Discovery in Ascendance
Land Rover’s family SUV introduces historic capability to a new culture steeped in luxury. By Larry Crane
Release all horses; all 340 of them; maintain 5,000 revs steady; try to see through the cloud of wind-blown sand made fine by sand cutting sand as it created this vast dune field. We could be hub-deep and seriously stuck on these street tires, but the speed on the descent carried our ascent up the next dune face and lets us float in the talc-like polvo. Stay out of the previous New Discovery’s ruts to have a chance to float in our own. Clearing the crest feels like a major accomplishment, maintaining a constant heart rate is at least as important.
First there was Land Rover and the 1952 London to Singapore overland proof of concept. But we remember the first verification of Discovery capabilities during the brutal escapades of the Camel Trophy adventures. They were the first time we saw “production” vehicles operating (proving) a 40-inch wading depth (fast-running river surface just below the base of the side windows), never mind all the mud and rock and jungle involved in 20 years of Land Rover capability explorations between 1981 and 2000, with Discovery as the primary vehicle between 1990 and 1997.
We were exploring Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in the southwestern corner of Utah and concurrently the awe-inspiring capabilities of the fifth edition of Land Rover’s family SUV — and the bottom residue of at least 11 oceans, the most recent dates back 90-93-million years. The canyon walls were an historic celebration in an area called The Vermillion Cliffs where color strata precisely dates the ocean floors.
We had been crawling along a narrowing color-striped canyon on a rock-strewn polvo floor to what looked to be a vertical exit up a rock face — we turned left onto a slightly less radical exit. The Discovery’s simple-selection automatic speed control up the rock scramble was a surprise. With a spotter near the top giving left-right-straight-ahead hand signals we had only to steer the brilliant family car while it applied power and controlled wheel-slip — and proved its ascendency in its family SUV adventure market.
In the words of Bill Baker, the legendary Land Rover public relations director — and guru of all things memorable: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” Well… courage and capability are now underwritten by twenty-first century science and sophistication — read, “New Discovery” which describes both backcountry adventure and family in search of memories.
And so it was, in the arid — glorious — topography of southern Utah that we challenged the best of a New Discovery, a Land Rover full of Jaguar. Be not misled by the leather-lined cocoon in an elegantly formed container; the 2018 Discovery delivers its Land Rover legacy with an astonishing degree of luxury.
Making our way from a corporate jet port by way of motorcycle-pavement nirvana around granite towers through the shaded canyons of Zion National Park, we arrived at our change of century. From high-speed sweepers we change-down for low-speed creepers tightly outlined by Steve McQueen’s famous “pucker-bushes.” And marvel as algorithms determine and manipulate the most effective combinations of ride, direction-dynamics and high-speed traction control. During our designer-guided tour of the Discovery’s elegant new form, he introduced a profound concept. Those of us familiar with motor sports are aware of the front corner air inlets that feed fresh air to cool over worked brakes, but we were introduced to a new use of these useful corner slots — real aerodynamic solutions. As air is taken into the Discovery corner vents it is forced by speed into a flat wind curtain that exits the leading edge of the front fender opening, passes over the wheel and reconnects with the body at the back surface of the fender. Think fender skirt that eliminates the air congestion in the fender and slows the vehicle. The fast moving curtain of air simply redirects the high speed air going around the front of the car and trying to get into the fender. Brilliant.
Discovery is fitted with three differentials: One on each axle and one central in the chassis that can split the traction load from 100% rear axle to 100% front axle by an electronically-controlled multi-plate clutch pack. Either axle, or even each wheel, which begins to lose traction out of synch with the others will have its torque redirected to a wheel or wheels with more grip. The same is true with suspension settings. They can be modified to soften or stiffen depending on load vs speed measurements and responses. Most of this development was done in a virtual world and was followed up with real-world testing in over 20 countries, including sand dune driving in Dubai, high altitude performance in the Colorado Rockies and ice-driving in sub-zero temperatures at Arjeplog, Sweden over a 28-month schedule.
Twenty-three years and six generations of on-road and off-road (and off-Rodeo shopping!) experience have informed the technical “discoveries” and analytics that give the New Discovery a broad range of new-age connectivity (read: “Find Geary’s”) — equal to most urban and suburban adventurers.
Land Rover’s Chief Product Engineer for the New Discovery, Alex Heslop, makes clear the role played by the children of his team: “There is no better insight into the needs of the modern family. That’s why we have nine USB ports to charge everyone’s devices, why we’ve got space to hide four iPads [with individual chargers]…and why every seat has been designed to be the best seat in the house.”
All the seven seating points, and most other interior surfaces, are covered with leather as dear as that used in Jaguar. They are comfortable for the long day on the highway and encourage confidence when you have put everything at extreme angles in search of the next self-inflicted moment of heart rate gain.
If you happen to need every piece of athletic equipment in your garage storage container lest an opportunity to use one might be missed, there is a folding floor panel that can replace every unused seat. There is even a rear section that folds out when the hatch is up to permit lunchtime seating — or tailgate party indulgence. A cornucopia of additional interior elements can be had from your dealer to assure the stable control of all that sporting equipment while you reach for 1-full-g-load in the pavement twisty-bits, or scramble and rock back and forth as you make your way to the climbing basecamp.
This is a luxurious family travelling coach as much as a discovery adventure implement or a late evening run to the market car. In every case the Land Rover team wants those few minutes, or months, to be the best you have ever enjoyed on the road of your choice. And it is a beautiful thing to park in your driveway.