The Forgotten Mid-Size Luxury SUV That Packs Some Serious Off-Road Chops - SUV VEHICLE

The Forgotten Mid-Size Luxury SUV That Packs Some Serious Off-Road Chops

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Summary

  • The Land Rover Discovery stands out in the seven-seater SUV market with its legitimate off-road capabilities, thanks to its unibody monocoque construction and air suspension.
  • The Discovery offers excellent on-road comfort and luxury, with its standard air suspension improving ride quality, though it lacks sportiness and has light steering.
  • Despite its strong features, the Discovery faces challenges in sales due to tough competition in the luxury SUV segment, particularly from sporty and reliable rivals, as well as the popularity of the more capable and stylish Land Rover Defender.


Seven-seater SUVs and crossovers are extremely popular these days, which is why you see brands left and right bringing to market such vehicles. Over the past couple of years, the most popular three-row SUVs and crossovers have either been completely redesigned or received a mid-cycle facelift. Americans, after all, have started to prefer these vehicles over minivans due to their cooler image and perceived off-road capability—even if most of these will barely hit the trails.

So, you would think then that a vehicle like the Land Rover Discovery would be popular in the United States. Unfortunately, that is not the case, because its rivals from Germany and Japan outsell it. Here’s why the forgotten Land Rover Discovery is (probably) worth taking a look at.

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In order to give you the most up-to-date and accurate information possible, the data used to compile this article was sourced from various manufacturer websites and other authoritative sources, including Land Rover, Good Car Bad Car, Car and Driver, Audi, Genesis, Lexus, Acura, and Volvo.


A True Seven-Seater With Legitimate Off-Road Chops

Land Rover Discovery
Land Rover

Land Rover has built a reputation for building luxury SUVs and crossovers that can tackle tough terrain, and the Discovery is no exception. The Discovery sits in a unique position because despite being a unibody monocoque SUV, it’s got the necessary hardware to match the capabilities of SUVs with body-on-frame constructions.

Off-Roading For An Entire Family

One of the ways that Land Rover has managed to combine excellent on-road drivability with enduring off-road capabilities is with the hardware this model comes with. As mentioned, it rides on a Premium Lightweight Architecture (PLA) monocoque chassis–specifically the D7u that the previous (second-generation) Range Rover Sport also features, so this already limits its obstacle-clearing capability due to its ride height.

However, the Discovery comes as standard with air suspension, which raises its ride height to 11.1 inches from its default ride height of 8.1 inches. That’s a lot of flexibility right out of the showroom, and it’s what enables this family-friendly three-row luxury SUV to go to places you wouldn’t dare with other unibody SUVs.

The Discovery also comes with more off-roading features as standard, such as the brand’s signature Terrain Response that adjusts the all-wheel drive (AWD) system’s calibration depending on the road surface. Meanwhile, the P360 models with the inline-six and 48-volt mild-hybrid system can benefit from an optional $1,000 Advanced Off-Road Capability Pack.

Selecting this option adds the two-speed transfer box–adding a low-range gearbox for the AWD system, along with a more advanced Terrain Response 2 system that now comes with a setting that detects what terrain you’re in, automatically. A wade sensor is also fitted as standard, enabling you to automatically determine if you’re exceeding the Discovery’s maximum water wading depth.

Yet It’s Still An Excellent On-Road Luxury Cruiser

Front 3/4 angle of a 2024 Land Rover Discovery
Land Rover

Because of its unibody underpinnings, its on-road manners are top-notch if comfort is what you’re after. The standard-fit air suspension not only aids with off-roading due to the adjustable ride height, but it also pays dividends to its on-road ride comfort. There’s none of the shimmying and jostling that’s associated with body-on-frame SUVs, which makes this a great off-roader without compromising on-road comfort. As expected, however, don’t expect this to be a sporty SUV.

The top-heavy proportions mean that there’s plenty of body roll, and the steering is and the steering is on the light and numb side–especially when it comes to on-center feel as noted by Car and Driver, which results in having to do more steering corrections when cruising on a highway. Overall, though, treat the Discovery as intended, and you’ll enjoy a seven-seater luxury midsize SUV that offers plenty of flexibility, comfort, and off-road capability that’s unique in the segment.

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Everything Else That’s Good About The Discovery

Front 3/4 angle of a 2024 Land Rover Discovery
Land Rover

If you’re buying an SUV at the Discovery’s price point, then you might want to consider the emotional aspects that come with such a vehicle. The current generation of the Discovery went on sale in the United States in the 2018 model year and then received a mid-cycle facelift for the 2021 model year. What many people might not realize is that the current Discovery ditches a major trait that fans of the nameplate loved over the years.

A Dramatic Generational Change

If there’s one thing that drew a lot of gasps when this generation of the Discovery first came out, that would be its styling. The Discovery was known for its boxy, angular looks, but this new one is a lot curvier and sleeker than the model it replaced.

As expected, the design divided opinion, though at least it wasn’t due to how ugly or disproportionate it looked. The previous Discovery generations were known for their stepped roof, which was taller at the third-row area in order to truly accommodate an adult, but for this current model, the step is more subtle and is largely for cosmetic purposes.

Also breaking tradition is the elimination of the split opening tailgate just like in the Range Rover. Instead, the current Discover simply got a top-hinged powered tailgate, though the asymmetrical tailgate design was kept merely as a design cue from previous generations. As a result, the Discovery looks a lot different from past generations. The dramatic shift in design is almost enough for Land Rover to give the Discovery a different nameplate altogether.

An Interior For Seven

The interior of the Land Rover Discovery also breaks tradition in the sense that it’s a lot more luxurious and high-tech now that it’s being put in parallel with the rest of the Land Rover lineup. The materials are plush and the build quality is exquisite. It’s also fitted with the latest and greatest in tech, mostly centering around the Pivi Pro infotainment system.

This combines an 11.4-inch touchscreen that comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, optional onboard Wi-Fi, and a Meridian sound system (which can be upgraded to surround sound for $750). The driver gets a 12.3-inch fully digital instrument cluster and a head-up display, while various optional extras include ambient LED lighting, and four-zone climate control (instead of the standard two-zone).

What you’re probably keen to find out is if tall adults can sit behind those third-row seats, and you’ll be glad that for as long as the adult sitting there are not taller than six feet, it’s probably going to be doable based on experience. Thanks to that slight roof step, there’s 35.8 inches of headroom while legroom at the third row is rated at 33.5 inches.

Land Rover Discovery

Audi Q7

Volvo XC90

Genesis GV80

Lexus TX

Acura MDX

Third Row Legroom

33.5 in.

29.2 in.

31.9 in.

30.3 in.

33.5 in.

28.1

Third Row Headroom

35.8 in.

35.9 in.

36.3 in.

34.3 in.

37.2 in.

35.6

This compares favorably to other luxury SUV rivals with a standard third-row like the Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90. BMW’s X5 and Mercedes-Benz’s GLE do come with optional third rows, but their dimensions have not been revealed (which is probably for the better since these are so tiny anyway), but Genesis does have figures for the GV80’s optional third row. The third-row champ, however, is the newly-launched Lexus TX, which thanks to its underpinnings from the Toyota Grand Highlander, makes it an extremely spacious midsize three-row luxury SUV.

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The Challenges That The Discovery Is Facing

Rear 3/4 angle of a 2024 Land Rover Discovery
Land Rover

With excellent interior packaging and premium amenities, along with off-road capability that’s unmatched by any other unibody luxury SUV out there, it should be unsurprising for the Discovery to rule the sales charts, right? Well, unfortunately, that is not the case. Sales-wise, it ranks 23rd in the segment, while the top five best-selling midsize luxury SUVs in the United States in 2023 according to Good Car Bad Car are listed down below.

2023

2022

% Change

Lexus RX

114,033

96,041

18.73

BMW X5

72,574

82,373

-11.90

Acura MDX

57,599

46,425

24.07

Volvo XC90

39,920

34,101

17.06

Lexus GX

31,910

29,945

6.56

Competition Is Extremely Stiff

Competition in this segment is extremely fierce, and even the highly-praised Genesis GV80 is the segment’s 13th best-selling vehicle. It also doesn’t help with the fact that most of the top-selling models have built a reputation for being sporty to drive like the BMW X5 or being extremely reliable like the Lexus RX, Acura MDX, and Lexus GX–two of which also have third-row seating as standard.

The reliability aspect is worth mentioning because Jaguar Land Rover has historically been at the bottom of reliability and quality rankings, and if you’re spending this much money on a luxury SUV, the last thing you want to experience is a mechanical headache.

The Defender Exists

Silver Land Rover Defender
Land Rover

But perhaps the biggest reason why the Discovery is having a hard time attracting customers is because the Defender exists. Likewise a unibody SUV like the Discovery, but with off-road capability to truly match body-on-frame luxury SUVs, the Defender has proven to be a hit among luxury SUV buyers–even if mall crawling will probably be the toughest terrain these vehicles will experience.

Land Rover Discovery

Land Rover Defender 110

Land Rover Defender 130

Engine

2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder, 3.0-liter turbo straight-six MHEV

2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder, 3.0-liter turbo straight-six MHEV, 5.0-liter supercharged V-8

3.0-liter turbo straight-six MHEV, 5.0-liter supercharged V-8

Drivetrain

AWD

AWD

AWD

Horsepower

296 – 355 hp

296 – 518

296 – 493

Torque

295 – 368 lb-ft

295 – 461

347 – 450

Transmission

8-speed automatic

8-speed automatic

8-speed automatic

Third Row Legroom

33.5 in.

Up to 36.6 in.

Up to 36.6 in.

Third Row Headroom

35.8 in.

N/A

38.6 in.

Base MSRP

$58,400

$60,600

$69,100

(Source: Land Rover)

In fact, as the 11th best-seller in the midsize luxury SUV segment with 21,212 units sold in 2023 (a solid 34.82 percent increase from 2022), the Defender has been Land Rover’s best-selling model worldwide since 2021 and in the U.S.A. since 2022.

The Defender is available in three body styles, two of which come with either standard or optional third-row seating. What’s more, the pricing of the Defender 110 and 130 aren’t too far off from the Discovery. And since the Defender looks way cooler, is more off-road capable, and comes with boatloads of character, it’s no wonder that people are opting for the Defender instead of the Discovery. This comparison between the Defender and Discovery showcases a very strong case of sibling rivalry.

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