovery Sport in the automaker’s lineup. For 2018, the mid-size SUV gets a host of updates, including more standard safety features, a newly standard navigation system and wider availability of the diesel engine. See the model years compared here.
The Discovery competes against the likes of the Audi Q7, Acura MDX and Volvo XC90.
The Discovery is large in both weight and length, but its powertrain is more than up to the task. It moves with the grace and agility of a smaller vehicle, and its heft rarely holds it back.
There are two engine options: a 340-horsepower, supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 that makes 332 pounds-feet of torque or a 254-hp, turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 diesel that makes 443 pounds-feet of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard.
I tested the diesel, and it lives up to the Land Rover pedigree. Power comes on quickly, builds effortlessly and there’s more at the ready. The eight-speed automatic is a willing and eager companion, and delivery is smooth and prompt. It’s also impressively quiet; there’s little diesel clatter, and the cabin is well-isolated from road and wind noise.
Its road manners are equally polished both around town and on the highway. While the Discovery is tall, it never feels tippy and retains composure even in corners. Its ride is also comfily damped, and it stays controlled over bumps.
One blemish is the automatic engine stop-start system. It shudders on restart and could be smoother. The button to turn off the feature is readily accessible near the gear shifter, however.
Fuel economy with the diesel is an EPA-estimated 21/26/23 mpg city/highway/combined, several mpg higher than the regular V-6, and better than many competitors. The Acura MDX is rated 19/26/22 mpg with its standard V-6 and all-wheel drive, though a hybrid version bumps mileage to 26/27/27 mpg. The six-cylinder Q7 is rated 19/25/21 mpg. Volvo offers only a four-cylinder in the XC90 and it’s rated 22/28/24 with all-wheel drive; a plug-in-hybrid version can go around 19 miles on electric alone and has a combined mpg rating of 27 mpg thereafter.
The Discovery’s all-wheel drive is standard, and it’s a robust and customizable system. Even if you don’t go off-roading — and let’s be real, few of us do — some of these settings are still helpful, like Snow mode for increased traction in slippery situations.
For more extreme conditions, the Discovery should be able to traverse even the most challenging off-road terrain with a ground clearance of up to 11.14 inches, a wading depth of around 35.4 inches, an approach angle of up to 34 degrees, a breakover angle of 27.5 degrees and a departure angle of 30 degrees.
Refined Cabin, Competent Controls
The cabin is the picture of luxury, with supple leather seats and surfaces accented by low-gloss wood trim. Quality craftsmanship is evident in all three rows of seats, where materials feel high-grade and fit seamlessly.
The first row is the best seat in the house; its large, supportive seats are nearly infinitely customizable. Aside from the usual adjustments to the back and bottom cushions, there’s also massage, heat and cool functions, and most are easily accessed and controlled through the touchscreen.
I’m a big fan of the Volvo XC90’s huge, tabletlike touchscreen, but the Discovery’s setup is a not-too-distant second. The newly standard 10-inch touchscreen with navigation is set high on the dashboard for great visibility and includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The large, slick-looking screen gives the cabin a modern vibe, but there were a few hiccups using it …
First, its menus could be more straightforward — like programming and accessing favorite stations, for example — but it’s easy to use for most functions. The screen’s response time could also be a bit snappier; there’s often lag when you push the screen or switch between screens. Also, the volume knob is great, but there’s no tuning knob. As for competitors, I find BMW’s iDrive in the X5 a headache and Audi’s MMI system in the Q7 confounding.
The Discovery continues to set itself apart with a neat tech feature designed to encourage you to take up surfing — sort of. The optional Activity Key allows owners to lock and unlock the vehicle using a wireless wristband instead of the key fob — like a much cooler, techified version of Ford’s B-pillar keypad entry system. The wristband can be worn during outdoor activities and is activated by holding it up to the rear Discovery badge. Land Rover says it can withstand diving depths of 98.4 feet and temperatures from 58 degrees below zero to 257 degrees Fahrenheit. We tested the Jaguar version and liked it, though at $410 on the Discovery, it’s not cheap.
The Discovery comes standard with seats for five, but I tested a model with the optional third row, bringing capacity to seven. The cabin’s level of luxury and comfort varies wildly based on the row and type of occupant.
Adults: Room and comfort were in good supply in the second row where there’s a bench seat. Unfortunately, captain’s chairs are unavailable, though many three-row SUVs offer them. The seats are heated and cooled, and they power recline for added comfort. Second-row passengers also have access to individual reading lights as well as USB ports, and there’s a giant two-panel moonroof that makes both the second and third rows feel airier.
Kids: Caregivers with kids in car seats can add car-seat installation to the always-growing mountain of parental challenges, and in the Discovery, it’s especially trying; second-row room was ample but installation was tricky.
Although accessing the lower Latch anchors was easy, I needed to remove the head restraint to install my forward-facing convertible seat; it pushed the car seat off the seatback. The head restraints required a trip to the glove box for the owner’s manual. Removing the head restraints was difficult and takes two people, per the manual. After removal, the head restraint dangles on a cable, which doesn’t seem safe.
Caregivers with kids in car seats can add car-seat installation to the always-growing mountain of parental challenges, and in the Discovery, it’s especially trying; second-row room was ample but installation was tricky.
To install my daughter’s booster, I needed to raise the restraint. This is slightly easier but still not ideal. Check out the full Car Seat Check for more.
The third row has some pitfalls, too. Three-row vehicles appeal to families — especially larger ones — because they offer added flexibility in terms of seating or cargo room depending on how the third row is set up.
In this, the Discovery is a mixed bag. Points to Land Rover for putting some effort into the third row with cupholders, tiny storage bins, USB ports and heated seats. The third row also has a pair of lower Latch anchors for a car seat, something not commonly found in three-row SUVs.
All of that is lovely, but if space is lacking, so is comfort. It feels cramped, the seats are hard, and getting back there is a challenge. The step-in height is high and the opening small.
It gets worse. Behind the third row, cargo room is skimpy at just 9.1 cubic feet of space; subcompact cars have more, and so does the competition. A lot more.
The seats fold down for more room, and how they do it might just be dazzling enough to make you forget the lack of space. With the optional Intelligent Seat Fold, the 60/40-split second row and 50/50-split third row can be raised or lowered independently or all at once via switches in the cargo area, the touchscreen or a smartphone app (which seems way extra). All seven seats know where the others are and can move out of the way in a meticulously choregraphed ballet so the others can fold.
Also from the cargo-area panel, you can lower the power tailgate portion of the liftgate/tailgate combination, and lower or raise the entire Discovery if it’s equipped with the available air suspension. About the tailgate: When loading groceries (two bags fit, or three with squished produce), the tiny tailgate only magnified the cargo area’s lack of space. It could be useful for a sportsball game, though; Land Rover says the liftgate can hold 661 pounds, so the Discovery would likely be a welcome guest — and probably the fanciest one — at a tailgate party.
The 2018 Discovery has not yet been crash-tested.
New this year, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection is now standard. A host of driver assistance and safety systems are available, including a blind spot monitor; lane departure warning with lane keep assist; traffic-sign recognition, which can also be set up to automatically limit the vehicle’s speed; driver condition monitor, which looks at steering, braking and acceleration inputs to detect if a driver is becoming tired; and a 360-degree camera system with tow assist and hitch assist modes.
How Much of a Splurge?
The 2018 Discovery starts at $53,085 (all prices include destination charges), which is around $2,000 more than the model-year 2017 starting price. It’s also higher than its competitors — significantly in some cases: The Audi Q7 starts at $50,875, the Volvo XC90 at $47,895 and the Acura MDX at $45,195, but the XC90 and MDX come standard with front-wheel drive. One positive price change for the Discovery this year is that the diesel engine is now offered on the base model; it was previously available only on the higher-priced HSE and HSE Luxury models.
The Discovery is more expensive than others, but it also looks and feels the part. The Volvo XC90 is the reigning champ in this class — it won Cars.com’s Best of 2016 award and took top honors in two head-to-head challenges against the Acura MDX and the Audi Q7 — and it hasn’t been dethroned. The Discovery is a worthy contender, however, and if fancy is on your shopping list, the Discovery should be on there, too.
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