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2017 Land Rover Discovery ushers in new era of luxury SUV ease

Robert Duffer, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Automotive News

If technology is supposed to make our lives easier, then the Land Rover Discovery is making good on a premise that often feels as if it complicates things.

The redesigned three-row SUV is all about easy luxury, loaded with advanced driver assist systems and equipped with one of the quietest diesel engines we've ever sat behind. In different times, those attributes would be cause for cheer instead of fear. It's a bad time for diesels, with automakers cheating emissions standards, and most new car owners are wary if not critical of complicated infotainment systems and connected car technology.

Land Rover's diesel nose has been clean, and its tech problems can be chalked up to rapidly upgrading a product line that was once endangered under Ford ownership but is thriving under ownership of Tata, the India-based automotive multinational.

The fifth-generation Discovery drops the LR3 and LR4 alphanumeric designations that preceded it. The midsize seven-seat luxury SUV has streamlined the stepped roof and odd rear-window rectangularity of its bush-conquering predecessors. The jigsaw puzzle piece rear window has also been streamlined as a rectangular wraparound with the rear quarter windows. It makes for a larger opening to get stuff in and out, and integrates a rear spoiler. It looks a whole lot sleeker, modern, and representative of its shift away from pickup truck body-on-frame construction to more holistic unibody build with lightweight aluminum, which helped it drop 1,000 pounds. It's still a sturdy heavy hauler at just under 5,000 pounds, though, and the rear license plate is still left of center on the tailgate, as if in memory of the ghost full-size spare tire that long ago mounted on the back (it's now an underbody option for $440).

That gesture-controlled liftgate is also where the technology convenience begins. With the push of a button, my 10-year-old could raise the gate, lower the suspension, lower a fold-down panel, lower the two third-row seats and put her hockey bag in the back by herself. This minor victory gives hope that she'll air out the gear herself too. A dad can dream. That odd fold-down panel doubles as a cargo holder and a tailgate extender, to sit on and lace up the skates.

The storage area with all seats will not fit a hockey bag or much of anything, and that third row over the rear axle makes it an area only scheming tweens could enjoy, but that's why it's so easy to fold those seats back.

The tester came with plush 16-way memory seats in white Windsor leather -- very nice contrast to the autumnal "Namib orange" exterior coat ($1,495), but white leather in a family vehicle is a bad idea. The mid-row seats offer enough head- and legroom to fit adults, and the high quality entertainment screens ($2,270) embedded in the seat backs lead to some quiet, bicker-free car rides.

It's all very easy to get in and around, even if there are more spacious midsize SUVs. The most impressive technological feat is the silent, 254-horsepower 3-liter turbo V-6 diesel engine mated to the seamless eight-speed transmission. Hammer the throttle and you'll hear it; otherwise, on the highway when the diesel is at its best, or even light-footing it around town, it would be difficult to discern it from a direct-injection gas V-6. We did notice the engine revving too low, as if it might stall out when shifting from first to second, but that was only right after a couple of cold starts.

The HSE TD6 is built for comfort, not for speed. The 443 pound-feet of torque is great for towing and the ground clearance and drive systems would make off-roading easy, but the TD6 is best for extended highway travel. All Land Rover SUVs have that off-road capability, but they're so pretty it's like taking the show Weimaraner out pheasant hunting.

Advanced driver systems such as adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist ($2,350) complement the creature comforts expected in an $80,000 luxury SUV, including rain-sensing wipers, automatic lights and parking aids. The TD6 keeps the drive easy, effortless, worthy of its luxury status.

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