Review: Land Rover Discovery 5

You could never call the Discovery a stick-in-the-mud, although its sad to see the more stylish asymmetric rear disappear

You could never call the Discovery a stick-in-the-mud, although its sad to see the more stylish asymmetric rear disappear

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A swimmer walks away from a £70,000 Land Rover Discovery, wearing nothing more than a smile, some skimpy trunks, a watch and a wrist band. Yet the car and its possessions are safely locked, with the key inside.

How does the swimmer get back in after an hour or two in the Straits of Dover? By using the smart wrist band, which is waterproof and uses new technology to disable the car key, the ignition and then lock or unlock the car.

The band is a £315 option with the new Discovery and the swimmer could be Jeremy Hicks, head man at Jaguar Land Rover, training for a six-man charity swim to France this summer. “I’ve always wanted to swim the Channel,” he says. The Discovery could carry all the swimmers, with a seat to spare.

The smart wrist band is proofed for diving to 30 metres and impervious to most winter sport and summer desert climates. Elsewhere, a dog owner presses a button on a key pad to lower the height of her new Discovery to make it easier for her old dog to jump into the back. Setting off, the car rises back up.

Over at the horses, a couple of punters are sitting on the fold-down bench under the tailgate of their Discovery, getting protection from sun, rain, hail – whatever the temps du jour. When they close the tailgate, the bench seat folds upright inside the car to make a load barrier.

On the high moors, a shooting party’s Discovery is making its way smoothly up a rutted and muddy track. All the driver has to do is steer as the car delivers the optimum traction and braking at a fixed speed. When they reach a grassy fellside, the car moves off slowly on its own throttle, so that the tyres get optimum grip.

On the west coast, a boating party is ascending the slipway, towing a 3,500kg motor yacht up the slope. In town, a shopper is leaving the till, taps her phone and as she arrives at her Discovery the tailgate lifts, and the rear pair of seats have folded away to make room for the bags.

Arriving home she parks on an incline, clicks open the tailgate to see that some bags have fallen over, but the loose cans and apples can’t roll out because of the barrier. She unloads and a push on a button moves the seats back into place.

The weekend comes and a family is going off with the caravan. On the information panel the rear camera shows the powered tow ball swing out and reach the caravan tow hitch. The suspension drops so that the ball sits under the socket. Once coupled, off they go. At the camp site, by selecting the trailer parking system the caravan can be reversed using cameras and guidelines on the screen, steering with the car’s terrain selection knob ,and the tricky counter-steering which eludes the novice is taken care of.

This is the all new Discovery, nominally number five but actually the third major iteration of the model which Land Rover “launched” in 1989 with publicity stunts that included towing a train. The great explorer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, put it to use as he traversed wildernesses. He has been using Land Rovers since the days when there was only one model, and is still using them today. The brand is 70 next year.

That first Discovery and its successor had an angular, boxy shape – most practical for visibility and function. It was the last steel-bodied Land Rover. Their successor is a generic moulded thing with a shape that does not instantly appeal, yet so apparently clever that most drivers could take it almost anywhere. The aluminium body makes it 1,000lb lighter, which means better economy, better off-road composure, less chance of bogging down. It will wade through three feet of water – which sees the wheels completely submerged.

The confusion is that as Land Rovers become more capable they also become more lovely, and so why would you go mud-plugging and river-wading in one? What about scuffing its gorgeous wheels? Which is what we were doing in Land Rover’s celebrated 4,000-acre proving ground on the Eastnor Castle estate near Evesham. Been there before, done it before in previous generations of these vehicles and it just gets easier because computers and electronics and stuff few of us understand have made the driver’s skill less important. Still, the pudding must be proved. Like Jeep, the pioneer, every Land Rover vehicle must at least be able to do what hardly any owner will do. It is brilliant, even on standard road tyres – no need for nobblies.

Mostly, the Discovery will be delivering children to school or doing the messages. It does all and more and better than its forerunner, everything that an even posher Range Rover can do. You may as well give it a Range Rover badge.

What is no longer does is stand apart. It’s a scaled up Discovery Sport. The classic, distinctive and clever shape by Geoff Upex has gone from the latest designer’s drawing board.

Verdict: Never mind the dumpy rear styling, it is selling like hot cakes.

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