Land Rover Discovery offers upscale styling in an off-road beast

The redesigned 2017 Land Rover Discovery evokes an elite, mud-splattered warrior taking up residence in a comfortable, well-appointed setting. Think of it as Conan the Barbarian spending the night in the palace at Versailles.

The new Discovery, which appears in showrooms in late May, is a replacement for the heavier, less-advanced LR4.

Since it borrows its structure, suspension, and driveline from the more-upmarket Range Rover Sport, you could conceive of it as a re-bodied Sport. What you have is a roomy seven-seat SUV that acts like a Sport but is significantly cheaper. (It starts at $49,990.) It also harbors a tad less luxury than the Range Rover, and a tad less cachet.

Since its monocoque body is 84 percent aluminum, it comes in 1,058 pounds lighter than the body-over-frame LS4 it replaces. Shedding that kind of weight flashes a come-hither look at performance and fuel economy.

The new Discovery is handsome, stylish business. Some clever moves allowed the designers to lower the car’s coefficient of drag (Cd) to a presentable 0.33, making it what chief designer Phil Simmons called “the most aerodynamic Discovery ever.” (At 0.40, the old car had the aerodynamics of a billboard.)

The interior, trimmed with leather and wood veneer, is equally attractive. It is also exceptionally quiet and roomy. Adults can fit in all three rows of seats, a rarity. The seats are heated, and an electric motor folds down the back of the third-row seats to provide increased storage.

The ride is comfortable and the handling is quite competent. Power is courtesy of three-liter V-6s, a diesel that develops 258 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque and a gas version that puts out 340 horsepower and a torque number of 332. I drove both during a recent factory show-and-tell. The diesel got out of the shoot fairly well — 0 to 60 in 7.7 seconds — but the gasser was even better at 6.9. Where the gas engine really shone, however, was in highway-speed passing, where horsepower is more of a friend than torque.

The diesel’s reasonable performance was matched by reasonable EPA mileage estimates of 21 city and 26 highway. The gas-powered Discovery is rated at a forgettable 16 and 21.

Interestingly enough, the diesel was as quiet as the gas engine.

All of the Discoveries employ a seamless, eight-speed automatic gearbox. The vehicle is available with the base all-wheel-drive system or the optional unit equipped with the two-speed transfer case. The latter affords a low range, which powered me through some deep, soft sand when I took it off-road.

In addition to low range, the Discovery furnishes several electronic assists to maximize traction. These include Terrain Response 2, which tailors the Discovery’s response to different driving conditions. The modes include general driving, gravel and snow, mud and ruts, and rock crawl. You can also invoke All-Terrain Progress Control, which instantaneously selects one of the above modes when conditions change.

Although Discovery owners that take their vehicles off-road are in a distinct minority, I was told that they like to know they can go on the wild side if they want to.

And it’s good to keep in mind that no four-wheeler is invincible. Even a superb off-roader like the Discovery can get bogged down, as I found out in rutted, deep soft sand. Fortunately, I was able to back out of the sand trap that stopped me, and then hit it again with enough gusto to get through.

When equipped with the air suspension, the Discovery can be raised three inches for more clearance. It is also designed to wade through three feet of water.

Discovery prices range from $49,990 for the base model to $71,950 for the top gun. The diesel tacks $2,000 on the tariff.