The Land Rover Discovery is one of those cars that helped cement the idea of a seven-seat SUV as a sensible family vehicle.
When it first appeared with its fold-down jump seats in the boot it was a rarity but now, 33 years later, there are a plethora of options from brands as diverse as Audi, Volvo, Skoda and Dacia, all cashing in on the demand it helped create for practical family transport that also hints at an exciting and active lifestyle.
But while there are plenty of SUVs boasting seven seats there are far fewer where those seven seats are truly usable, which is where the Discovery continues to shine. While layout and styling has changed, it remains among the leaders when it comes to practicality. Even with a tall driver, the upright seating creates lots of legroom and you could fit three adults line astern thanks to decent space in the boot and the ability to slide the middle row forward. As with any vehicle that doesn’t have individual seats in row two, the middle spot is slightly compromised but it’s still reasonably spacious and comfortable.
Everywhere else, passengers will be supremely comfortable thanks to big soft armchair-like seats, top quality leather and robust-feeling materials. The Discovery’s interior design was updated a couple of years ago to tidy things up and allow for the new Pivi Pro infotainment system to be integrated. The new design is a step up in layout and looks, with a simpler centre console and dashboard but doesn’t go too far down the digital interface route, with simple physical controls for key functions.
The 11.4-inch Pivi Pro system is much bigger, sharper and quicker than before and marks a major step up in Land Rover’s user interface, with easy access to most of the functions and info you’ll need - from climate and media to off road settings.
It comes as standard on all Discoveries, as does a shopping list of luxury touches, from powered tailgate and auto-dipping headlights to 360-degree camera coverage, adaptive air suspension, 20-inch alloys and digital instruments. Our SE R-Dynamic spec added 18-way adjustable heated front seats, leather upholstery, twin sunroofs and a 12-speaker Meridian sound system. It also brought a styling pack featuring 21-inch wheels, black exterior detailing and darkened tail lights.
Although a mid-spec trim with a sporty flavour, our car came with the entry-level D250 engine. This unit uses 48V mild hybrid technology to try to improve the green credentials of this hulking 4x4 but even with some battery assistance official figures for the 3.0-litre diesel are still just 34mpg and CO2 emissions of 218g/km. We, however, got 40mpg over the course of a week and without trying very hard, which seems reasonable for a car of this size, especially one that can hit 62mph in less than 8 seconds thanks to 246bhp and 420lb ft. This is no plodding old diesel but a refined and smooth thing that’s quick off the mark and in gear, although the transmission can sometimes take a moment to react.
Despite the name and poke of the engine, the R-Dynamic spec is all about the looks and this is not a dynamic car. Even with clever electronic chassis control and air suspension the Discovery’s height and weight is abundantly clear. The car’s mechanical grip keeps it planted around corners but the obvious body roll even at lower speeds means you’ll be disinclined to test this. That’s coupled with relatively light steering which isn’t so good for going quickly but great for manoeuvring this big thing around at low speeds.
This is a car far more at home smashing mile after mile of motorway under its massive alloys. From the traditionally commanding Land Rover driving position and huge fuel tank to the way it crushes road imperfections and the impressively sound insulated cabin ambience, this is a long-range cruiser par excellence.
Of course, the Disco is also still a very capable and versatile off-roader. The multi-mode Terrain Response all-wheel-drive skips over obstacles and with a wading depth of 900mm it will face water hazards that would drown most competitors, presuming their road-biased setups would let them get anywhere near water that deep. It’s a bit of a niche but this is still the premium seven-seater for people who live or frequently venture into the wilds.
One issue facing the Discovery is that its cooler younger brother the Defender is also available as a seven seater, as is the posher Range Rover. The Defender is a different proposition, less luxurious but more characterful and with a stronger image. That bold presence leaves the Discovery feeling a little like the forgotten model in the range but it still gets on with its job as well as ever as a big, comfy and practical family friendly option.
Land Rover Discovery SE R-Dynamic
Price: £59,605 (£64,650 as tested); Engine: 3.0-litre, straight six, diesel with mild hybrid; Power: 246bhp; Torque: 420lb ft; Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive; Top speed: 120mph; 0-60mph: 7.6 seconds; Economy: 31.9-33.9mpg; CO2 emissions: 218-232g/km