When I felt the first tire slip on the dry sandy rocks, I didn't panic. Too much. Especially because I know the vehicle I'm driving is made for this.
As the second tire fights for footing, I look up quickly searching for the man standing directly in front of me. With the nose of the 2017 Land Rover Discovery
pointing toward blue sky, all I can see is a hand floating above the hood, waving me forward. With my window open, I can hear a lilting British voice say: "Good. Good. Yes. Very good."
Any trace of doubt disappears. I can do this. No, correction, the Discovery can do this.
As my spotter guides me through a rock climb, the wheels of the Discovery slip then stick, allowing the vehicle to crawl forward at awkward angles, leaving one wheel or another dangling in mid-air. And yet the Discovery manages to find sure footing again and again.
I would expect this of a Range Rover or even a Jeep Wrangler.
But the Discovery? This is a 7-passenger family vehicle.
And yet here it is, crawling up rocks and shushing through sand dunes quite competently.
With a ground clearance of 11 inches and the ability to ford water nearly 3-feet deep, you can see this is a go-anywhere kind of vehicle.
Yet it also comes with all the trappings and technology you'd expect in a family hauler. It has a 3G Wi-Fi hotspot that can connect up to eight devices. It has eight USB ports for charging smartphones and tablets. Plus, available safety tech includes a whole host of features including blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking and a bevy of cameras that give front, side and rear views of the vehicle.
All this is why Land Rover is using the word "versatility"' quite liberally when describing the new Discovery.
It's the kind of be-anything vehicle that has refinement, technology and capability to suit the most active families.
The Discovery is available with two engines: a supercharged 3.0-liter gasoline V-6 and a turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel V-6, which deliver 340 and 258 horsepower respectively. The diesel is a $2,000 premium over the gasoline engine, and it is not available on the base model.
The benefit to the diesel, obviously, isn't the power; it's the fuel economy. Though the EPA hasn't tested it, Land Rover estimates that it will get 26 mpg in combined driving. The gasoline model will only get about 21 mpg.
We drove both versions of the new Discovery, and I have to admit that my preference lies with the gasoline model. The diesel lacked the oomph I wanted to pass on the highway, and there were a couple of sandy up-hill situations I witnessed where the diesel models couldn't get enough momentum quick enough to clear an obstacle, and the drivers of those vehicles had to back up, get more space and go again.
Both vehicles were very quiet in all driving situations - whether we were cruising on the highway or crawling up a rocky hill. Engine noise entering the cabin was minimal - though slightly louder in the diesel - and exterior noise was largely absent. More than once, my drive partner and I remarked on the silence.
I was also impressed with the Discovery's ability to handle the multitude of road surfaces with ease. From smoothly paved highway to rutted dirt roads, the ride was largely comfortable. Sure, you felt the bumps, but it didn't make my teeth clatter or jostle the vehicle harshly.
The Discovery replaces the LR4 in the U.S. market, and you'll see a lot of the design language from that outgoing vehicle in the new one. Some of the harsher lines and angles have been smoothed out for aerodynamic purposes, and even though the Discovery no longer has a split liftgate, it retains the asymmetrical license place treatment.
The interior is clean and simple and has a lot of large dials. I have to admit the pictures don't do the interior justice, making it look a bit oversized and blocky. But after two days of living with the Discovery, I came to appreciate the largeness of the controls and the openness of the design. It's more austere than elegant, but it works with the functional "versatility" built into this vehicle.
One thing I didn't love were the seat bottoms. They were too long for my petite frame, and I felt a little like a child sitting in an oversized chair. We were driving top-tier trims, and with all the adjustments the seats can make for lumbar support and height, it should be easy enough to add in a bottom bolster adjustment as well.
The impressive thing about the Discovery, however, is how well-suited it is to taller drivers and passengers. One of the Land Rover instructors was 6 feet 7 inches, and he told me he could sit in every seat - including the third row. When I asked if that was just for a 10-minute trip, he said he could sit back there for at least an hour.
Getting to the third row is a bit more of a challenge. I was able to easily squeeze my way in behind the second row, but my drive partner, who was more of an average-sized guy, struggled a bit through the narrow passage.
For 2017, the Discovery will have four trim levels, starting with the base SE through the top-level first-edition model, which will disappear after this first model year.
- SE ($50,985): This base trim is only available with the gasoline engine and comes standard with the 5-passenger configuration. Standard features at this trim include 19-inch wheels, rear parking sensors, leather seats, keyless entry and gesture power tailgate.
- HSE ($57,945): At this level the diesel engine is available for a $2,000 premium. Other features included at this trim are navigation, 20-inch wheels, 3-zone climate control, 380-watt Meridian audio system, sliding panoramic sunroof, front parking sensors and power inner tailgate.
- HSE Luxury ($64,945): Seating for seven is standard at this trim as is the power operation and remote control of seating position. Other features included at this trim are standard air suspension, power steering column, 825-watt Meridian audio system, front and rear heated seats, heated steering wheel and configurable interior mood lighting.
- First Edition ($74,945): This is the "everything-is-standard" trim. It adds features such as 21-inch wheels, first-edition badging, Terrain Response 2, autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, park assist, 360-degree camera, blind-spot monitoring, traffic sign recognition, activity key and heated windshield.
While two days with a vehicle does not a complete review make, my first impressions of the Discovery were largely favorable. No, I didn't love the diesel engine. And, yes, we did get stuck in a deep sand pit during one of our off-road stints - but I can forgive that because we were using fully inflated stock tires and had a little SNAFU that caused my drive partner stop moving when he should have kept the momentum going.
I particularly appreciated all the technology and comfort packed in the vehicle, and I loved the interior quietness and refinement. What's more, the fact that Discovery can accommodate a range of sizes in every seating position is a huge bonus.
The new 2017 Land Rover Discovery is slated to hit dealers starting in May.
Editor's Note: Driving impressions in this "First Look" review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Land Rover covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.Read more from Jill Ciminillo:Did you check your back seat? Look before you lockMust-have apps for your road tripJaguar electrifies LA with I-Pace Concept