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Land Rover Discovery TD6 HSE (2017) review

High-riding family-movers are all over the place, but nothing offers the go-anywhere ability of the Land Rover Discovery.

For years, the Land Rover Discovery was greatly known for its go-anywhere ability and highly practical and reasonably opulent cabin. In other words, the Discovery has always been a genuine SUV without feeling utilitarian as in the now-defunct yet iconic Defender workhorse.

Which is why Land Rover is keen to keep these key attributes in the all-new Discovery that was launched in Thailand late last month. Mind, though, that this fifth-generation model isn't just a mild, but rather, radical evolution over the predecessor.

Take the design, for one. For the past four generations, the Discovery can be immediately recognised by its boxy appearance which helped for a classic stance, functional interior and optimal off-road clearances.

Today, the visual aesthetics of the Discovery isn't really like that and instead mirror those of other models, be it some Range Rover models or the smaller Discovery Sport, also a new thing for the Discovery in this particular age.

Probably the one thing that separates the Discovery from its Range Rover siblings is the C-pillar design element looking like a shark fin. And, of course, there's the newfound sleek profile that was never seen in Disco Mk1-4. Does Disco 5 look cool? Be your own judge.

The same goes for the interior, although the design shift seems to be more positive in the eyes of this tester. The cabins of previous Discos have never been exactly avant-garde. But this time, it feels properly Range Rover luxurious against its premium competition thanks to in-house parts-sharing that has become so inevitable these days in the cut-throat business of making cars.

The use of fine leather, soft-touch plastics and alloy-like trims all help give the Discovery its much-needed level of perceived quality to sway punters from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo. And like in other Range Rovers and Jaguars, the latest Discovery gains a rotary-style gear knob and a wide touchscreen to operate various functions of the vehicle.

Unlike the Discovery Sport that employs seating for five adults and two toddlers, the Discovery is a proper seven-seater for adults to find comfort in whichever perch they choose to sit in. The boot, too, is big and can be made better when folding the passenger seats away.

Speaking of this, the Discovery strikes quite a nice balance between interior space and exterior dimensions. Although the Mercedes-Benz GLS comes from a class above, it sometimes feels unnecessarily big because the smaller Discovery can still deliver similar results when accommodating seven people on board.

Another radical shift, but not surprising, in the Discovery is the use of a monocoque platform in place of the chassis-on-frame construction used in all of its four forebears. Not only does this enable Land Rover to make good use of current floorplans, but it also allows for huge savings in weight of nearly 500kg thanks to the much higher content of aluminium now.

Okay, the Discovery still tips the scales at more than 2 tonnes, but it certainly feels lighter to drive than ever and can feel just as lithe as in the Volvo XC90. And by using this more rigid unibody construction, the Discovery feels more composed at speed.

More exceptional is the Discovery's driving characteristics at real-world speeds. As said earlier, it doesn't feel bulky at low speeds and continues to offer intuitive handling, absorbent ride quality and excellent external noise suppression. It's only when you exceed the legal limit that the wind noise becomes a companion, most likely due to the tall bodies of SUVs that become less aero-friendly the faster you drive.

The suspension setting in the Discovery still leans on the soft side, although not as pillowy as before but still more pronounced than in most of its conceivable opposition. But the good thing is that despite leaning into corners more than you might expect it to, the handling still feels easy and predictable.

Such a setup has also allowed for enhanced driving and ride comfort in the grit. And thanks to the availability of some selectable driving modes for the all-wheel-drive system, low-range gears for the eight-speed automatic and height-adjustable suspension, the Discovery remains without a true rival in the Thai luxury car market when it comes to off-roading.

Off-road aficionados may miss the more flexible chassis-on-frame (like in pickup SUVs such as the Toyota Fortuner and its likes) when dealing with the dirty stuff. But like in many other modern SUVs, monocoque underpinnings have proven that they are now just as adept off the sealed tarmac.

And when you consider that potential buyers of the Discovery won't be participating in some kind of the rock-crawling event, the on-road merits derived from the sturdier monocoque is a realistic pay-off. That said, the Discovery has the best balance between on- and off-roading driving when compared to the practically of its competition focusing merely on asphalt.

A range of four- and six-cylinder engines are available in the new Discovery, but the Thai importer has chosen to sell just one version at the moment -- the TD6 featuring a 258hp 3.0-litre V6 diesel-turbo which has virtually everything you've come to expect from a modern-day oil-burner including ample all-round punch and refinement. It's the 600Nm of torque that also matters in a seven-seat SUV doing lots of upcountry tasks.

But as the TD6 produces more than 200g/km of CO2, under Thai homologation (it achieves less than that level in the EU) the TD6 is subject to 40% excise tax rather than 35%. This partially explains its lofty price -- and the fact that the Discovery is an import -- of 6.499 million and an additional 500k in HSE spec, as tested here.

So while the Discovery is cheaper than the GLS350d from a class above but dearer than an XC90 that's assembled in Asean, it's actually more desirable than both of them in terms of all-round driving ability and functionality for the whole family. The specification isn't that bad either, although the amount of driver-assist features it boasts isn't as plentiful as in the Volvo.

You might be wondering whether the Discovery Sport might be a better deal. People at Land Rover concede the pricing of it in Thailand is already a headache (it was launched at nearly 6 million baht with a four-pot diesel last year) and official sales might cease, as a result.

However, the Discovery has all the right ingredients to lure customers of the previous models and is positioned in a sector where differences in price aren't serious issues.

And most importantly, the Discovery can still easily lay claim to being the most authentic SUV available in the Thai luxury car market.

Cabin gains the same level of perceived quality as in a Range Rover.

Adults can comfortably sit in the second and third rows of seats; luggage space is vast when last bench is stowed.

Six-pot diesel yields fine all-round performance, with partial thanks going to presence of high and low-range gears.

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