It should come as little surprise that the 2018 Land Rover Discovery feels most at home on top of a mountain. On a recent day trip through the Angeles National Forest in Southern California, the 2018 Discovery scaled rocky trails with ease.
The newest model in the lineup for Land Rover—traditionally the brand of choice for the affluent adventurer—delivers on its promise for off-road chops. Armed with an optimized powertrain and advanced all-wheel drive the 2018 Discovery impresses in the dirt. On-road the SUV struggles.
Jaguar Land Rover introduced the all-new 2018 Discovery last year. It replaces the boxy LR4 that ran from 2009 to 2016. The new SUV is larger, more comfortable and less rugged than its predecessor. It’s Land Rover’s bid to buyers who expect capability but want style and luxury first.
Land Rover has gained popularity in recent years. Sales rose 24.9 percent through the first half of 2018 compared with the same period last year, according to the company, spurred by the Discovery and cushy all-new Range Rover Velar.
The brand has moved away from the extreme outdoors and onto the boulevard. Still, off-roading is in the Discovery’s blood.
All six adults loaded into its three rows fit comfortably into the SUV as it confidently ascended Forest Rte 5N18. They were equally impressed by its athleticism, especially as they bounded along a series of paths that proved longer and more challenging than expected.
Hill descent control—which allows the driver to take their foot off the brake as the car inches itself down hills—drew audible gasps.
While the 2018 Discovery is impressive in the dirt, it is not a dedicated off-roader like the new Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Its closest competitor is the Toyota Land Cruiser, which has bulky handling, a thirsty engine and a steep starting price of $84,565. The Discovery offers an attractive, more modern alternative.
Leave the wilderness, however, and it’s not all roses. A litany of foibles hold the 2018 Discovery back against stiff competition in the luxury SUV segment.
For one thing, it’s very large. Compared with the previous LR4, the wheelbase has grown by an inch. Overall length is extended by more than five inches. Measuring from side mirror to side mirror the 2018 Discovery is more than 3 inches wider than the LR4.
The LR4 had over-flared fenders, a third-row window that extended up onto the roof and, often, a mounted spare tire. Next to the LR4, the 2018 Discovery—with few distinguishing features, optional 21-inch wheels and wafer-thin Pirelli all-season tires—seems sanitized for the street.
Inside the 2018 Discovery there are more frustrations.
For a vehicle with pricing that starts at $52,000 the driver’s learning curve is hard to swallow. Dials and buttons on the center console are far from intuitive, routinely positioned in strange places that are awkward to reach. For example, the button for volume control is on the far right of the center stack.
The 2018 Discovery uses Land Rover’s new InControl Touch Pro infotainment system, which is confusing to navigate. The screen also lacks responsiveness to the touch. Some menus open a subset of additional menus. It’s sometimes easier to back out and start over if you haven’t already given up.
The Discovery’s passenger cabin is more welcoming. Heated and cooled leather seats, standard on the HSE Luxury trim, are extremely comfortable and supportive. Buyers can add a front massage function and heated third row with the Seven Seat Luxury Climate Comfort Package, a $2,225 option.
The interior feels air-tight. Crystal clear sound wafts from the standard Meridian sound system. Soothing ambient illumination emanates from the headliner. At night, open either front door and snazzy lights illuminate the ground in the shape of the SUV’s silhouette.
The Discovery is powered by a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 engine making 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque. Also available is a turbodiesel V6 with 254 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque, similar to that in the new Ford F-150 Diesel due to Ford’s previous ownership of Land Rover.
But U.S. buyers overwhelmingly prefer gas, and more than 81 percent of Discovery buyers have opted for it since the SUV launched in 2017, according to IHS Markit. With the gasoline engine its Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy rating is 16 mpg in city driving, 21 mpg on the highway and 18 mpg overall.
There are issues with the engine. It provides muscle high in the rev range but not at lower speeds. Maximum horsepower is available at 6,500 rpm and maximum torque at 3,500-5,500 rpm. The result is jerky acceleration from stoplight to stoplight that takes some acclimation.
Off the line, the Discovery has little grunt until it lurches forward north of 1,500 rpm. Shifts from the normally smooth ZF 8-speed automatic transmission are also abrupt in low gears.
Transitioning to dirt improves the setup. Switch the Terrain Response 2 knob to one of five off-road settings and the 2018 Discovery combines excellent handling with smooth power delivery. Still, its on-road behavior is an unpleasant surprise for an expensive luxury SUV.
On highways the ride improves. The gasoline V6 delivers a butter smooth drive at speed. Its safety technology performs especially well: lane-keep assist gently nudges the Discovery back into its lane, and adaptive cruise control slows to a stop and accelerates again with impressive civility.
The ride from Land Rover’s optional air suspension is firm but comfortable, more than suitable for its class. Though the new Discovery is nearly 1,000 pounds less than its predecessor—thanks to extensive aluminum bodywork—higher trims like the HSE Luxury weigh decidedly more. In tight corners the SUV feels every bit of its weight with noticeable body roll.
The starting price of the 2018 Land Rover Discovery is $52,090. The Discovery HSE Luxury trim starts at $65,490 and the model tested came to $79,215 with the wheels, comfort package, additional off-road capability, advanced safety features and more.
The 2018 Land Rover Discovery is a big and brash SUV that doesn’t meet the levels of convenience its target audience demands. Its predicted reliability rating is just 2.5 stars out of five, lower than the industry average, according to J.D Power. The score combines initial and long-term quality studies from previous model-year vehicles to predict a new model’s reliability over time.
Its best play is off-road. Strip away its puzzling electronics and flashy styling cues and the 2018 Discovery is an accomplished go-anywhere SUV—the perfect luxury overlander right off the lot.
After leaving the national forest the Discovery finally came to rest in the driveway. Vegetation along the dusty trail had left dirt streaks that ran the length of its metallic paint. These light “desert pinstripes” swept away with the rub of a finger and were an indicator that the Discovery had been used properly.
The new SUV may be a suburbanite favorite, but it’s still a Land Rover at heart.