Review: 2021 Land Rover Discovery R-Dynamic S
“How do you get to the stores?”
Deep in the bowels of an L.A. mall’s underground parking garage, the man walked nearly in front of the vehicle to ask directions. Recognizing his particular confusion, which my brother and I had shared only hours before, we pointed him to the elevators. After acknowledging the directions, he glanced back.
A late-model Discovery in Los Angeles is as common as a Ford F-150 in Detroit. And yet, the Land Rover name commands cachet.
The Discovery has grown a bit softer in its third generation and is better for it. The previous two generations, boxy affairs dubbed LR3 and LR4 in North America, used a monocoque-plus-ladder-frame hybrid construction that added structural strength at the expense of weight. As of this generation’s launch in 2017, the Discovery fully embraced unibody architecture, namely the lightweight aluminum bones of the 2012 Range Rover (L405). You may remember the original early-’90s Disco as a discount Range Rover, but the situation is a little different these days. Given the arrival of the $104K 2022 Rangie—that’s the starting price, mind you—the Discovery operates in a considerably lower price bracket. Even so, it doesn’t reek of cost-cutting. This third-gen Disco is the most convincing execution yet of the off-road-ready-but-plush British family hauler.
We tested a 2021 Discovery in R-Dynamic S trim, the third of four trims up the ladder. The “R-Dynamic” bit gives you a choice between a turbo-four cylinder or a straight-six. You want the six, which is mated to a twin-speed transfer case and brings with it a 56-hp bump. (Each of the four variants comes standard with air suspension, as of this model year, and all-wheel drive is standard.) The big news for 2021, however, is the new infotainment system, a slick and much-needed upgrade dubbed Pivi Pro. More on that in a minute.
Our tester came loaded nearly $10K worth of options on top of the R-Dynamic S’ starting price of $63,250. Several add-ons were no-brainers for such a swanky SUV: 21- versus 20-inch rims ($2000), 18-way-adjustable heated seats ($1850), and the uprated 15-speaker Meridian stereo ($1250). The rest you’d expect to come standard on a truck this posh: head-up display ($970), four-zone climate control ($800), tow-hitch receiver ($675), electrically operated third-row seating ($300), auto high-beam assist ($250), and premium LED lights with signature DRLs ($400).
This very rounded Disco ditches the industrial vibes of its LR4 predecessor for a sleek, understated aesthetic. The truck tapers significantly from nose to tail, allowing the rear wheels to bulge out from its flanks and lend a powerful stance. There’s an undeniable bit of Ford Explorer in the blade-like C-pillar, but a handful of swanky details (and that unmistakable, off-center license plate) keeps the Disco distinguished. Puddle lights project little Discovery silhouettes onto the ground when you unlock the vehicle, and there are handsome silver badges on the B-pillars (exposed when both front and rear doors are open).
The materials and layout of the interior aren’t as rugged as those of the Defender—no exposed magnesium crossbeams here—but the impression is similarly minimalist and upscale. The leather is real, accented by brushed aluminum in all the expected places—steering wheel, console, climate-control vents—and in lovely little details you discover later, like the tips of the wiper/blinker stalks and on the rim of drive-mode selector that, at a press of a finger, rises from the console. Most of the finishes are satin or lightly textured, which add a modern feel and let the 11.4-inch infotainment screen pop. (The obvious exception is the steering wheel; when sunlight hits the spokes, you’d better don those polarized Ray-Bans.) The third row raises and lowers via an array of switches accessible from the trunk—an appropriately low-effort arrangement for a luxury truck.
The Disco provides a wonderfully cushioned ride around town thanks to its air suspension, though anyone unused to an off-road-oriented vehicle may find it bobbly at first. The suspension does display a few on-road party tricks, like kneeling each time you lean out the window to reach a parking-lot ticket dispenser. The camera array—designed to help you locate off-road obstacles and place the Disco on a trail—proved invaluable for parking this big, sixteen-foot brute in Los Angeles.
(A quick aside: We are quite aware that the suspension and cameras are not primarily designed to tackle the urban jungle. That said, our time with this Disco did not include a proper evaluation of its prowess off-road. Stay tuned for further reviews in which we do some proper wheeling with this Rover.)
Hit the highway, and the 355-hp straight-six will sing a cultured British tenor. Power is smooth once you’re on the move, much more so than it is in the outgoing V-6. Still, there’s a lot going on here between the turbocharger, supercharger, and 48-volt mild-hybrid system (a configuration very similar to Mercedes’), and the powertrain isn’t always especially responsive to sudden inputs at speed. In its default mode, the eight-speed automatic proved easily confused: In an attempt to answer my 20-year-old brother’s question of “is it fast,” I put pedal to floor on a highway on-ramp at roughly 30 mph. Seconds later, the gearbox looked up from its afternoon cuppa and summoned all 369 lb-ft of torque to shove us forward. Lack of sports-car responsiveness is forgivable here. But after lurching our way through the 405’s ever-present stop-and-go traffic, deactivating the over-active stop-start system via a few taps on the center screen became a sanity-preserving ritual. Luxury machines should not drive you crazy.
The Pivi Pro infotainment system, which runs on Blackberry software and arrives on the Discovery as of 2021, is, on the other hand, a worthy centerpiece of the cabin. Rendered in chic shades of beige, sea-green, white, and black, it defaults to a customizable three-tile display that is neither overwhelming nor distracting. If anything, the delicate glyphs and trim sans-serif fonts risk being too minimalist for a more traditional, straightforward audience, who may find them frustrating.
The native navigation system easily digests street addresses or names of businesses from voice prompts, and it does an excellent job directing with visual and audio cues—for once, I did not find myself wishing for the familiar instructions of Apple CarPlay. Toggle the screen to display navigation only, and it rewards you with a 3D display of the surrounding area—highly entertaining in an unfamiliar city. The sole complaint? The onboard directions often identify highways based on nearby cities rather than cardinal directions, which is mildly disorienting if you’re unfamiliar with, say, an entire state.
The 700W, two-channel Meridian surround-sound system is a must-have, and it feels like a treat even in a $73K vehicle. Its subwoofer is capable of migraine-inducing levels of bass—enough to satisfy a college sophomore’s collection of East Atlanta hiphop—but the forceful arsenal of 15 speakers also handles more delicate tracks with grace. No hissy trebles here.
The Disco may hail from a British line, but, especially on the street of a West Coast metropolis, it’s everything that Americans adore: an impractically large, luxurious SUV packed with high-end tech and slathered in off-road promise. Ironically, its strongest competitor is also an American. Jeep has recently rolled out not one but four new luxury-laden family haulers that are, like the Disco, happy to flaunt their air suspensions and two-speed transfer cases. The Disco’s biggest threat is the three-row Grand Cherokee L, whose top-shelf Summit Reserve trim comes standard with air suspension and, when equipped with the 357-horse Hemi V-8, caps out at $70,705. The only downside: Bystanders may confuse that all-American chariot of poshness with the pedestrian base model that costs 30 grand less. The Disco does not suffer from this malady.
(With a base price just under $70K, the newly resurrected Grand Wagoneer technically overlaps in price with the Disco, but that body-on-frame luxobarge is a better foil for the Escalade, Yukon, and Tahoe.)
For those who have cash to splash on a three-row family hauler, and who find the British luxury SUV schtick irresistible, the Disco is hard to beat. It has a distinctive style and genuine charm you won’t find in any of the three-row German rivals, with the added strength of legitimate off-road hardware. If the higher-ups at Jaguar Land Rover succeed in realizing their ambitious electrification dreams, this may well be the best that the combustion-powered Disco gets.
2021 Land Rover Discovery R-Dynamic S
Base price/as tested: $63,250 / $73,055
Highs: The badge on the hood, recognizable (if awkward) rear-end styling cues. Lovely interior starring an oh-so-chic infotainment system and a powerful stereo.
Lows: Said infotainment may be frustrating for those who predate the smartphone generation. Mild-hybrid system fails to make itself invisible.
Summary: This air-suspended, touchscreen-festooned urban swagger wagon takes Britain’s original ’90s “family vehicle” to luxurious heights.