Three-row SUVs are far more likely to trade on their ability to haul families in comfort and style rather than for their sheer off-road capability. For those seeking a proven trail rig capable of accommodating more than five people, the Land Rover Discovery is one of few choices available. While larger and more practical three-row utes are available, many of which offer greater value, a raft of upgrades for the 2021 model year enhance the Disco’s everyday usability without hampering its performance in the wilderness, for better and for worse.
The Discovery’s off-road chops were reinforced by our drive of the updated model in England, which included both scenic country highways and strenuous off-roading at Land Rover’s Eastnor Castle testing site in Herefordshire. Both parts of the program were accomplished in the same vehicle and while riding on the same set of 22-inch wheels and low-profile Pirelli P Zero Scorpion All Season tires.
The Discovery’s mid-cycle facelift does little to enhance its rather sleepy design, despite it gaining new LED headlights, a revised front grille, and on the new R-Dynamic trim we drove, gloss-black exterior details. The overall effect still falls short of the ruggedness of the original Discovery and its LR3/LR4 successors—old-school SUVs that looked as if they were mounting an overland expedition while heading to the mall. The latest version, on the other hand, still resembles a Ford Explorer from certain angles, with its unique offset rear license-plate mount remaining the most visually interesting detail.
More substantive changes lie under the Disco’s hood. Both of the previous gas and diesel V-6 engines have been dropped, with the base powertrain now being a 295-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, which is standard on the entry-level P300 S and R-Dynamic S models. A 355-hp turbo 3.0-liter inline-six that also features a 48-volt hybrid system is optional on the P360 R-Dynamic S and standard with the top-spec HSE trim. Base prices range from $55,250 for the S to more than $70,250 for the HSE. The P360 R-Dynamic S that we sampled starts at $63,250.
The P360’s six-cylinder is a detuned version of the engine we recently experienced in the Jaguar F-Pace P400e. At everyday speeds, this 3.0-liter is subdued in character yet makes impressively light work of motivating the Discovery’s 5500-plus pounds, thanks in part to its 369 pound-feet of torque being available from 1750 to 5000 rpm. The belt-connected starter-generator adds only slight assistance. The standard eight-speed automatic transmission shifts intelligently to keep the engine pulling strong in the meat of its rev range. While it takes a heavy right foot—or a prod of one of the shift paddles on the Disco’s steering wheel—for the eight-speed to hold on to lower gears, we expect a 60-mph run in a little more than six seconds.
Land Rover makes air springs standard on the Discovery, as they bring both a smooth, stately ride over every grade of asphalt and an adjustable ride height for off-road use. But this is definitely not a sporty SUV, its softly tuned chassis possessing little of the athleticism of Land Rover’s more driver-focused models. As before, the combination of minimal steering feel, noticeable body roll, and sizeable dimensions conspire to discourage spirited driving. The Discovery’s priorities are made clear by its Terrain Response system of drive modes, which features one setting for road use and five for different types of off-road terrain.
We didn’t get to experience all of these settings. The lack of a fordable river on our drive route prevented us from confirming Land Rover’s claim that the Discovery’s new Wade mode allows it to navigate water crossings up to 35.4 inches deep. But on Eastnor’s steep, slippery gradients and through deep, gelatinous mud, the Discovery excelled. A two-speed transfer case with low range is standard on the P360, as is a locking center differential (a locking rear diff costs $1100 extra). With the air springs in their highest setting, the Discovery has an approach angle of 34.0 degrees, a departure angle of 30.0 degrees, and a breakover angle of 27.5 degrees. This is a seven-seat vehicle that’s able to venture where very few big luxury SUVs could follow.
Inside, the Discovery’s cabin gains JLR’s slick new Pivi Pro infotainment system, which includes an 11.4-inch touchscreen, as well as an onboard Wi-Fi hotspot, over-the-air updates, and support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The system is intuitive and responsive in all the ways that the previous InCommand Touch system was not. Additional changes include the fitment of a new shift lever in place of the old rotary selector knob, touch-sensitive buttons for climate control, a redesigned steering wheel, and a standard digital instrument cluster. Space remains generous in the Discovery’s front two rows, but the third row is still tight for adults, and there’s little cargo room in the way back when the rearmost row is occupied. Aesthetically, the Disco’s cabin serves as a middle ground between the simpler utilitarianism of the new Defender and the bling of more expensive Range Rovers. This has resulted in some cheap details such as the unconvincing metal-looking plastic trim on the steering wheel, which clashes with the real metal shift paddles nearby.
Although the Land Rover Discovery’s latest updates struggle to enhance its curb appeal compared to its (few) showier rivals, including the new Jeep Wagoneer, they should make it more compelling to a broader set of buyers. And for three-row shoppers that do value off-road prowess, the Disco remains one of the most capable options—at least until Land Rover introduces its upcoming three-row Defender 130.
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