The Land Rover Discovery has found itself underneath one almighty shadow cast by the new Defender and all its good press. So in an attempt to keep it relevant, Land Rover has given its family focused SUV a sweeping midlife update, with a new collection of powertrains, fresh styling and tech inside that bring it bang up to date.
While a Discovery wouldn’t generally be on the radar for anyone with even a modicum of interest in the thrill of driving, understanding whether it’ll be a good rig for family/pets/friends whilst towing a boat and to go with your Porsche 911 or Alpine A110 is a valid exercise, and it’s an equation Land Rover is hoping will make more sense with this round of updates.
Engine, transmission and 0-60 time
The 2021 Discovery makes full use of the new-generation Ingenium six-cylinder engine range, with two diesels and one petrol now available. All are assisted by a mild-hybrid system, and connected to the same selectable all-wheel-drive system and eight-speed automatic and low-range transfer ’box. There’s also a locking centre and rear differential for tougher off-road work, plus standard-fit air suspension across the range.
The diesels are split between D250 and D300 models, with 248bhp and 297bhp respectively. Torque is also extremely strong for both, with the D250’s 420lb ft and the D300’s chunky 480lb ft peaking at just 1500rpm. What the figures don’t reveal though is how much more refined and flexible these engines are than the four-cylinder and V6 diesels that preceded them. Performance figures, however, while hardly pertinent to this type of vehicle, still lag behind those of more road-biased rivals, with 62mph reached from zero in 8.1sec in the D250 and in 6.8sec in the D300.
The single P360 in-line six petrol is less suited to the Discovery’s talents, but still makes for a willing option if you don’t mind dipping below 15mpg. It’ll crack 62mph in just 6.2sec. There’s also a carry-over P300 four-cylinder petrol engine available, but in prior experience is much slower and barely any less thirsty, so hard does it have to work to shift the Disco’s mass.
Just like the new Defender, the Discovery sits on an aluminium monocoque with double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension. This move has reduced the car’s ground clearance from the old Disco 4’s 310mm to 282mm, although it will go through a puddle 900mm deep.
Changes to the engines aside, the update has also cleaned up the exterior styling with new lighting and some fresh wheel designs, although its inflated rear end and controversial offset number plate remain.
Inside, the changes are similarly subtle, but gone is the small and slow infotainment interface, replaced with Land Rover’s new Pivi Pro system which is a massive improvement over the old system, and, dare we say it, verges on class leading. An updated digital instrument cluster and new steering wheel are also part of the upgrade, but otherwise the Discovery’s interior remains as before, which is to say vast.
What’s it like to drive?
By now we’ve become accustomed to Land Rover products driving with a certain level of polish and sophistication on road, and this updated Discovery is no different. The ride quality is simply superb, with even broken surfaces completely isolated from the driver’s seat, which feels about six feet off the ground anyway.
There is roll and pitch, as one might expect, but keep your speed and inputs calm and it’s never unnerving. Of course, a more road-biased family SUV such as a BMW X5 or Volvo XC90 does feel better tied down, but then neither generally rides as well.
The difference these updates have brought to the package though is a major uplift in engine refinement. Regardless of petrol or diesel, four cylinders or six, all the Disco’s powertrains are impressively isolated from the cabin. There are also big improvements in response and transmission calibration, peaking in the D300 which feels languid, relaxed and effortless despite its 2.3-ton mass.
Off road it’s a Land Rover through and through. It will crawl up rocks, crab down slopes knee-deep in slurry and wade through a river if you so want, which means the car parks of ski resorts, gymkhanas and paddocks (of the nag and rally kind) should prove no obstacle.
Yet there is one big square elephant in the Land Rover range that brings into question the Discovery 5’s existence at all. So good is the new Defender, the clear air between it and the Range Rover Sport makes the space in which the Discovery operates perilously thin. The Defender’s even better off-road chops and little-to-no on-road compromise makes life difficult for the Discovery and its awkward styling. If it weren’t for the Discovery’s two extra seats… oh, the Defender has those coming, too.
Price and rivals
Prices for the updated Discovery kick off at about £55,000 for the entry-level D250 in SE trim, with the brawnier D300 incurring a £2800 premium, which is entirely justifiable. Petrol P300 models are priced a few thousand pounds more than the entry diesel at £57k. The P360 in-line six petrol tops the range. R-Dynamic and high-spec HSE trim levels will top out a D300 diesel to just over £67,000, or on a par with its German and Swedish counterparts when so equipped.
Look at the Discovery as a family hauler and its key rivals include the Volvo XC90 and Audi Q7. Both are smaller inside and out, but all three cost about the same in basic diesel forms at around £55,000.
The Volvo is let down here by its four-cylinder diesel engine, in contrast to the sixes found in the other two, but then the Volvo and Audi do also have plug-in versions if that appeals. The seven-seat Mercedes GLS and BMW X7 are just as commodious inside, but are far more expensive enterprises in all specifications.
As an off-roader, the Discovery’s rivals include the more rudimentary Toyota Land Cruiser, which despite having a very identifiable charm of its own, is undoubtedly the more compromised machine on and off the road.
Which leaves us with the biggest thorn in the Discovery’s side: the Defender. Apart from the similarities mentioned above, there’s also more variation in the engine range, the interior is more versatile, and while not immediately important, will likely hold its value better than the big Disco too.
The saving grace for the Discovery is that in value for money stakes, it’s actually substantially less expensive model for model, with an equivalent price drop of around £5000 compared to a Defender, before taking into account the Discovery’s higher specification.