Land Rover had to go and get stylish on us. The last time I reviewed their midsize hauler, it was called the LR4 and had the upright, utilitarian lines of a six-foot-tall shoebox. But that pragmatic plonker has been replaced this year by a new Discovery. It’s more than the latest “suburban assault vehicle.” It is, to my eyes, the happy medium in the company’s lineup.
To be sure, the Discovery’s cousins on the Range Rover side of the dealer’s lot have more luxurious trim, not to mention upper-crust snarl. And, while we’re cruising the inventory, the more compact Discovery Sport model has that rip-and-grin zippiness that is so popular today. But I figure if you have people and stuff to haul, just go all the way. And now the Discovery has the flowing lines and bodacious interior to make it a vehicle for which there will be no apologies.
The only folks who will be disappointed are those lion-trackers who like their Land Rovers to look like they just conquered the Serengeti. All gone now, alas. Like Jeep, the old soldier’s barracks were invaded with an air of creamy opulence.
The Discovery is now a very drivable cruiser and actually completely different from its LR4 forebear. The oldster’s truckish body-on-frame architecture has been replaced with a monocoque design fortified with aluminum. This brings the heft down 800 pounds and makes it a far more graceful dancer.
Indeed, 400 miles in the new Discovery told me that highway or mountain byway miles went by with plummy ease. Its wondrous air suspension had me feeling like I was riding, well, on air. I did not tow an 8,200-pound boat, but I could have. Its four-wheel-drive capabilities are justifiably famous.
The advantage held by the larger Discovery model is its height, which could make that optional third-row seat livable quarters for adults. A six-footer need not remove his pith helmet. For hauling, the second- and third-row seats can be flattened at the push of a button, resulting in enough boot space to park a dirigible. Or haul a whole lotta mulch. In generations past, the taller SUVs did make you pay with a top-heavy feeling when sailing around a big curve. That issue seems to have been engineered out of the equation.
The considerably less-expensive Sport model can also be optioned for three rows, but I don’t know whether I’d ask anything larger than a dachshund to sit in the hindmost seat. And that rakish roofline does take away space. Still, if real aggressive driving is your vehicle’s primary duty, then you’ll like the Sport.
Passengers will welcome time spent in the big Discovery. Nine USB ports and six 12-volt outlets will make the campers happy. The driver’s environment in my tester offered a blend of flat-black surfaces that looked elegant as well as strong. It was, actually, a fine place in which to go on all sorts of wild adventures. Even if not all the way to the Serengeti.
Base Price: $63,950
Price as Tested: $82,500
Power: 340-hp, 3.0-liter V6. 4-wheel drive
EPA Mileage Ratings: 16 city/ 21 highway