If one were looking for the rock on which the modern incarnation of Land Rover is built, you could easily make the case for the Discovery – a car originally fashioned from a cubic jumble of old Range Rover architecture and the unwanted constituents of the Austin Rover parts bin.

The first generation, launched in 1989, was a packaging rethink intended to compete with a new, affordable generation of Japanese 4x4s that made the Range Rover of the day look old and overpriced.

The solution wasn’t flawless (indeed, its flaws multiplied and deepened over time), but its downsized diesel engine, utilitarianism and practicality caught the imagination of a public newly enthused about MPVs and the prospect of carrying seven people in hitherto unprecedented comfort.

In subsequent years, the formula barely changed. Land Rover just drastically improved the ingredients.

With the third generation, in particular, Gaydon put its shoulder into the job, turning the Discovery into the model we now recognise: substantial, squared off and all but unstoppable.

The outgoing, fourth-generation version, enhanced further still and nudged increasingly upmarket, was regarded with enormous affection in the UK – so much so that, as with the Defender, Land Rover recorded an impressive upturn in sales as the car approached its run-out date.

The reason for that last-minute enthusiasm for the Discovery 4 is well understood.

For all its virtues, the Discovery made for an anachronistic presence in Gaydon’s curvaceous line-up, and its replacement heralded the end of an era that a substantial number of buyers were reluctant to see fade away.

In short, they suspected that Land Rover might have lost sight of all the things that made the Discovery special and turned it into a lesser sibling of the Range Rover Sport – the model it is now most alike, mechanically.

That’s an understandable concern, but Gaydon could hardly be accused of taking its eye off the ball during this decade.

One triumph has emphatically followed another, and in the Mk5 Discovery it has promised nothing less than the world’s best family SUV. We like the ambition – but now the car needs to prove it. 

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

Top 5 Luxury SUVs

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the Land Rover range

Driven this week

  • Volkswagen Golf MHEV
    First Drive
    23 November 2017
    VW's 48V mild hybrid technology is still a few years away from production, but we’ve sampled a prototype Golf fitted with it and are suitably impressed
  • Jeep Compass
    First Drive
    23 November 2017
    Jeep enters the competitive compact SUV market with its new Compass, blending ruggedness with contemporary styling and tech
  • BMW 1 Series Saloon
    We had a short drive in a China-only front-wheel-drive BMW 1 Series
    First Drive
    23 November 2017
    A brief drive in a China-only front-wheel-drive model shows the future is bright for the 1 Series when it makes the switch from RWD next year
  • BMW 5 Series
    First Drive
    23 November 2017
    The BMW 5 Series is top of the mid-exec pack, but is there still room for a diesel saloon in everyday family life?
  • Toyota Prius PHEV
    First Drive
    23 November 2017
    Does running a plug-in hybrid really make sense as a 500-mile-a-week driver? Six months with a Toyota Prius Plug-in should give a conclusive answer