Finally: Land Rover Brings Back a Bad-Ass Off-Roader

The third-generation Discovery isn’t a watered-down SUV; it’s an impressive off-roader.

It’s always a bit weird to explore the wild west in the winter. There are few cars, the stream of RVs thins down to a trickle, clouds loom over the once-colorful landscape. And it rains. It’s actually pretty crappy much of the time. In centuries past, those who survived were the those who could tolerate misery best. Such was life last week in southern Utah and Arizona, where I pushed the new 2017 Land Rover Discovery through the muck of a desert February.

But the persistent rain clouds that turned dirt to mud and grippy to slippy — converting pale, coppery desert hues to a darker, richer shade of red — somehow fit the newly redesigned truck to a tee. Sure, it looks great cruising the strip, but, oh, it loves the slop, too. It proved its prowess in the worst conditions.

This is, technically, only the third generation of the Discovery, which launched in the late ’80s. An early-aughts redesign brought a new name to U.S. variants: first the LR3, and then the updated LR4. This new model reverts back to the Discovery moniker. It’s arrived with a slightly lower and slightly wider physique that dials back the upright-ness of its immediate predecessors, and that’s a good thing. The SUV looks a bit better suited to the wild now, and a bit more menacing and worldly.

2017 Land Rover Discovery

Engines: 3.0-liter supercharged V6 or 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel V6
Transmission: eight-speed automatic
Horsepower: 340; 254
Torque:332 lb-ft; 443 lb-ft
0–60: 6.9 seconds; 7.7 seconds
Top Speed: 133 mph; 130 mph
Weight: 4,751 lbs; 4,916 lbs
MSRP: $43,990 to $73,950

There are plenty of amenities for the average family: oodles of storage in lots of surprising spaces (two glove compartments!), seating for seven adults. The Activity Key wristband allows access to the car, should you want to leave your keys behind while out adventuring. There’s connectivity in spades, including remote control via smartphone and Apple Watch, and no fewer than nine USB ports to keep mobile tech full on photons. On the road, the ride is exceedingly smooth and surprisingly quiet. It’s absolutely a great road-tripper.

But with Land Rover, it always comes back to brute capability. The obvious trend in SUV innovation these days is notably away from off-roadability — complaining about that fact by now feels as old as the Old West itself. Indeed, the LR4 indeed suffered because of it.

Land Rover certainly reversed the softening of the Discovery.

The car has ample ground clearance, controllable via a generous air-suspension system. It’s got a laudable 34.5 inches of wading depth — seven more than the LR4. There’s the new All-Terrain Progress Control, like cruise-control for off-road noobs. It precisely monitors your current off-road situation in terms of traction and terrain, then dials in the exact power distribution you need to surmount any obstacle that the car could ordinarily tackle. This essentially eliminates all the sloppy wheel-slip and random flailing about that human pilots often inject into off-roading. Coupled with the now-familiar hill-descent control and sand and snow settings, it makes the SUV ready for pretty much any mess its owners may get into, recreationally or accidentally.

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On the sand at Coral Pink Sand Dunes in southern Utah, the Discovery powered up and down the most outrageously steep and slippery dunes with ease. As I heeded my instructor’s radioed-in commands of “throttle! throttle! throttle!” while swinging up the dunes (momentum is everything in the sand, which is, hands down, the most difficult of terrains), the Discovery was not the limiting factor. I was.

This is precisely the balance you want in a modern off-road machine. Its powerful and torquey V6 got me through the muck and up the dunes, while the turbodiesel version (also coming to the U.S.) excelled in thrusting the Disco over rocks and through general grunt work. (The diesel, it should be noted, failed pretty soundly at highway acceleration, such as passing semi-trailers. Keep that in mind if the fuel benefits of diesel are on your radar.) Both engines, in short, will likely get you through the worst of days.

Of course, for most owners, the chances of finding the need for much of this hardcore off-road excellence are generally pretty slim. So is it worth it? Depends on who you are, how ready for unexpected mayhem you want to be, and whether you’d be inclined to go create some mayhem yourself. If I had a machine like this, I think I’d make as much mayhem as I possibly could.

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