2021 Land Rover Discovery a true automotive Swiss army knife
It is a heroically talented go-anywhere, do-anything family SUV. Just be sure you do need so much space and ability.
The Discovery 5 is the biggest, most luxurious, most off-road handy Land Rover money can buy. Want even more than this? Then you are into Range Rover territory.
The question is, why would you possibly want ‘more car’ than a Disco? It is a true automotive Swiss army knife, capable of taking seven full-grown humans further up a mountain, down a river or straight to The Savoy than pretty much anything. And for 2021, it has been treated to new headlights, new bumpers, a fresh set of engines and much-needed new infotainment inside. As you can see, there is a sportier R-Dynamic body kit on offer, and 22-inch rims to disguise the vast bodywork’s bulk.
Compared to the old Disco 3 (and the Disco 4, which was really just a mild facelift), the fifth-generation car is a very different animal. No longer does a unibody chassis live on a separate frame, resulting in an obese kerb weight and predictably agricultural dynamics. The Discovery now calls an all-aluminum platform home.
The foundations are shared with the full-fat Rangie, though we are told the materials used mean the kerb weight is down by almost half a ton. That said, this is still a machine that crushes small hills rather than climb them, so please do not expect Porsche-spec cornering prowess.
Though the Disco 5 is a mite narrower than the older version, it feels gigantically enormous from way up in the captain’s chair. Intimidating. Exhilarating. Land Rover is at pains to point out that it considers the Disco a size up from the likes of the Volvo XC90 and Audi Q7, and the rearmost seats can cater to humans no longer wearing diapers. But, like the equally enormous Mercedes GLS, you are going to need a very generous parking space. Wiltshire ought to do nicely.
Let us say that you bring oil tankers into port for a living, so the sheer size is not an issue. The new engines are a real step on from the motley collection that went before. Chief among the powerplants are a pair of 48-volt mild-hybrid-boosted straight-sixes. One is a 268kW petrol and guess what, the D300 is a 223kW diesel? Hurrah for common sense badging!! Entry level Discos gets four-cylinder power: either an existing D250 diesel, or a new P300 petrol, which do without hybrid boost. All are allied to an eight-speed automatic as standard, with four-wheel drive (duh), and Land Rover’s confident claims that the Disco can out-climb, out-wade and out-tow any rival under the sun.
It is fair to say the Disco’s featureless sides and lopsided rear end have made what was once a design classic, a real Marmite car. Yet, despite redoing the interior, the engine line-up, the wheels, the seats and even the paint palette, Land Rover did not press new panels to disguise the Discovery’s slabby styling. They are confident that the way this car looks will not put anyone off before they have climbed aboard and sampled its superpowers.
The new P360 petrol offers up 268kW and 500Nm, which punts the big Disco from 0-100 in 6.5 seconds and on to 210kmh.
Unfashionable as it may seem though, the Disco is a car built for diesel power. Here we find a big car with the motor it was always destined to marry: a 223kW, 500Nm bruiser that is very nearly just as quick as the petrol but that much more effortless doing so.
The eight-speed gearbox is rarely caught out and, as per all the best luxury cars, does its job best by being completely unnoticeable. If you insist on taking over manually, the new metal paddles are beautifully tactile but watch out for a thumb-slicing attempt as the wheel jiggles about ferociously off-road.
Climb aboard the Disco, lean back out to close its enormous barn door and it really does feel like you are wearing your dad’s giant coat and massive gum boots. The commanding driving position is classic posh SUV, but the rear window seems to be in a different postcode and combined with the thickness of the pillars, visibility is pinched. You will be relying on the fleet of on-board cameras to avoid kerbing those rims.
So, what is new then? Well, the gear selector is a huge improvement. The clunky old rotary dial has been binned at last, and now there is a push-pull selector that looks like the sort of thrust controller you would find in a posh speedboat, as opposed to a naff, Lidl-own brand speedboat. Also fresh, are the decluttered Terrain Response controls, and the Defender steering wheel, which does not really look upmarket enough for the rest of this cockpit, oddly enough.
Up front you will notice sharp digital dials, and the new ‘Pivi Pro’ touchscreen interface as seen on the new Defender and the latest Jags. Its sheer size makes jabbing the icons you are aiming at easier than before, and it renders menus snappily, easily. Graphics are sharp and, as a native interface, it is a definite improvement.
Smartphone connectivity still seems a tad haphazard though. All versions of the new Disco get the 11.4-inch display, while underneath the climate controls have had a spruce up, but feel less tactile than before. They still fold away to reveal a hidden stowage cubby – which seems like overkill when you could lose children under the armrests and there are two glove boxes to put, well, each of your gloves into.
If you are brave enough to go for the lighter upholstery and lashings of unpolished wood it’s an opulent surrounding, but we loved the old Disco’s big, chunky touch switchgear and bleak-but-bulletproof ambience. The new one feels almost inappropriate, like the car wants you to remove your muddy shoes before climbing aboard and put the wet, smelly dogs in a trailer rather than sully the boot’s luxuriant carpet.
Okay, let us assume you like the Disco 5’s upmarket sweep. You will not want for space, with all seven seats capable of seating adults. Open the giant doors (Folks careful now, especially in narrow spots, folks!!) and you will find the middle row sports 954mm of legroom and easily enough space for three adults abreast.
The folding mechanisms, though electrically assisted, are not as intuitive as Volvo’s easy-going XC90, but once you have motored and hauled them about, you will find there is 851mm of legroom in the far rear, and enough gap for adults. It is also versatile; you can individually fold each rearmost seat, and the second row has a 60/40 split, recline and load-through facility.
Boot capacity is 258 litres in seven-seat configuration, and a gargantuan 2,406 litres with all the rear seats stowed. But to access any of that, you have to electrically lower the fold-down carpeted shelf that pretends to be as versatile as the classic old split tailgate. Land Rover says it can take a 300kg load before failing, but it looks awfully flimsy. Oh, and watch your head on the tailgate’s sharp edges when it is raised.
On the one hand, the Discovery is now so richly appointed inside, so deeply talented off-road and so downright massive it feels churlish to compare it to the likes of the Volvo XC90, Audi Q7 and BMW X5.
There is so much Range Rover-ness about the Disco now, and it is so massive and versatile, it feels like it belongs in its own subsection, where only truly authentic mud-pluggers, rather than lifestyle 4x4s, dare to tread. That said, be sure you really do need the Disco’s deep reserves of off-piste talent and sheer dimensions before shunning those wieldier and more efficient rivals.
If your lifestyle demands such a roundly capable and roomy family car, there is pretty much nothing else on Earth that will do so much, so well, as this extraordinary machine. It is one of the wonders of the car world, truthfully. You probably do not need one, but precisely because of that, you are more likely to want a Discovery.