2021 Land Rover Discovery R Dynamic S Review

What makes for a good luxury SUV in 2021? A three-row family hauler needs to be more than posh to win buyers. It has to offer space for gear or travel bags, promise off-tarmac capability for the small percentage who use it, and bring enough technology to make an IT firm quiver. And, it has to look the part, promising curb appeal long after it’s left the dealer’s lot. Curious to see where the big SUV game is in today’s world, we pinged Land Rover who dropped off their newest Discovery for a week so we could see if it ticks the three-row luxo-SUV boxes.

Land Rover nailed it on the curb appeal front. The front end screams Range Rover, especially with the $400 optional “Premium LED Headlights with Signature DRL” package. Add in the (also optional) $710 Portofino Blue paint and $2,000 21” wheels, and it’s a stunning package, simultaneously subtle and strong. The third generation Discovery blends its trademark third-row rising roof better than ever, and you can almost guarantee a spot parked up front at all but the swankiest of restaurant and hotel valets. It’s simply gorgeous.

If the exterior is breathtaking, the interior plays to the same level, with every surface a rich soft-touch material that’s equally pretty to look at as it is to touch. Black and white contrast surfaces lead the eye to Land Rover’s new 11.4” PIVI Pro center screen. Crisp resolution and clarity make it a beautiful centerpiece, pretty enough to forgive the time it crashed entirely and mandated a vehicle restart to come back online. Below the touchscreen live controls of similar simplistic beauty, prettier than they are intuitive to use. Optional eighteen-way power seats treat front row occupants to luxury living, but our tester was reluctant to allow the intended heating functions. Second row passengers have copious room and a power tilting seat back, while third row sitters will enjoy the dual-pane panoramic sunroof that opens up the cargo hold.

On the road the big Discovery (Note: there’s also a smaller, two-row Discovery Sport) has a definite presence. An upright seating position allows for a dominating view of the road, the Disco’s large windshield providing a clear view forward. When setting off from a stop we noticed the gas pedal requires a surprising amount of effort to get the vehicle going even in sport mode. This is puzzling considering the “R Dynamic S” nomenclature which brings allusions of sporting pedal response. Once moving the new 3.0L MHEV engine is buttery smooth, blending into around-town or highway cruising as nothing more than a background being, exactly what one wants of a powerplant in this application. 355 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque push through a ZF-sourced 8-speed transmission, and power is sent to all four tires. It’s not an overwhelming amount of power, instead rather well mated to the Discovery’s size and purpose.

We wish we could say the same of the ride quality which matches the trim’s allusions quite a lot more appropriately. While smooth in most situations, it proves a bit harsh over bumps and imperfections, unquestionably due to the overly large wheels and air suspension. This does pay dividends on a twisty back road, where the Discovery tries to conjure allusions to its SVR-branded Land Rover brethren and dances better than one would expect. There’s no steering feel to speak of, but it changes direction with ease and has little body roll for its center of gravity. Not that it’s sporty, but it moves better than most would expect.

As always, and despite what the 21” wheels and surprising back-road prowess offer, off-road capability is at the heart of the Discovery. Land Rover quotes the approach, departure, and breakover angles at 26, 24.8, and 21.2 (respectively). These increase to 34, 30, and 27.5 in the vehicle’s highest, most trail-ready setting with the air suspension jacked all the way up. In this mode ground clearance rises from 8.2” to an excellent 11.1” for keeping obstacles away from valuable powertrain hardware safe underneath the vehicle. Turning the pop-up dial allows for configurable Terrain Response modes, and the two-speed transfer case assures the Disco will go further when the pavement ends than most SUVs could dream of, or at least until the highway-suited tires and blingy wheels fall to sensitive sidewalls.

Other numbers, the things buyers will care about more than how the Disco does on a trail, are respectable. Cargo capacity is 74.3 cubic feet behind the first row, 45 behind the second, and 11.46 behind the third. Fuel economy is rated at 18/24/21 city/highway/combined, and the Discovery has a 23.8 gallon tank. We appreciate the 8,200 lb towing capacity (the tow hitch receiver is a $675 option) as it means the Discovery can tow a trailer full of off-road toys for the whole family, where everyone will be content to park it in the lot and give it an over-the-shoulder glance prior to setting off into the woods.

We did none of the aforementioned with the Discovery in our care, but did road trip it nearly five-hundred miles from Connecticut to Delaware. In this application, we enjoyed it quite a lot. The Discovery shrugs off the miles at speed and sits comfortably at a good clip, only the traffic reminding you that you’re on a long-haul highway adventure and not just being coddled around town. Anywhere we took it, the Discovery drew stares.

Pricing for the 2021 Discovery R Dynamic S starts at $61,900 and the vehicle here stickers at $73,055 including Destination. It’s a lot of money but feels reasonable given the curb appeal, interior quality, and capacities. If it were us we’d skip the big wheels ($2,000), electric third row seats ($300), and auto high beam assist ($250), bringing the price to a fair $70,505 including Destination. The Discovery’s competitors are plentiful: Audi Q7, BMW X5, Cadillac Escalade Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Expedition, GMC Yukon, Infiniti QX80, Jeep Grand Cherokee L, Jeep Wagoneer, Lincoln Aviator, Nissan Armada, Mercedes GLE, Toyota Sequoia, and Volvo XC90. For those who care enough, few seven-seat vehicles this posh, if any, will go as far down a trail or pull as heavy of a load as will the Discovery. Only Land Rover’s own Defender offers a similar limit on these fronts, and it sacrifices a fair amount on the luxury side to butch up its wheeling worthiness.

Buyers looking for the newest in three-row luxury living will find the Discovery is a great-looking, distinct vehicle that treats its occupants to a level of luxury matched by the vehicle’s on-road and curbside presence. If simply looking at the new Discovery makes you lust, you won’t be disappointed with Land Rover’s seven-seat SUV. It looks fancy, feels fancy, but doesn’t drive it. For those who want a fashionable, showstopper luxury family hauler that can four-wheel and tow, too: Your chariot has arrived.

2 Comments

  1. I must be getting old– or perhaps I just don’t fit the target demographic– because I don’t find this attractive at all. It looks… overinflated? Like a balloon toy that might have a decent shape but someone put too much air in it. The proportions in profile are really strange. And the way all of the styling features (grille, lamps, etc.) contour almost seamlessly with the sheetmetal makes it look like they’re just painted-on details. It somewhat reminds me of those GM-built pseudo-Saabs before the Swedish automaker bit the bullet.

    To each their own– it’s just not for me. But then, I’m not particularly enamored with Land Rover’s design philosophy in general lately. The further back you go into Land Rover’s history, the better I like ’em.

    1. I want to find a positive angle, but I have to agree. “Breathtaking exterior” made me pause, too, as this is basically a balloon or piece of candy-shaped blob mostly lacking design features. A great contrast to the overwrought Lexus’ designs reviewed recently, like two opposing ends of a scale.

      “No steering feel” on a low profile 21” rimmed offroad capable vehicle is an interesting turn, too. I know a family who owns the Range Rover version of this blob and they drive it constantly. It has been holding up okay, but every single repair bill they’ve had was for numbers I usually purchase vehicles for. It’s…different.

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