The new Discovery is a touch lighter, lower and less imposing than its predecessor, but it still feels very much like just about the most commanding and capable SUV on the road from the driver’s seat. Getting in will mean stepping up for almost anyone. You then settle into a driver's seat that locates your eyeline several inches above where it might be in any of the Discovery’s German rivals, and that sits you upright and bent-legged at the controls a way above both the car’s shoulderline and the melee of surrounding traffic.
The Discovery’s front seats are broadly comfortable, if a little bit short in the cushion. It was also surprising to hear longer-legged testers complaining of a very slight shortage of leg room up front.
In the second and third rows of seats, however, passenger space is very good. The rearmost row is particularly spacious, big enough even for full-sized adults to travel in, as well as fitted with proper Isofix childseat anchor points and, as in our test car, optionally available with heated seats.
The Discovery’s practicality party tricks are the motorised folding and unfolding mechanisms for all five rearmost seats, which can be controlled from the infotainment screen up front, from buttons in the boot opening or via smartphone app. Standard on HSE Luxury cars and optional on HSEs, these automatic folding seats seem a great deal less gimmicky and more useful while you’re watching them do their thing in person than they may seem on paper. It’s just a shame that Land Rover couldn’t come up with a better solution for a loadbay cover than the fairly cumbersome conventional roller cover, which you still have to reach in, unlatch and remove the old-fashioned way before five passenger seats can be turned into six or seven.
Land Rover’s 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine announces itself with a little less reserve than a Q7 3.0 TDI does. On the move, the Discovery's mechanical refinement is good but it’s not quite as hushed as the quietest and most luxurious SUVs. There’s also more wind noise in evidence in the Discovery, fluttering its way quietly into the cabin around the door mirrors and door seals, than you’ll experience in some rivals.
Overall though, the isolation shortfall isn’t marked enough to burst the bubble of calm that the act of driving the Discovery creates. This car’s size and bulk, its gentle ride, its precise but pragmatic handling and its torquey but laidback power delivery all combine to make for a wonderfully relaxing at-the-wheel experience, and one that’s as clearly distinguished by as effortless a sense of superiority on the road as any Range Rover. Everything about the way this new Discovery eases its way down the road reminds you of what it’s holding in reserve.
The car is directed with a typically large-diameter steering wheel that’s moderately paced and yet still quite weighty. Through corners, the Discovery doesn’t roll as hard as its predecessor, but it certainly rolls. And it doesn’t handle as keenly or grip as hard as considerably more sporting, ‘car-like’ additions to the large SUV ranks such as the Q7 and Volvo XC90. Not that you’re likely to mind much.
The Discovery rides and handles like a big car – but a very cleverly tuned one. There's real accuracy and feel to the steering over the first 45deg off the straight-ahead, before that body roll gently builds, telling you loud and clear how quickly the car is meant to be driven through a series of bends and giving you plenty of margin in which to reign in your enthusiasm.
Push past that point and you’ll ultimately find a good deal less outright grip, and earlier-onset understeer on the road, than you get from the typical German premium 4x4; something caused at least in part by the all-season Pirelli Scorpion Verde tyres fitted to our test car, whereas most of the Discovery’s opponents come on more road-biased rubber. But the car’s stability and traction control systems are clever enough to keep things under a constant and discreet sense of control even when you do hustle the car along.
Aside from the provision of the necessary chassis compliance and wheel travel to make good on Land Rover’s claims for this car off the tarmac, the Discovery’s particular suspension tuning also makes for a superbly comfortable ride on the road. Here, the Discovery’s total freedom from sporting pretension really pays dividends. Its suspension soothes away bumps large and small with a beautifully judged suppleness unknown to plenty of luxury saloons. Although our test car’s air suspension and 21in alloys didn’t always deal with rough surfaces all that quietly, it still set a very high standard on rolling comfort that few cars in the world could equal.
And what of that V6 engine? Well, in outright flat-out performance terms, it does indeed only give the Discovery a marginal improvement on roll-on pace compared to the surprisingly torquey SD4. The Discovery isn’t a car likely to surprise you with its briskness in the way that a Q7 does. But under part-throttle, in the lower reaches of the rev range and for its greater flexibility, the V6 does deliver useful performance gains. The engine only revs to just beyond 4000rpm, so it’s not one you’ll spin up just for the kicks – but that 443lb ft of torque does a lot to make a heavy car seem less heavy away from corners and junctions.