First Drive: 2017 Land Rover Discovery

I’m crawling up an impossibly steep and craggy stretch of rock in Utah when my 2017 Land Rover Discovery takes a moment to pause. I haven’t touched the gas or brakes — instead, the Discovery is doing the decision-making itself, evaluating the terrain before it proceeds again. The weirdest thing isn’t the ghost in the machine that’s calling the shots, it’s that the sensation feels surprisingly natural to yours truly, a guy who typically prefers to take the reins and drive himself.

The new Discovery I’m (sort of) piloting uses a semi-autonomous technology dubbed All-Terrain Progress Control, a sort of cruise control for the rock-crawling set. While the driver handles steering, the truck’s sensors manage footing by individually applying throttle and brakes to each of the four wheels, negotiating iffy terrain using data gleaned from steering angle, wheel slip, and suspension travel. The system works between 1.2 mph and 19 mph, and is also designed to offer a smooth escape from slippery patches of wet grass or snow. And in case you were wondering, the robot overlords will gladly step aside if you choose to do the driving yourself.

While Range Rover’s top models aim for ultimate luxury and the upcoming Defender redux tips a hat to go-anywhere ruggedness, the new Discovery is the halfway point between the two extremes, a flag planted firmly in the name of versatility and everyday usability.

The Discovery is equipped with a supercharged 340 horsepower gas-powered V-6 or turbocharged 254-hp diesel V-6, a stiff aluminum chassis, and nearly 20 inches of wheel articulation when equipped with the available air suspension. Along with the model’s first-ever adaptive Terrain Response system, which automatically adapts to surface conditions, the Discovery has some serious off-road chops. For example, it can wade through nearly three feet of water, tow up to 8,201 pounds, and offer nearly a foot of ground clearance with the air suspension in its tallest setting. That’s some considerable capability for an SUV that also comes with WiFi hotspots for eight devices, nine USB ports, and comfortable seating for seven full-sized adults.

Inside our well-equipped tester were the typical luxury trimmings — tasteful leather, restrained lumber accents, and spare bits of polished aluminum trim. But it was the breadth of the Discovery’s skill set that surprised us. Between a surprise snowstorm (effortlessly negotiated), rock crawling (easy, with or without semi-autonomy), and epic sand-duning (only limited by the civilian tires), the Discovery proved flexible and capable enough to handle nearly anything thrown its way. And though we tested the Discovery in some of the most stunning stretches of remote land this side of Middle Earth, we suspect it would handle more mundane settings like cityscapes and stoplight sprints with aplomb, thanks to its welcoming and well-insulated cabin, powerful engines, and available smooth-riding air suspension and 17-speaker Meridian sound system.

The best part? The combination of its stout underpinnings and state-of-the-art tech make the Discovery a truck that embraces both sides of the off-roading equation: the part that leans on driver skill and decision making, and the added capability that comes from quick-calculating computers and smart all-wheel-drive systems.

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