The fact that one of the most touted features of the just-unveiled-today fifth-generation Land Rover Discovery is a smartphone app –- one that lets you configure the interior seating remotely –- would surely come as a shock to Maurice Wilks, the British auto exec most responsible for the creation of the original Land Rover. That first Land Rover was a no-nonsense vehicle if ever there was one, so frivolities like being able to fold down seats at will while you are still in the department store paying for your goodies might seem a bit silly to the marque’s founder. Yet, as an executive of an auto company, he surely would have seen a crowd-pleaser like the Intelligent Seat Fold technology as a salesfloor wow factor and something folks would be bound to tell the neighbors about. And for that reason alone it is undoubtedly worth the considerable engineering effort that went into it. In the wrong hands the whole effort could have become a bloody mess.

Still Tough

To set your mind at ease that the Discovery is not going soft, we are certain that when introduced in the middle of next year, the sleek new version will feature all the off-road toughness and all-terrain capabilities that have made the Land Rover brand famous on seven continents. After all, it will be equipped with the newest versions of the off-road driving technologies that Land Rover has added to supplement its rugged construction, and offer 11.1 inches of ground clearance – a significant increase of 1.7 inches from the outgoing LR4. The new Discovery can ford a stream nearly three-feet deep (actually 35.4 inches – an increase of 7.9 inches over the LR4) so when it comes to go-anywhere no vehicle will make the new Discovery take a back seat. Despite this extreme capability, the Discovery’s back seat might be its most-talked–about feature. Not only does it fold away in amazing fashion, it also can accommodate full-grown human beings; although it will undoubtedly be home to more AYSO soccer players than big-game hunters.

High Capacity

Gerry McGovern, Land Rover Chief Design Officer, and his crew went out of their way to make certain the Discovery could accommodate seven full-sized adults (95th percentile-sized male adults no less) and that is quite a trick in a vehicle barely more than 16 feet long. One of the keys to success in this area is the Discovery’s familiar stepped roofline, which first appeared in the gen-one Discovery and has had reprises on every Discovery since. But this time around you might have to do a doubletake to see the subtle step-up in the rear third of the roofline. As subtle as it is, though, the roof step enables each row to be elevated a bit over the one in front of it, and this “stadium-seating” configuration enables the two-passenger rear row to accommodate two adults as long as they are 95th percentile or below in stature.

That the third row of the Discovery garners this much thought and attention is a testament to not only where Land Rover is going but also to where the industry is going in terms of “family vehicles.” And frankly the new Discovery is designed as much to please upscale suburban wives and children as it is to serve the needs of safari guides and outback explorers. Sure, safari guides might find the fact that the central console can hold a pair of two-liter bottles a boon, but moms and kids are likely to find it equally appealing, and they will also appreciate the central armrest storage area that can house five tablet/computers. To keep those tablets powered up the Discovery is equipped with up to nine USB ports, six 12-volt charging points and an in-car 3G WiFi hotspot that can stream info to as many as eight separate devices. (Why didn’t you think of that, Mr. Wilks?)

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In another bow to SUV-as-minivan, in-vehicle storage is truly a theme in the new Discovery. The rundown includes upper and lower storage areas in the instrument panel; upper and lower front glove boxes; front, mid-vehicle and rear center console storage; “cubby” boxes flanking the third row; front and rear door stowage areas; and a storage bin under the rear cargo floor. Perhaps the niftiest of them all is the 85 cu. in. of hidden stowage space for smaller items such as a smartphone or wallet that lies behind a gloss black fold-down panel. If you want to eschew tablet storage in the central armest, you can order an optional freezer/chiller compartment instead.

Land Rover claims that it invented the bag hook, but even that mundane nicety gets a refreshed treatment in the new Discovery. The new push-operated design on the side of the transmission tunnel in the front passenger footwell sits flush with the surrounding fascia until you push on it. Then the spring-loaded hook appears to hold a purse, bagged groceries or other items. Overall, the Discovery offers 82.7 cu. ft. of total load capacity and 45 cu. ft. when row two is upright but the third row is collapsed. There’s not much space behind the third row when it is upright but that area houses the new optional dual-purpose “Powered Inner Tailgate,” designed to replace the functionality of the two-piece tailgate that was a staple of earlier Discoveries.  The Inner Tailgate folds down across the rear bumper from within the vehicle to extend the cargo area or offer a dry place to pull off your muddy boots (muddy boots being an English obsession). Whether it satisfies two-piece tailgate fans remains to be seen.

Diet and Exercise

What should definitely be seen is the Discovery’s sophisticated new shape. Gone are the ungainly angles of previous Discoveries, replaced by swooping curves provided by a design team led by Massimo Frascella, who served as Creative Director Exterior. In this case the stout British engineering wears a beautifully tailored Italian suit.

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And not only is the Discovery’s body beautiful, it has gone on a remarkable diet, shedding an amazing 1,000 pounds versus the outgoing LR4. Most of the savings are derived from constructing the unitized body-and-frame from aluminum versus steel. The weight loss comes despite a stiffer chassis, and it enabled Land Rover engineers to specify a lighter, more fuel-efficient powertrain. The bulk of the vehicles bound for North America will feature the 340-horsepower supercharged 3.0-liter gasoline-fueled V6 carried over from the LR4. With a substantial 332 lb-ft of peak torque, the gasoline engine is expected to deliver good responsiveness in traffic and at high speeds, aided by the 8-speed ZF automatic transmission. The other engine offered in the new Discovery is a 254-horsepower turbocharged diesel V6 that makes up for its relatively low nominal horsepower with a monstrous 443 lb-ft of torque at as little as 1,750 rpm. We have yet to drive either version, but we expect the lighter, lither fifth-generation Discovery to be the most fun-to-drive Discovery yet.

When and How Much

It is easy to bemoan the fact that the Land Rover Discovery will offer a substantial number of off-road and go-anywhere capabilities that will never be used by many of its owners. But the important thing is, they know those capabilities are there.  The all-new Discovery will be on sale at North American retailers starting in mid-2017, with a suggested base price of $49,990.


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