Like the old saying goes: "We've got good news, and we've got bad news". The good news is that Discovery is dead, the bad news is that Discovery is dead!
At an upscale art gallery in the Chelsea district of Manhattan, Land Rover unveiled the LR3 (or Discovery 3 as it will be known outside North America) the much awaited Discovery replacement. Land Rover is keeping the details and specifications of this all new model secret until later this summer. But here is what Land Rover is saying officially, and what we've been told "off the record".
The LR3 will be powered by 300bhp, 315 ft-lb 4.4L Jaguar V8. The new engine represents a gain of nearly 100bhp over current Discovery. Unconfirmed reports claim that both peak horsepower and torque occur at higher RPMs than with the current V8, good for highway cruising but not so good for stump-pulling.
Power flows through a 6-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission to all 4 wheels. The LR3 IS permanent four wheel drive (not all wheel drive like Freelander) featuring an electronically selectable high/low range and infinitely variable locking center differential and introduces the production version of Land Rover's "Terrain Response" which debuted in the Range Stormer concept at the Detroit Auto Show. The driver simply selects one of 5 terrains via a rotary switch and the LR3's brain configures engine torque, transmission settings, electronic traction and hill descent, ride height, and a few other electronic controls to maximize the vehicle's traction and drivability. In Land Rover's words: "it makes the driver's job simpler" (can an automatic pilot be far off?). A variable locking rear differential will also be available.
LR3 features fully independent cross-linked adjustable height air suspension (similar to Range Rover). It is unclear if a coil sprung model will be available in North America. Not surprisingly, LR3 lost the traditional body on frame construction. However, instead of being a unitized, frameless wagon, Land Rover engineers created an integrated "Body-on-Frame" architecture that give the LR3 the strength of a ladder frame chassis for off roading and excellent "car-like" ride and handling on road.
Although Land Rover isn’t releasing any specifications, we were able to gather, thanks to our trusty tape measure, a few vital measurements. The LR3's wheelbase has ballooned to somewhere in the neighborhood of 115 inches, or 14 inches longer than Discovery. Yet, by getting rid of the rear mounted spare tire, LR3's overall length only grew by 5 inches. LR3 is also slightly wider and a bit shorter than the Discovery it replaces. Although front overhang remains the same, rear overhang has, mercifully, shrunk by over 6 inches. But it is not all sunshine for LR3's angles; the increased wheelbase has taken a-less-than-exemplary break-over angle and made it among the worst in the SUV world.
The "stretched" wheelbase does mean that the passenger cabin is significantly roomier. Wider doors make getting into the back of the vehicle, even all the way to the third row seats, a snap. The LR3s seats and seating position, even for third row passengers is among the very best of any midsize SUV. Third row seats fold flat, as do second row seats creating a large and flat floored cargo area. A plethora of electronic entertainment options are available for all seating positions.
The inside is still "Discovery like". The dash and center control tower have been freshened and feature a few control knobs borrowed from Range Rover. The cabin is a bit roomier and thanks to the 2 large sun roofs (in the LHE edition) remains amongst the airiest of any SUV. The larger cabin means that there's now room for 7 adults. Yes, the rearmost seats are adult size. The details we miss the most are the warmth of the wood trim on the dash, and the alpine windows (they had to go to make room for the side-curtain air bags).
From its birth in 1989, the Discovery has always polarized public opinion. There are those who have never liked the boxy shape, the two level roof, the alpine windows, and there are those who fell in love with this unique and unmistakable shape. Whether you liked it or not, Discovery looked like no other vehicle. It is a shape that to us conveys quirkiness and self assurance. Discovery was not afraid to go it alone, to be different, to stand above the sea of mini-van looking SUVs (Hummers and G-Wagons excepted). There was a reason behind the Discovery's shape and not just market research or fashion trends. And we appreciated this purposefulness and utility. Our initial "gut" reaction to the LR3 is that it has lost some of its predecessor's uniqueness and strength of character.
Looking back at our notes from the LR3 introduction we noticed we wrote "like Range Rover" quite a few times. At the time, it was meant as a compliment, but now we are not so sure. And perhaps this is our biggest disappointment with Solihull's latest. The LR3 is in fact like the Range Rover, except it isn't a Range Rover.
In the weeks to come we'll get behind the wheel of LR3, both on and off road and will see if Solihull's latest is, down deep, The Best 4x4x Far.
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