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Cars

Gutsy Move

Words by Damien Reid

The evolution of the Land Rover Discovery has divided opinion, but our writer is a convert.

It takes courage to change the face of the Middle East’s favourite car, the Land Rover, but that’s exactly what has happened with the all-new Discovery and, to be fair, for some, it’s taking a little while to accept and embrace. The new, radically different looking Land Rover Discovery has polarised opinion among Emiratis and Middle East off-roading geeks as it has shed its rugged, boxy, high-riding look with the wide-opening single tailgate for this far more sleeker, lower and rounded shape. If you think this is a shock, wait till they go after the untouchable Land Rover Defender next year, but let’s leave that for another day.

For now though, the Discovery gets the biggest overhaul in its 28-year history both cosmetically and, thanks to a brace of new electronic driver and off-road aids, under the skin as well. From front on, it now has the characteristic Range Rover nose and even diehard fans are begrudgingly accepting this. However things change once the eye moves past the C-Pillar and around to the rear where it’s decidedly softer and has carried over probably one trait from the earlier iterations: the stepped hipline around the back. Reflected as an off-set licence plate positioning, it gives the impression of wearing an eye patch and for the OCD-affected out there, the lack of symmetry is a little hard to take.

However you could also argue that Land Rover owners aren’t so vain and have attached so much loyalty to the brand because of what it can do and not what it looks like.

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New sleek interior

Given that the boxy earlier versions and the Defender were no oil paintings either, they did the job of off-roading better than just about anything else out there and after our time with the fifth-generation, 2017 Discovery, I can say that probably still stands true. The new Discovery is nearly 500kg lighter than the old LR4 due to it abandoning its old-style chassis and going for a monocoque construction, which comprises 85 per cent aluminium thanks to the new PLA (Premium Lightweight Architecture) platform it has borrowed from the new Range Rover and Range Rover Sport models. The Discovery feels much more nimble and reacts to steering changes faster but it’s the outstanding electronic Terrain Response System where it really shines.

We encountered snow, mud, ice, gravel, road and more during our drive through a quagmire in the Utah highlands. A particularly challenging 80-metre drop down a 30+ per cent gradient sand dune that had a thin layer of ice and snow on top tested its downhill descent control perfectly. Never touching the pedals, it guided us down easily without slipping on the snow or getting bogged in the sand. Then, with a heavy right foot, I used its 340bhp and 450Nm of torque from its 3-litre V6 engine to power our way up the other side kicking up giant icy, sandy rooster tails along the way.

This mix of terrain and grip levels all at once would have sent many electronic diffs into a frenzy but the Discovery had the right amount of grip and power at the right time. Likewise, its 900mm wading depth, 283mm of ground clearance and 500mm wheel articulation were all called into action for some extremely slippery mud trails.

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The Discovery shows off it's outstanding electronic Terrain Response System

The Specs

Engine

3.0-litre, V6 supercharged

Power

340Bhp @ 6,500rpm m

Torque

450Nm @ 3,500rpm

Transmission

eight-speed, auto AWD

0-100kmh

6.9 seconds

Top Speed

209kmh

Price

AED 249,900

Back on the highway and its extra sound insulation over the old model was noticeable as was the clearly higher grade interior and comfort that’s now much closer to Range Rover than Defender compared to before. The factory claims that with its eight-speed auto the Land Rover Discovery is capable of reaching 100kmh in less than seven seconds and despite its still hefty 2,200kg weight, it feels lighter and easier to maneuver around town as well.

Visually, while it may have lost the rear bubble in the roofline, make no mistake, it’s a proper seven-seater with more room in the third row for two adults than many MPVs because the design and engineering team remembered that they have legs too but also sit higher to see over the front two rows. What is a boon for convenience is that there are four ways you can electronically fold the seats either via a control panel at the rear, another beside the rear doors, via the central touchscreen in the front or even on your smartphone.

It’s perfect for coming out of the hardware store with a load of kit under your arms. Overall, the new Discovery strikes a far better balance between school runner and off-roader than the previous version. However there’s little luggage space (258 litres) if all seven seats are in place, but with all bar the front seats folded flat, you have a cavernous 2,406 litres to play with. I became an unexpected fan at the end of the drive because like so many I’m sure, I fell victim to believing from seeing its softer styling, that it had also become softer where it counted most. I’m glad the proof was in the pudding and it proved me wrong as a capable all rounder even in the toughest conditions.

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