There are really only two models you think about when you hear the name Land Rover. One is the Range Rover, the legendary vehicle that set the bar for a luxury, go absolutely anywhere 4x4. The other is the Defender, long the mainstay of off-road enthusiasts and the British military counterpart to the Jeep, and later on the Humvee.
That kind of leaves the Discovery in a bit of a bind. With two highly respected siblings, where does the Disco stand in the grand scheme of Land Rover things?
Position-wise, the Discovery is something of a combination between the Range Rover and the now-discontinued (and soon-to-be resurrected) Defender. More or less, it combines the dimensions and profile of the Defender 5-door but the luxury and comfort of the Range Rover. If it's still unclear, try thinking of it in Toyota terms: the Range Rover is to the Land Cruiser 200, the Defender is the classic BJ or FJ Land Cruiser, while the Disco is the Land Cruiser Prado.
The Disco we're looking at here is the 5, but it's not really a fifth generation in terms of overall architecture per se. There have been only two prior generations of the Discovery, the first was launched 20 years ago in 1989, followed by a second generation in 2004. That makes this Discovery 5 the third generation.
The reason for the unusual “generation” numbering system is because they count them by series; the 1989-2004 model had two series numbers, with the original Series 1 from 1989 to 1999 followed by the Series 2 (technically a major upgrade and redesign) until 2004. After that, Land Rover launched the second generation with a new frame. They then updated it and called it the Discovery 3/LR3 until 2009, and another facelifted model as the LR4 or Discovery 4 until 2017. Now, we have the Discovery 5. Confused yet? Don't worry, so are we when we were observing what LR was doing at the time.
There's a certain stateliness about the look of the new Disco 5 which I quite like, and much of it was inspired by the look of the current Range Rover. The design is somewhat more mature; definitely clean and subtle without any kind of flash or bling. The panels are more rounded than the angular models that we've seen before. LR's designers did try to create a separation between the glass area and the roof by blacking out the A-pillars, B-pillars, and a thin black strip on the C-pillars, but it's quite hard to notice with a dark paint scheme on the body. I'd opt for a lighter shade or color... or should I say, colour. I'm glad they preserved the distinctive hump on the roof from older Discovery models to provide more headroom for the theater-style seats of the third row passengers.
That stateliness continues inside, and properly so. It's not a flashy interior, and it shouldn't be; there were just subdued hues with cream, black, and metallic trim without faux wood. A lot of people poke fun at the quality of British cars, but there's none of the sort here.
Interior panels fit together with consistency more akin to something German or even custom. The doors close with a satisfying thud. And the leather is impeccable; I particularly liked the comfort of the front seats, along with the adjustable seat mounted center armrests which are separate from the console box.
The dashboard and controls are rather minimalist as Land Rover tried to centralize as many of the functions as they can using buttons on the steering wheel and on the touchscreen infotainment system. That's the right way to do it, I think, leaving the driver's space with the essentials for operation like that dial-type shifter that rises from the center console.
Being a Land Rover, this one comes with plenty of off-road tech that you can use if or when you decide to take the road never traveled. There are controls just aft of the shifter for the intelligent off-road functions like the latest Terrain Response system. This allows you to select optimal settings for different driving surfaces like sand, mud, rocks and more. Mostly, I found myself playing around with the adjustable air suspension; it's unusually fun to raise and lower the Discovery's ride height at will.
The Discovery is bigger than before, and that allows for a more generous allocation of space if you're seated in the back. The high-set third row isn't bad at all even for larger adults; there's hip room and a fair amount of legroom, and if you're taller you'll love the scalloped ceiling which gives extra headroom. It folds down to provide plenty of cargo space too if you need it. The middle row is where we'd like to sit if we're not driving as it's exceptionally comfortable, and comes with the usual armrest for even better comfort for long distances or long hours in traffic.
Behind that long, long hood is the 3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel from Land Rover. Actually, it's from their former family at Ford, and it makes 258 PS and a whopping 600 Newton-meters of torque for the 8-speed automatic to send to all four wheels. Intelligently, of course. Now while it may seem like a downer to have a fairly aged engine that has been carried over since the Ford days of JLR, there is one thing to consider: the Disco 5 is much lighter than before.
Whereas older LR4 and LR3 Discovery vehicles tipped the scales at under or around 2500 kilos, the Discovery 5 weighs in at about 2200. The Discovery 5 models with the four-cylinder engines are even lighter at about 2100. One of the primary reasons is that - like the Range Rover - the Discovery no longer has a ladder frame. It's a unibody, one that makes use of aluminum on the structural bits and steel on the doors. If you're a Land Rover purist, you probably won't like that fact.
By no means is the lighter Land Rover Discovery 5 a lightweight; it's still a big, heavy vehicle at 2.2 tonnes. Yet the weight it shed did wonders, reducing the load on the engine, allowing for a big SUV that can really move if you want it to. 8.1 seconds to 100 km/h is what JLR says it can do, and it can get close to it at 8.5 seconds. On the highway it was smooth with surprisingly minimal wind noise for such a big and typically un-aerodynamic brick of an SUV. Fuel economy on the expressway at an average speed of 87 km/h is at 13.8 kilometers to a liter; not bad for a luxurious Land Rover. In the city I was getting 8.9 km/l; not bad either.
Much of my time with the Discovery 5 was spent on urban roads given our fairly limited time with it. We've already tried out the Discovery's capabilities before, and so there's no real need for us to prove it. Instead, what we wanted to find out was how much better this is than the previous model at being a big SUV for practical, everyday use. It's impressive, as we found out.
There's a commanding way about how the Disco drives. Part of it is the height, part of it is the driving position, part of it is the comforting reassurance that it'll handle all. Moreover, it doesn't feel one bit wieldy for a big vehicle. This may be smaller than a Range Rover and lighter, but I wasn't expecting that kind of a driving experience. But perhaps what I really wasn't expecting was how maneuverable it was in tight city streets. Sure, you'll still have to make sure you do a once-over of your route on Waze or Google Maps before heading out with this 2-meter wide Disco, but the width was surprisingly not as intimidating (or nerve wracking) like the Explorer.
The great thing about the LR Discovery, apart from the luxury, the stately style and the all-around usefulness it brings, is the water wading. LR quotes it as capable of going through 900mm of water, something that we've tested before in a controlled environment. The Discovery even has a system called Wade Sensing (using sensors on the mirrors) that allows it to warn the driver if the vehicle is approaching its maximum capability. We wanted to try it out on urban floods, but that's not really possible in the middle of summer.
As a product, the Discovery 5 excels. The design isn't for everyone, but personally I like what I'm looking at and how it feels. It drives better, handles better at speed, brakes better, and it has sprightliness (surprisingly), and it's very capable as it should be, though we'd like to test it for longer so we can take our time off-road. While it seems fun to bash around in the dirt or traversing rivers, we didn't want to scuff up the wheels and scratch up the bodywork or undercarriage of a vehicle that costs PhP 7.990 million by rushing into it. For trails that truly bring out the Land Rover-ness of the Discovery 5, we want to be able to take our time to be as careful as we can.