Discovery 3 is critical to Land Rover’s planned return to profit, for although the Freelander will sell 10,000 more each year, the new Discovery’s higher price means its 60,000 units will represent Land Rover’s biggest single source of income. It has to be good enough to be a breadwinner for 10 years – off-roaders, and Land Rovers in particular, are longer-lived than most cars.
It has to convince the loyal but idiosyncratic buyers of the old Discovery, who are so attached to this capable-but-grossly-outdated car that sales in the first quarter of this year went up 17 per cent – maybe they thought Land Rover couldn’t possibly build a better car.
But convincing new buyers is more important, particularly in gold-rush China and in America, the biggest of Land Rover’s 142 markets but one which ought to be bigger yet given its obsession with the SUV. The company’s 11,000 employees will be willing them to peel off the greenbacks, as will workers at the Dagenham engine plant that makes the diesel that will power 90 per cent of Discoverys sold in Europe, and the 600 Mayflower employees who stamp out its panels, because this is about as British a car as you’ll find from a global group – designed here, engineered here, built here.
The weight of expectation shows only in its weight. In building what ought to be one of the most versatile cars on sale, Land Rover has also created one of the heaviest at over 2.7 tonnes unladen, a third of a tonne heavier than a Range Rover. It’s the only fact your eye stumbles over in the specification and we were about to discover if it would feel as significant on road as on paper.
But no matter how much you want to drive it, the new styling demands at least a double walkaround. Our car looked sensational under the monochrome yellow lamp. Land Rover learned long ago that, in styling, functionality breeds longevity. There are few details to date: the interrupted waistline and asymmetric tailgate are the two stand-out features, but you feel they’ll become Land Rover hallmarks rather than the silent victims of a mid-life facelift.
Elsewhere, the styling simply does what it needs to. It’s plainly a Land Rover (lamps, clamshell bonnet), it’s plainly a Disco (alpine roofline) and it plainly isn’t a Range Rover (ditto). It’s an appealing, coherent effort, purposeful without looking threatening, important at a time when SUVs need to rebut their undeserved sociopathic image.
And you’ll suppress the desire to drive it for a few minutes longer to play origami with the seats. Land Rover sees the cabin as critical to its new car’s success, and it has stretched the wheelbase by 355mm to package an optional third row of seats capable of accommodating adults in as much comfort as the first two rows, but shorter overhangs mean the new car is only 130mm longer overall than the old Disco. It’s also slightly wider to aid handling and fractionally lower to fit in more car parks.
The third row of seats does just what it claims to, and when not required it folds easily and artfully to leave a low, flat floor to the colossal boot.
The middle row tumbles forward to provide access to the rears as easy as in the best MPVs, and once in you have deep footwells, plenty of head- and kneeroom, an oddments bin, one of the vast cupholders with which Land Rover hopes to woo endlessly thirsty Americans and even an optional sunroof and headphone socket with separate audio controls.
The middle row hasn’t been raided for space, either: it offers more legroom than before and will take a six-foot passenger behind a six-foot driver, although the seats are rather hard and flat.