2018 Land Rover Discovery softens its style, loses some weight

Off-road capability is still here in spades, though.

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Sporting a sleek appearance reminiscent of recent Land Rover concepts, the 2018 Discovery broke cover Wednesday on the eve of the Paris Motor Show. In 27 years, the Discovery has been the all-terrain champion of the British SUV maker, but this vehicle looks as if it will be more at home on Fifth Avenue than the Rubicon Trail. Design chief Gerry McGovern is unapologetic.

"Land Rover is going through a transformation," he says, citing a market that he claims is seeking "premium refinement" and highly surfaced vehicles such as the new Disco. "People won't accept big panel gaps anymore," he says.

Under the skin, the Mark V Discovery adopts the aluminum-intensive D7 architecture of the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport with wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension and air springs. This makes for a largely aluminum body shell, but unlike the Range Rovers, the Discovery uses steel subframes for added strength and to keep the cabin floor low enough to allow headroom for the third row of seats. US models will be offered with a choice of five or seven seats. Discovery replaces the LR4 name.

The boxy look might be gone, but off-road performance remains. With entry and departure angles and ground clearance at least as good as the outgoing model, the latest Terrain Response system, and a wading depth of 35.4 inches, Land Rover's engineering department reckons the new Disco will be better in the rough stuff than its predecessor or any of its current sport-utility rivals. It's about the same size as the outgoing LR4, though slightly longer and wider with 1.5-inches of extra wheelbase and a lower overall height. Dispensing with the body-on-frame architecture of the previous model and other enhancements helped save nearly 1,000 pounds. There's also an aerodynamic improvement in the new smoother bodyshell, active grille shutters, and an air suspension, which can lower itself at speed.

The interior has three rows of power-folding seats (which can be done remotely with a smartphone, or from the trunk) and with the rear-most two rows folded, there's a total of 88.3 cubic feet of load space. It has a wifi hotspot system for up to eight devices, six USB ports, and six 12-volt chargers. The seats are all individually heated and there are five child-seat ISOFIX points, two in each of the rear rows and one in the passenger seat.

The old split rear tailgate, while useful and much loved (since you can use the fold-down lower part as a grandstand at sporting events or a picnic tray), was expensive, difficult to seal, and corrosion-prone, so Land Rover dropped it. In place is a top-hinged tailgate with an aluminum picnicking/standing/seating plate, which folds out of the floor and can support up to 661 pounds. The air suspension will also kneel by about two inches to aid passengers' ingress and egress. Like the outgoing Discovery, there isn't a lot of room when all the seats are erected, and that new fold-down plate could turn out to be a blessed nuisance when loading, but we'll have to try it before passing a final opinion.

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The engine lineup features JLR's 340-hp, 3.0-liter supercharged V6, available on all trims. The transmission is the ZF eight-speed automatic, with a choice of single or two-speed Torsen-based torque biasing center gearing. Towing capacity is 8,201 pounds. A 3.0-liter turbodiesel making 254 hp will also be available.

When the original three-door Discovery broke cover at the Frankfurt Show in 1989 it was a stylish addition into a world of seriously utilitarian machines. "It's a leisure vehicle not aimed at the luxury sector at all," said Chris Woodwark, Land Rover's Commercial Director at the time. "Discovery, if you like, is for Yuppies and Range Rover is for people who've already made it."

These days Land Rover is less controversial and less comprehensible. McGovern says that versatility, re-configurability, storage, and 'lifestyle-enabling' are the key features of the new vehicle.

Discovery has been a phenomenal success for Land Rover, selling over 1.2 million in 27 years and introducing the brand to many loyal customers. First look at the new model is that the appliance of refinement has somehow made it less authentic and the new one looks less like what it can do than any of its predecessors. We'll have to see what the market makes of this move. It goes on sale in mid-2017, starting at $50,985.

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