Only the growing and innately wrong-headed anti-SUV mob can stop the new Discovery 3. It deals with muck and mountains better than any Land Rover before it, and (this is the really clever bit) drives better on the road than any other SUV. Yes, including the Range Rover. A grand design, it is so unrelentingly modern on the outside and so clever inside that it makes you wonder if you read that badge correctly: this is a Land Rover Discovery, right?
With a single turbo version of Jaguar's impressive new 2.7-litre diesel, it is even competitively fuel-efficient for a seven-seater. Swap that 2.7-litre oil burner for another Jaguar engine, a 4.4-litre V8, and Disco 3 tosses the anti lobby a fistful of easy points. The V8 is an amazing vehicle; the Disco 3 of choice if you pay for your fuel in dollars. But at 18.8mpg, it's likely to be as rare as other sensible and appropriate choices of vehicle on the school run here in the 53rd State.
First, let's pretend someone else is paying your fuel bills. I can't stress enough just how good the V8 Discovery 3 is. The $114,160 Range Rover, with its own 4.4-litre V8 is slower to accelerate, and steers, brakes and handles less well. OK, you say, that's progress. But if I tell you that the Disco 3 is also quieter and more refined, and remind you that the Range Rover is still our limo of choice around here, you'll understand what I'm saying; the Disco 3 is one of the very best cars in the world.
Like the Range Rover, the Disco 3's shtick is that it handles on-road business better than anything in its class (easy to justify since this class does not include Jag XJs and Audi A8s) and then does all the muddy stuff better too. Talk at Land Rover of late is all about 'breadth of capability', and behind the wheel you soon get a feel for what this means. It's a sackful of tricks made easier by the simple and elegant Terrain Response system, standard on all V8 Disco 3s.
TR remixes seven of the Disco's critical dynamic control systems: throttle and gearbox maps; the air suspension's ride height settings; DSC (Land Rover's stability system); the traction control, anti-lock brake and brake force distribution suite; the patented Hill Descent Control; and the two (centre and optional rear) diffs. Dial in 'sand', for example, and the DSC switches off; the traction control eases back a little; the suspension automatically rises; the throttle travel extends, and higher engine speeds become forbidden territory. Twist it in to 'rock crawl' 'mud and ruts' 'grass/gravel/snow' or the regular 'general driving' and TR gets stuck in again, effectively respecifying the car for the surface it's on. There's no new individual technology here, TR is just a deeply effective interface.
The TR knob sits at the base of a oddly unambitiously designed dash. It sets the tone for an interior that's big on equipment, functionality and luxury, yet stops a good $35,000 short of a Range Rover on sheer indulgence. There's no wood, leather doors, deep carpets or sexy down-lighters here. Funny that.