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Is this a triumph of style over substance, or is the fifth-gen Land Rover Discovery the best yet?

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 Land Rover 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 Land Rover Discovery, 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.

Like the Range Rover Sport and the full-sized Range Rover, the Discovery is based on an aluminium monocoque

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 Land Rover Discovery, 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.

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The outgoing, fourth-generation Land Rover Discovery, enhanced further still and nudged increasingly upmarket, was regarded with enormous affection in the UK – so much so that, as with the outgoing Land Rover 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 Land Rover 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 Land Rover 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. 


Land Rover Discovery First drives