On the outside, the all new Land Rover Discovery may look softer than the vehicle it's replacing, but rest assured, it has lost nothing in the capability department. In fact, the 2017 Discovery, the de facto replacement for the Land Rover LR4, is better in just about every way.

That's the headline-assessment after driving the Discovery for two days and hundreds of miles over just about every type of terrain. Our travels along the Utah/Arizona border took us on scenic byways through Zion National Park, up and down boulder-strewn trails outside of Big Water, through mud at every place we encountered it, and finally over the massive namesakes of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. In every instance, the new Discovery proved itself far more capable than we could have imagined, and we imagine it packs far more capability than most drivers will ever need. 

New look, new feel, new name (kind of)

Design-wise, the Discovery 3-row SUV is a significant departure from its LR4 and LR3 predecessors. Gone are the blocky design, asymmetrical tailgate and distinctly stepped roof. In are a rounded yet still tough shape that follows in the footsteps of the Range Rover luxury SUV and the Discovery's own little brother, the Discovery Sport.

Even the name is new, kind of. While it's always been called the Discovery in global markets (and in the U.S. until 2002 when it became the LR3), the name returns to America, supplanting the outgoing LR4. Just don't confuse the new Discovery with the Discovery Sport. Both share a similar first name and have 3-rows of seating for up to seven passengers, but the Discovery Sport is a compact SUV, while the Discovery is a sizably larger midsize SUV far more suited for hauling families.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2017

Less weight and an additional engine choice

As with the Range Rover before it, the Discovery has lost a lot of weight -- over 900 pounds in some models -- thanks to an aluminum-intensive unibody structure.

With less weight to lug, the all-new 2017 Land Rover Discovery feels quicker and nimbler than its predecessor. The new Discovery comes standard with the same engine that powered the outgoing LR4, a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 good for 340 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. Also like the outgoing model, this engine remains paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission. The setup is a good one, and we are frankly glad that Land Rover didn't try to use a 9-speed, which feels like one or three gears too many in the 4-cylinder-powered Discovery Sport.

With the supercharged gasoline engine, the new Discovery is respectably quick with a  0-60 mph time of 6.9 seconds. We also found this engine very smooth, refined and quiet. It's an easy enough engine to recommend, and with fuel economy ratings now up to 21 mpg for highway driving, is even a couple of digits better than in the outgoing model.

Still, the powertrain we relished most during our seat time is the optional 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6. It has less horsepower (254) but a lot more torque: 443 lb-ft. In real-world driving, that means slower acceleration (0-60 mph arrives in 7.7 seconds), but a significantly more grunt for climbing, towing and general SUV-like uses. At up to 26 mpg, it's also more fuel efficient. All in all, we think the turbodiesel is well worth the $2,000 premium.

Range Rover-esque road manners

With both engines, we found the Discovery highly pleasing for long highway slogs. One of the biggest surprises is just how quiet it is, even when equipped with the diesel engine. Once inside, the familiar pitter-patter of the engine, and just about everything else, is quieted to a hush. In this regard, it reminded us of the latest-gen Range Rover, the flagship of the Land Rover family.

The Discovery doesn't have quite the on-road dynamism of the Range Rover, but it never feels bloated in corners. Considering this is a machine with the capability to scale hills as if traipsing through a field of flowers, it's a compromise we'll take.

Off-road is where the Land Rover stands apart from just about every other competitor. Rivals like an Audi Q7, Acura MDX, Volvo XC90 and even the quite capable Mercedes-Benz GLS simply don't have the hard-core hardware and software to do what a Discovery does. About its only serious competition comes from the Toyota family with the Land Cruiser and Lexus GX.

It's almost a running line that most Land Rover buyers will never take their new SUVs on excursions that involve more than a dirt lot or possibly a mild trail. But not being able to emerge victorious over the most vicious terrain would be an affront to everything for which the brand stands. Ninety-nine percent of buyers may never need the Discovery's capability, but for the 1 percent who do—or for that dire instance when you need an SUV that can make it through nearly 3 feet of water—the Discovery is ready.

Full-time 4-wheel drive

All models feature a full-time 4-wheel-drive system, single-speed transfer case (two-speed transfer case optional), the Terrain Response 2 system, and loads of ground clearance -- over 11 inches for those with air suspension. In combination, this hardware and software makes a highly formidable, highly intelligent off-roader. For much of our time we left our model in Auto mode and let it figure out where to send power and to which wheel.

For rock climbing and in sand dunes, we put the Disco in low-range and the appropriate off-road mode. In all cases, it climbed, clawed and crawled like champ. Seasoned off-roaders will be more than pleased. For those who have never been, we hope you discover its joys if you buy a Discovery (training courses are even offered through Land Rover Experience).

Most impressively, our Land Rover Discovery test models did everything on stock, all-terrain tires. We find it significant that it was able to scale seriously steep slopes, rock crawl and make it through sand and mud on the same tires that had us on the highway moments before. The only change made was a reduction in tire pressure for the sand portion. Professionals from Land Rover Experience were on hand with winch-equipped, expedition-ready Defender 110 models from overseas, but we never needed their assistance. And the plush interior confines of our Discovery test models, with their swaths of leather and Meridian audiophile sound systems, were far more luxurious.

Also: Class of 2018 – New Cars Ready to Roll

On sale in June, starting just over $50,000

The 2017 Discovery is set to hit showrooms by June. Base SE models, which come standard with 5 seats (7 are optional) and are only available with the supercharged gasoline V6, starts just under $51,000 when factoring destination. From there, HSE and HSE Luxury variants are around $58,000 and $65,000, respectively. Land Rover will also make around 500 First Edition versions, roughly $75,000 models laced with just about every option, from autonomous emergency braking and air suspension to unique accents and Land Rover's Activity Key—a waterproof, adventure-proof wristband that acts as a key to grant access so you don't have to carry one.


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