Inside, most of the things that made the old Discovery a Discovery have been retained. What we always liked about this car – and what got under customers’ skin – was how relaxing it was to drive. It took the S out of SUV, with a high driving position, low window line, and very clear ends to its body, making it easy to place.
Some of that has been compromised by the new appearance. I feel like you sit a touch lower, in a more car-like driving position, but the window line is still lower than in most rivals, the mirrors are big and you can see the most part of the bonnet. The rear window is large too, although now lacking in the cut-out half way across it – instead only the number plate holder is skewed, making the back of your Discovery look like it’s had a stroke.
Like the rest of the design, Land Rover is aware that, with the tailgate, it’s messing with something customers loved, by replacing a two-piece one with a one-piece, top-hinging plastic tailgate: it points out, before you’ve even asked, that the first Discovery had a side-hinged tailgate and that these things always evolve, so please don’t think badly of the company for doing it. I was tempted to, but as standard there's a powered flap inside the boot, which does the same thing as the split-tailgate: can hold 300kg when it’s lowered and you sit on it to change out of your wellies, and helps keeps dogs or shopping in place when it’s raised.
The rest of the interior continues the best of the previous Discovery’s themes; it gets big buttons, and clear dials, there is masses of storage space dotted around the cabin, entry to middle and third rows of seats is easier than ever and the rearmost seats themselves are more accommodating than ever. It really is a genuine seven-seater in a way that an Audi Q7 or even a Volvo XC90 just aren’t; this is a very useful car, but a lot of car to be powered by a 2.0-litre engine, right? So you’d think.
First surprise: this new Ingenium unit is quiet. I’m not sure if it’s the new engine derivative or the installation that makes it so, but the Ingenium is massively vocal in a Discovery Sport – far more so than, say, an Audi Q5 – and pretty gruff in a Jaguar XE. Here it just isn’t; I’d swear it was quieter than the V6 diesel in the old Discovery, and certainly more refined than Volvo’s XC90. Serve a dining hall with rice puddings and it’d even remove their skins, too. Before this drive, a couple of Land Rover employees told me they’d been driving the 2.0-litre and that it had plenty of power, which is the sort of thing you take under advisement. But they were right. Throttle response is fine, torque is high, and you don’t have to work the 2.0 nearly as much as you might think to make progress.
Obviously, if you tow a lot of stuff – the Discovery has traditionally been a fabulous tow car, and still has a 3500kg limit – you’d want a 3.0-litre diesel, which makes 254bhp and a more oofsome 443lb ft. It’s probably not that much less economical, either. Instead of the 2.0’s claimed 44.8mpg mpg (we saw around 30), the V6 is 39.2mpg, but you probably have to work it less hard, less often, and the premium is only £3k. More on it another time.
What engineers will say, though, is that the 2.0 – by dint of being a good 70kg lighter than the V6 – is the better handling car of the two. The weight of an adult missing from the nose means that the Discovery steers and turns more easily and its weight distribution is close to 50:50. It’s still no sports car, or even sports SUV, you should understand, but it’s extremely satisfying to drive, even if it’s a touch less imperious than it was. The steering is 2.7 turns between locks, pleasingly weighted and smooth, brake and throttle weights are good, and the seats are armchair comfortable, which all go to make the Discovery an extremely relaxing car. Our test car rode on 20in wheels with 255/55 profile tyres; and I suppose the world is coming to something when you think: ‘phew, these are some of the smaller ones, so should be kinder on the ride’. You can have up to 22s, but I’m not sure I would. Certainly, on 20s, the ride is isolated as smooth as it always was, but now with better body and roll control, too. It’s still a Discovery in character, but enhanced.