2018 Land Rover Discovery Diesel Review: 3 Rows and 33 MPG in an All-Terrain Package

The more-utilitarian end of the Jaguar-Land Rover lineup saves both money and fuel over its fancy Range Rover brethren. 

Land Rover

Call it the best $2,000 you’ll ever spend at a Jaguar Land Rover dealership: The optional 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 in the Land Rover Discovery delivers mammoth mileage gains. And its torque-y ways are ideally suited to a four-wheeling, seven-passenger SUV.

Once again, the Environmental Protection Agency has given a diesel model ridiculously short shrift — a type of federal false advertising —when it comes to its real-world mileage. Where many gasoline cars and even hybrids struggle to match their EPA ratings, most diesel models surpass those numbers, especially on the highway. For the Discovery, the EPA bestows a total-bullshit rating of 21/26 miles per gallon for city/highway use. Even that represents about 25 percent less fuel consumption than gasoline Discos with their 340-horsepower, 3.0-liter supercharged V-6, which earn a thirsty estimate of 16/21 mpg. Still, Pruitt's numbers aren't even close to the Disco's real-life efforts: Simply maintaining a roughly 60-to-65 mile-per-hour pace, I saw a stellar 33-highway-mpg in the Discovery, beating its federal rating by more than 25 percent. I racked up 27 mpg overall—versus the feds’ meager 23-mpg combined rating—and I’m certain that a diesel-attuned owner could squeeze even better mileage out of this big baby.

Land Rover

Just when diesel was rehabilitating its image, Volkswagen went and blackened its reputation again, even among some Americans who couldn’t tell a diesel engine from a Tesla motor. But where Jaguar and Land Rover could have cut and run on their big plans to sell diesels in America, they’ve stayed the course, confident that their diesel models—fitted with diesel emissions fluid (DEF) tanks that neutralize smog-forming nitrogen oxides—won’t give Americans asthma attacks or get company executives fitted for stylish prison jumpsuits. (Actually, I wouldn’t mind seeing Gerry McGovern, Land Rover’s on-a-roll design director, work something in orange tweed). And bravo, I say—especially after enjoying the Discovery’s now-peerless blend of SUV economy, luxury, and capability.

This particular V-6 turbodiesel serves up 254 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of beefcake torque, ably served by an eight-speed automatic transmission. The 60-mph mark is broken in 7.7 seconds from a dead stop, keeping manageable pace with the 6.9 seconds of the gasoline-powered Discovery. As far as telltale diesel noise, there’s just a mild chugga-chugga at idle, which I only really noticed when standing outside the running truck. 

Even by diesel standards, however, this is one low-revving engine, with a redline of just 4,000 rpm. Despite the ostrich-sized torque number, a driver may notice a few beats of turbo lag, a languidness compounded by a curb weight of about 4,800 pounds—and that with an all-aluminum chassis. Get caught in the wrong side of the eight forward gears, and the Rover can feel momentarily mired and sluggish, especially in hectic city traffic. Still, once this steamship gets rolling from the dock, there’s ample grunt to sail past slowpokes on the highway. Tire grip is modest, and the body lists more in turns than in some sharper-tuned, full-size SUVs—a list that includes the remarkably well-sorted Chevy Traverse

Yet this family-scale Landie never gets flummoxed. It steers smoothly, rides serenely, and feels as solid and quiet as its far-pricier Range Rover cousin. It’s a very satisfying SUV to drive.

Land Rover

Some of my automotive colleagues insist on calling the Discovery ugly, but I strongly dispute that characterization. I mean, “ugly” compared to what, in terms of three-row SUVs? A Mercedes-Benz GL-Class? A Honda Pilot? I’ll allow that the Discovery is no fashion plate à la the Range Rover Velar, but aside from some chubbiness around the rear—not exactly uncommon among three-row utilities—I just don’t see anything bothersome about its stance, sheetmetal, or proportions. And while driving my Discovery—clad in a pretty shade called “Loire Blue”—around New York, several people complimented the Landie, reminisced about their old Discos (not always favorably), or said they were interested in buying one.

Yes, a Volvo XC90 is far prettier, inside and out. But the Volvo won’t look so pretty when it’s stuck in the mud: The Discovery earns my affection with four-wheeling skills that no like-priced luxury rival (meaning not a Jeep Grand Cherokee) can match. This thing will wade, crawl, surmount, climb, descend, or lean perilously sideways on steep slopes, aided by its Terrain Response 2 system and its magic rotary console button. 

The interior is sharp, too, in the sturdy fashion I always admired in previous iterations such as the LR4: Compared with a Range Rover, it’s posh without pretense, including materials that you wouldn’t mind dirtying up a little—but only a little. Finely shaped front chairs feature the throne-like position and pleasingly low windowsill that’s a Rover signature, along with the brand’s charming, adjustable inboard armrests.

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As for the seven-passenger capability, it's better described as five adults plus two children (or height-challenged grownups). With its knees-to-sky seating position, the third row isn’t the roomiest or the easiest to access, especially compared with the Volvo—or, among commoners, the VW Atlas. In one luxury-market consolation, dual sets of switches—one in the cargo area, the other inside the left-hand rear door—let you raise or lower any of the motorized second- or third-row seats. The cargo area is sizable (though with a high lift-over, due to the ample ground clearance), with extra storage below the hatch floor—plus Land Rover's signature fold-down tailgate for people who want to party out back or keep items within easy reach. 

Land Rover

For all the updates and revisions to Jaguar Land Rover’s infotainment systems, this one is still slow and often obtuse, though the navigation mapping and destination inputs are quite good. 

Land Rover

That annoyance was at least soothed by a Meridian audio system that filled all three rows with lovely, accurately-reproduced sound. And this particular Discovery HSE Luxury—already the show-dog model with a $68,485 base price—was stuffed to bursting with additional options: a suite of advanced driver assistance systems, 21-inch alloy wheels, massaging front seats, dark oak veneers, a head-up display, 360-degree cameras, a tow package, and more. 

My Disco tester reached a flashing-neon price of $81,395, but you don’t have to spend anything near that much for the basic goodness. A gasoline-powered Discovery SE starts from $53,085, and the diesel adds a very reasonable $2,000 to that, at $55,085. The Discovery HSE seems the sweet spot here, with the diesel version priced from $61,485 (and smartly equipped at that).

Land Rover

Since Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal, oil-burners of all types have been laid low: No more VWs, Audis, or Porsches, obviously, but also no more Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel, a model that also showed me 33 highway mpg when I tested it a few years back. Mercedes has quietly dropped its full-size GL and midsize GLE (née ML-Class) BlueTecs, offering a GLE550e plug-in hybrid instead. You can still get a BMW X5 35d, but that’s a smaller, different animal than this Landie, as is Chevy’s compact Equinox diesel. No, if you're searching for a full-size, three-row, off-roading SUV that can soar past 30 mpg on the highway, there's only one American route to that Discovery: You'll need to make peace with diesel. 

Land Rover Discovery SVX -- /CHEATSHEET
The Drive

Lawrence Ulrich, The Drive’s chief auto critic, is an award-winning auto journalist and former chief auto critic for The New York Times and Detroit Free Press. The Detroit native and Brooklyn gentrifier owns a troubled ’93 Mazda RX-7 R1, but may want to give it a good home. Email him at Lawrence@thedrive.com.