A long weekend with a Land Rover Discovery

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First, what Americans would call ‘full disclosure’. Land Rover asked if I wanted to borrow a new Discovery and then drive it to their Eastnor Castle off-roading place to have a play in some mud before sticking around for dinner and a night in a hotel. Also, they said, since this will be over a weekend, would you like to bring your wife and son? Oh okay then, I said. I had the steak.

Day one:

A nice man drops the Discovery at my house on Friday morning. I use it to give him a lift to the station. On first acquaintance, this new Disco feels rather like a Range Rover. This should be no surprise since it’s built on the same all-aluminium monocoque, saving a chunk of weight over the old model which accidentally had two types of chassis at once and was rather hefty as a result. The plus side of the previous car’s tubbiness was that it rode very nicely in a confident, road-crushing sort of way. Despite the weight loss, the new car isn’t far off. It’s not that the ride is completely smooth, more that it brings news of a pothole and then summarily tells it to bugger orf. As in all of Land Rover’s stuff, there’s a feeling that no matter how large the pot hole or speed hump, the car is going to come away from the encounter completely unharmed.

I have to spend the rest of the day working so the Discovery stays outside but I can peer at it through the blinds. Overall, it’s quite a handsome thing but the exterior design isn’t perfect. The front lights look a bit squinty above a very chinny bumper that reminds me of the beard sported by the actor Mandy Patinkin in Homeland. There’s a bit too much unadorned metal on the sides but it’s not quite big and sheer enough to pass as a design feature, as it does on that new Velar. In this case, it just looks featureless, especially towards the back where it all gets a bit slabby and the back wheel seems a bit lost. It’s sort of okay, but then sometimes not okay, like someone who might be good looking but you can’t quite tell. Then we get to the back end where the smooth, glass-wrapped D-pillar and the smart rear lights are completely undermined by the single worst part of this car – the inexplicably offset rear number plate. Honestly, what the merry fucking frig were they thinking? It looks someone mumbling from one side of their mouth or, as the reviewer from Autocar had it, a man who’s had a stroke. There’s nothing wrong with asymmetry in itself, but it helps if it’s done with logic or with grace, not simply because the designer was bored and decided to try something obtuse. The first Discovery had an offset plate to clear the spare wheel. The last generation had an offset plate because the split tailgate was cleverly designed to make it easier to retrieve things from the boot. This model has an offset plate for why? A needless nod to the past, robbed of all logic? So that anyone who buys one will have to explain to their friends that no, honestly, it’s meant to be like that? Seriously, this lop-sided nonsense is needless and contrived, and I hope whoever thought it was a good idea gets ker-panged around the head with an asymmetric frying pan.

Day two:

Off we go on a jaunt into the countryside to drive in some mud. This particular Discovery is the diesel V6 which has plenty of guts and can lollop across the countryside at a fair rate. It’s not bad in corners either, although it’s best to take a slow-in approach and then gently squeeze on the power on the way out. If you were on your own you could probably surprise people in lower cars to satisfying effect but with passengers it’s better to conduct things in the stately manner the car seems best equipped for. Anyway, no need for door handling heroics. It’s a nice day, light floods into the Disco interior through big windows and a vast glass roof, my wife sits in the back with our three year old watching stuff on the built-in TVs and passing round snacks, and it feels less like we’re in a car and more like we’re relaxing inside a better made and less dog hairy version of our house.

We get to the off-roading place and they transfer us into a different Disco, one with the new 2-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine. You can study the spec sheets, noting that it has just 18 horsepower less than the V6 and still manages a chunky 369lb ft of torque, but psychologically you can’t get over the suspicion that this engine will struggle to pull a door closed. Hold that thought. I was going to change into some stout off-road shoes for this exercise but a person from Land Rover told me not to bother. ‘You won’t be getting out of the cars,’ he said confidently. So off we go, in T-shirts and trainers, sitting inside this beautifully and expensively trimmed family bus as it clambers over ridges and plunges into muddy gullies and generally acts as if the lumpy, mucky landscape simply isn’t an inconvenience. And it does all this wearing very unchunky showroom-spec Pirelli Scorpion Verde tyres which even their makers say are designed only for ‘light’ off-road work. At one point, as inevitably happens during any off-roading event, the affable instructor chap in the passenger seat points to an improbably steep and sodden track disappearing almost vertically up into the trees and says, ‘Right. We’re going up there’. To which you want to reply, ‘No, no, no, kind sir, we are not going “up there”. In fact, there is not a cat’s arse in hell’s chance of us getting up there and actually what you are inviting me to do is overheat the engine and gearbox in a festival of plaintive revving before we slither backwards in an embarrassing slow motion tank slapper and end up dangling from our seatbelts in the remains of this very expensive car’. But I didn’t want to seem unwilling so I gave it a go and you know what? We just drove straight up. Well, not quite. We started to lose traction half way up so we stopped, eased back a bit, stuck it in third (strange, I know, but that’s how low the eight speed auto box can go, making gear three ideal for low traction hill starts), and then we monstered the rest of it. I haven’t driven it for long on an actual road, but from its behaviour off road I can tell you that the four cylinder diesel Disco seems plenty gutsy and perfectly refined unless you really clog it. I presume the other models in the range, the V6 diesel and a 336 horsepower supercharged V6 petrol which sounds like a giggle, are as good as this off road, which is to say, astonishing. Like driving a Porsche GT3 RS on a track, you feel a Discovery off road is so brilliant and so clearly in its element that however good you are, that’s how good the car is too, and if you’re not very good it’s going to flatter you into getting better. Or injured. But mostly, better. After a hearty afternoon mucking around and being amazed that Land Rover’s massive thing could clamber effortlessly over nature’s idea of a massive thing, we went to a nice hotel and had dinner and some drinks and it was very nice. All in all, a very pleasant day spoilt only by the rear number plate placement on the Land Rover Discovery.

Day three:

And home we go. The journey passes in one smooth, calm, unfussy movement, which confirms my suspicion that the Discovery really does have the Range Rover’s ability to make everyone in it feel somehow more at peace with the world. It’s a nice car to be in. It feels luxurious without laying it on thick and everything works well, especially since the touch screen is no longer cack and the heated seat controls aren’t now hidden on an irksome sub-menu. What the Discovery has above a Range Rover, aside from an extra pair of decent sized seats in the boot, is a lot of storage compartments. They’re everywhere. Two gloveboxes, extra compartments in the doors, a whole labyrinth of things inside armrests, an air-con control panel that can be popped open to reveal a cubby behind it, even a mad front cupholder on which you slide back the top cover as normal and then find you can slide the entire cupholding bit itself forwards beneath the centre stack to reveal a massive storage chasm beneath. It’s the kind of car in which you could easily loose a wallet, laptop or much-loved spaniel. Which would be sad, although not as sad as remembering that your rear number plate is needlessly offset to one side.

Day four:

One last drive to my office, from where the Discovery is being collected. It turns out to do an urban commute very well. After my weekend experience, you might wonder why this car needs all that off road ability when, in truth, most Discoverys will spend their time trundling around towns and cities. But if this thing wasn’t designed to maul the countryside into submission and take a flying headbutt at the Darien Gap, it would be a very different car. Maybe the ride would be harder, the chassis more aggressive and the gearchange paddles on the wheel meant for helmswrightship rather than giving you some extra control as you slither towards a felled silver birch. And all of these things would somehow spoil the character of the car which is extremely nice as it is. It’s the breadth of ability that makes the Discovery appealing. It’s a very soothing way to commute and a brilliant way to haul your kids and several of their mates, just as much as it’s probably a tremendous thing in which to crest a Saharan dune or drive across a river. Plus, wherever you drive I’m pretty confident when I say that unlike, say, an Audi Q7, it doesn’t make you look like a twat. Of course, the new Discovery isn’t cheap. I’d go so far as to call it quite pricey. Or you could look at it as a more practical, less flashy Range Rover for less money, in which case you might even argue it’s a bit of a bargain. As an all rounder, it’s an absolutely tremendous piece of machinery and without doubt the most complete and desirable family car on sale today. Yet I wouldn’t buy one and neither should you because it has a needlessly offset rear number plate.

The (main) car talked about here is a Land Rover Discovery HSE Td6. It has a 3-litre turbocharged V6 diesel engine making 255 horsepower. It can go from 0-62 in 7.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 130mph. In this spec it costs £58,495. 



  1. What did you think of the offset number plate?


    Something like that.

  3. Is that Sniff having an orgasm? I think he likes it – he did use two photos of it to accompany the article. Each to their own I guess. I like symmetry in cars. I would be a driving instructor if there was a steering wheel on both sides!

  4. Sycophant alert. Fucking nicely done Sniff Cunt

  5. I will forgive the offset number plate only if there is also a door pocket on the inside that smashes the first time you shut it on a full boot.

  6. Well done, Raymond. Another thoroughly informative and entertaining article. Now, Range Rover is sold world wide, but I have a few questions regarding Canada:

    1. Who is the Head of State?

    @. How many provinces does Canada have?

    P. What is Canada’s official bird?

  7. Ref above…

    1. Bez from the Happy Mondays
    @. 17
    P. Flamingo?

  8. Speaking as someone who wanders around other people’s houses straightening picture frames, that number plate position makes me feel physically ill. But there might be a way round it. I had an Alfa 156 which I adored but I would never approach it from the front in case I accidentally caught sight of the offset front plate and burst into tears. So get a disco but reverse it in every time you park, and always access the boot via the rear passenger doors.

  9. The rear number plate reminds of Douglas Carswell

  10. This review tells me nothing; should I order the steak or not?

  11. Am I the only one who due to the layout of the headline read “Rover Discovery”?

  12. The numberplate thing is probably just there to give the designers something to change on the first facelift in about 2-3 years’time.

  13. I am glad Land Rover do not make Russian dolls because they’d all the about as big as each other and the smaller ones would not fit in the bigger one. Freelander, Discovery and Evoque all seem to be about the same size and even the stupidly enormous Range Rover isn’t much bigger. All the aluminium in the world (which they are probably using) would make these things truly light, and the styling is consistently too funking fussy and self referential. This seems like a needlessly confusing model range all fighting for the same customers.

  14. I meant to say ‘would not make these cars truly light’. A lack of attention to detail completely undermining a valid point. Damn!

  15. Any unnecessary lack of symmetry on vehicle numberplates and to a lesser extent badges used to be a serious bugbear for me too – upto the age of 12 or so.

    Later grew up and realized it’s not nearly important enough to be a deal breaker if the car in question is worthy otherwise.
    I even challenged myself to embrace it with a brand new 2003 Daihatsu who’s ‘central’ front plate actually wasn’t to the tune of 4cm – so I refitted it to make it properly offset. Decided it looked quite cool after I got used to it.

    Sure, I still notice such ‘errors’ and tut, shake my head or whatever – but remain not really bothered. After all, can’t see it anyway when you’re driving…

  16. Are the number plate illumination lamps offset, too?

    Accidentally leaving them in the middle and thus illuminating only half the number plate at night is the sort of thing Land Rover bores like me are used to shrugging off as a “quirk”.

  17. Can you use you significant influence to convince the Germans running Jaguar Land Rover to commission a special commemorative run of 1,000 of the classic 1980s SD1 5-door saloon? V-8 Vitesse spec?
    It would be OK if the number plate was offset to the left, but not right, on Federal cars for the USA, and to the right, but not left for RHD markets.

  18. I quite like the numberplate positioning. Looks perfectly symmetrical to me.

  19. You mean that wasn’t a “spot the difference between these two pictures” competition?
    We await more from this design trend, like offset doors that open half the front wing on one side and a seat back not quite in line with the squab. And a Canadian version that runs on maple syrup.

  20. I remain the very definition of ambivalent when I see one of these… until I notice that rear number plate upon which I become slightly apathetic.

  21. Any money you like that the bloke who designed the Hyundai Veloster cannot see a damn thing wrong with the back of the new Discovery.

    He’ll be at home, staring at a picture intently, telling anyone who’ll listen that there’s nothing odd about the tailgate at all. All perfectly fine.

  22. Look here, as well as being the world’s best dressed man I designed that vehicle ( like most of this planets beauty ) and firmly believe that it is a truly awesome piece of automotive architecture. Except for that number plate. WTF was I on ?

  23. It looks like Laura Kuenssberg’s face from the back.

  24. Yeah. But it’s still leading the happy way and I wish I could catch up before it made any final decisions. Re colours particularly.

  25. Incidentally I’m fresh back from a trip into the past of someone’s future who had been reassigned halfway through a time warp, anyway to cut to the point, I’ve tested all vehicles ever made, and Huracan.

  26. What, you think I’d bring anything other than fuel on …wait when am I again?

  27. At least they didn’t follow Range Rover in putting effing pointless gills on the doors, serving no functional purpose apart from giving every impression the the car is a very badly-assembled cut and shut.

    In fact I’m slightly surprised not to find running boards fitted across the bonnet, windscreen wipers on the side door panels, an aerial inside the glove box, headlamps on the fascia shining main beams into the drivers face, and reversing lights on the front bumper.

    I believe I’ve made my point

  28. Ho yeah quick thing while I’m in between rampages. Could any of you eminent gentlemen somehow slip into someone’s hear that it’s great to invest 100 million into aerodynamics research. Right up to the point when someone who’s never heard of boundary layers sticks a badge on the front.

    Dammit if I don’t stop coughing now my head will spin the full 360 twice and I’ll be in for another swap.

  29. The reason the number plate is off centre is someone in Marketing told someone in Production “oh just centre the plate on the rear under the Disco badge”. Marketing has since decided that in future the car will be badged a Disco Very, to align with the hastily-announced Dual-Phrase Naming Strategy, to include Range Rover, E Voque, Vel Ar and in due course the Def Ender and its forthcoming crossover derivative the Belle Ender

  30. Given the full disclosure, one would think that you would have written it in full-Lanchester.

    Also, if it is true that “Range Rover’s ability to make everyone in it feel somehow more at peace with the world”, why do so many of them commuting on the M3 drive like such absolute cockholsters? 100mph as standard and the mistaken belief that, whilst sitting 2 feet from my bumper, should I brake they will not immediately also occupy the same space as my car.

  31. My boss drives a Rayne Jrover… and he’s an utter tool.

    The end.

  32. Just out after the ole waste. Got nothing better to do. I am a sad lonely forum wannabe.

  33. As others have pointed out this does feel like the Roy Lanchester origin story. Just a short distance from wine based catastrophe. My corner of the world is awash with X5’s, X6’s Range Rovers and their equally hefty bretheren. So I was recently behind one of these and the asymmetrical tailgate and I am still trying to work out why the designers went with that.

  34. I used to like Land Rovers 🙁

    What are the chances of it lasting a Canadian Winter?

  35. The roads are full of dull, me-too cars with boring, boring symmetry. Even the rather startling Nissan Juke now has its lookalikes.
    So something assymetrical makes a welcome change.
    That’s that number plate, guys.
    Any worse than the offset front plate on certain Alfas?

  36. Better, actually.

  37. I’m having a Canadian beer right now.

  38. I like the rear wiper motor being at the top of the tailgate. I think they should offer a hairy cover on the blade, yellow or black, according to your colour of Labrador.
    Except in Canada, where they should offer moose antlers.
    That’ll confuse the dogs.

  39. I was behind one of these on Battersea Bridge yesterday. The dealer had compounded the number plate issue by putting it on slightly pissed, which made the whole thing look hilarious.

  40. Not sure how long these have been out but there are already quite a few popping up round my way. Ferrying Jolaquin to quail drowning practice or some such.

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