Limpopo - Since its launch in 1989 the Land Rover Discovery has blended hardcore offroad ability with luxury and comfort. Version five, newly launched in South Africa this week, takes this versatility concept to a new level by being a hardcore adventure vehicle that's soft in the right places.

Land Rover’s new SUV - available with five or optionally seven seats - joins the digital age with up-to-date infotainment and connectivity, packages it in a more streamlined and radically lighter body, and bundles it with almost limousine-like luxury and refinement.

It also has new tricks up its sleeve including folding rear seats that can be controlled by a smartphone.

The Discovery’s more rounded and aerodynamic new styling is perhaps the most controversial change as it’s lost the chunkiness of its predecessors, and boxier lines tend to convey more visual toughness. But under that ‘softer’ appearance is an SUV that’s more offroad-capable than ever.

A short but tricky offroad course at the Discovery’s South African media launch held in the Waterberg region of Limpopo this week confirmed that this SUV retains the formidable all-terrain ability of its predecessors and has improved in key areas: the ground clearance has risen to 283mm (up 43mm) and the wading depth to 900mm (a 200mm increase), while it can also approach steeper angles than before (it has a 34 degree approach angle, 27.5 degree breakover angle and 30 degree departure angle).

Full time all-wheel drive, offroad ABS brakes, and hill descent control are all part of the standard turf-taming package. 

There are four equipment grades and except for the entry-level Discovery S which comes with coil suspension and high range only, all other versions have height-adjustable air suspension and a two-speed transfer case with high and low range. Auto Access Height lowers the vehicle 40mm when you park to make it easier for driver and passengers to get in and out.

For extra money, diehard adventurers can opt for a number of additional offroad-enhancing features such a traction-improving active locking rear differential, an automatic crawl function that autonomously maintains a set speed with the driver only having to steer, a multi-mode Terrain Response 2 system that at a twist of a dial selects an offroad mode to suit various terrains, and a Surround Camera system which displays potentially unseen offroad hazards onto the dashboard monitor. 

The new Discovery has been on a major diet, shedding up to 480kg of weight due to its monocoque body now being mostly constructed of aluminium instead of steel, giving it a notably nimbler feel and more spring in its step.

It’s an exceptionally refined vehicle, and both the petrol and diesel versions I drove delivered effortless performance with a hushed demeanour. The cushy ride quality is another demonstration of this adventure vehicle's soft side, and the big SUV glides with impressive comfort over rough gravel roads. 

Having grown longer but slightly narrower and lower, the Discovery’s wheelbase has increased by 38mm, creating generous cabin space. There's plenty of stretch-out space in the front two rows, while the optional third row is also roomy enough for most adults.

The interior’s become more luxurious and can be specced with a range of premium materials including Windsor leather upholstery and natural oak veneers.

The InControl Touch Pro infotainment system features a large 25cm touchscreen that reduces the number of switches on the centre console.

A well-publicised world-first on the new Discovery is the Intelligent Seat Fold technology that allows the second- and third-row seats to be electrically folded using controls at the rear of the vehicle, the central touchscreen, or remotely via a smartphone app. It’s a R22 100 option.

With all the rear seats folded there’s a huge 2 500 litres of boot space, and a still very roomy 1 231 litres behind the middle row, while the electric tailgate can be opened by a foot gesture. The vehicle has a workhorse-like towing capacity of 3 500kg, and a camera-based tow assist system is available that allows the driver to line up the tow hitch to the trailer without any outside human assistance.

A plethora of cabin storage spaces include a compartment behind the ventilation controls on the dash, and cleverly-designed slots in the centre console designed to take a pair of smartphones standing upright.

The Discovery’s equipped with up to nine USB ports allowing passengers in each row to power their smartphones or tablets simultaneously, and six 12-volt charging points and a 3G WiFi hotspot. InControl Touch Pro provides greater connectivity including access to a range of apps through a touchscreen display.

Dipping into the options list gets you luxury features like heated and massaging seats and rear seat entertainment, or driver-assistance aids like adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist.

Also available is an Activity Key wristband that allows the more active Discovery owners to enjoy their sports or hobbies without carrying a key fob. The waterproof wristband locks the vehicle and disables the ordinary key, which can be left safely inside.

The six-cylinder engine range is carried over from the old Discovery, in the form of a 3-litre turbodiesel with outputs of 190kW and 600Nm, and a 3-litre supercharged petrol wielding 250kW and 450Nm. Both are paired with an eight-speed auto gearbox.

A limited-run of 2400 ‘First Edition’ derivatives will be available globally (34 for South Africa) with exclusive features including unique etched map detailing on the aluminium trim for the doors and facia, unique badges, bold colour choices and a comprehensive list of standard equipment.

PRICES

Discovery 3.0 TDV6 S - R992 540

Discovery 3.0 V6 Supercharged - R1 037 310

Discovery 3.0 TDV6 SE - R1 121 790

Discovery 3.0 V6 Supercharged SE - R1 145 560

Discovery 3.0 TDV6 HSE - R1 235 540

Discovery 3.0 V6 Supercharged HSE - R1 259 310

Discovery 3.0 TDV6 HSE Luxury - R1 326 540

Discovery 3.0 V6 Supercharged HSE Luxury - R1 350 310

Discovery 3.0 TDV6 First Edition - R1 452 540

Discovery 3.0 V6 Supercharged First Edition - R1 476 310

Includes 3 year/100 000km warranty, 5 year/100 000km maintenance plan, and 24-hour roadside assistance