Swish new Land Rover Discovery just loves getting down and dirty.
Not a piece of tarmac in sight.
Given that those behind the wheels of Land Rover's new fifth-generation Discovery will spend the vast majority of their time in leafy well-heeled suburbs and on sealed roads, the unusual thing about the vehicle's New Zealand media launch was that none of the day was spent on tarmac.
Not a minute. Journalists were ferried by bus from Wellington airport to the event venue at Boomrock, atop the cliffs 230m above Cook Strait. Then, after several hours four-wheel driving the Land Rovers through surrounding Papanui Station, the writers were ferried by bus back to the airport.
So, none of the media launch time was spent driving the Discovery in the actual environment this new premium SUV will live most of its life. But we of the motoring media were happy with that - because the new Disco offers so much more than will ever be discovered when driven on the seal.
This Discovery, which goes on sale here in July, is a seriously capable SUV. It is built on Jaguar Land Rover's new aluminium monocoque platform which contributes to a weight saving of up to 260kg over the previous D4 models and powered by 3-litre turbocharged V6 diesel or supercharged V6 petrol engines. When it is all combined with a wealth of all-terrain electronic aids it turned on an impressive display of off-roading prowess at Boomrock.
It was all so easy. The Land Rover's standard fully independent air suspension offers up to 283mm ground clearance (up 43mm on the previous model), it has very good approach, breakover and departure angles, 500mm of wheel articulation, and a 900mm wading depth (up 200mm).
So it was simply a matter of setting the vehicle's Terrain Response 2 system for driving on grass, gravel or rocks, punching the All-Terrain Progress Control, which is essentially a crawl-speed cruise control for steep climbs and descents, and selecting Low Range which uses a much lower gear ratio and locks the differential.
And then it was off - up very steep hills, down very steep grades, taking on hillside "sliders" at scary angles, crawling up some substantial banks, and wading through rather deep water. All we had to do was steer the thing. The Discovery simply handled everything else. Truth be told, it got nowhere near the limits of its off-road capability.
But that's the thing about big modern-day SUVs such as this. They are so chock-full of technology that, in most cases, their owners will probably never get to use it all. But it's all there, and it's available to be used to whatever level the person behind the wheel requires. And that's what makes the Land Rover Discovery such an impressive vehicle.
So maybe it's better to look at what the new Discovery will offer Mr and Mrs average SUV owner.
In a word, lots. The new model is 141mm longer than the previous edition, and the fact it is 36mm lower tells us it is more streamlined than before. The overall look is instantly recognisable though, thanks to continuation of such visual clues as a stepped roofline and distinctive C-pillar design.
The vehicle's extra length has freed up sufficient interior room for it to be a full seven-seater - all of them heated - with the third row of seats the same size as the second row, offering enough leg room for 95th percentile adults to sit in that back row. In other words, big people.
Both of those third-row seats also have ISOFIX mounting points - making five in total for the vehicle, across all three rows - so families can have the freedom to put child seats almost anywhere. And to make it easier to load and unload the kids, or just to get in and out yourself, the Disco's air suspension can drop the ride height by 40mm.
If both rear rows of seats are folded down, it opens up an enormous 2500 litres of load space, and even if the middle row remains upright there's still a golf clubs-swallowing 1231 litres of cargo room there. There are also 44.9 litres of cubby space inside the vehicle for the stowage of minor items.
Talking of folding the seats up and down, with this new Disco it can all be done remotely by using a smartphone app, or via a touchscreen at the front. The rear tailgate can be automatically opened with a sweep of the foot, and on the inside there's a powered inner tailgate that, when up, helps hold items such as groceries in place and, when down, can be used as a seat that can support three adults.
This vehicle really does rate as the king of seating and storage versatility. Just as impressive is the Discovery's InControl Touch Pro infotainment system, which features a large touch screen of up to 10 inches in size in the HSE and HSE Luxury models. It's capable of doing all sorts of things - including, for example, advising not only the location of the nearest service stations, but also what they are charging for the fuel.
The new Discovery features up to six 12V charging points, and as many as seven USB sockets, and it can operate as a WiFi hotspot for up to eight devices.
Obviously we can't tell you anything about the new Land Rover's on-road capabilities. But it is obvious that the very fact the vehicle is lighter than before will mean ride and handling have been improved. It's towing capacity is now 3500 kg.
Jaguar Land Rover New Zealand says the most popular Discovery models will be the Td6 versions, powered by a 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel that develops 190kW of power and 600 Nm of torque from 1750 rpm. Meanwhile, the Si6 model, powered by a 3.0-litre supercharged petrol engine, will offers 250kW of power and 450Nm of torque.
Pricing for the diesel and petrol models is the same. The range starts with the SE at $114,900, moves up to the HSE at $126,990, and onwards to the HSE Luxury at $136,900. All these prices are very competitive when compared to what JLR sees as the model's main competitors, the Audi Q7 and the Volvo XC90.
Product manager Michael Jones is forecasting up to 300 sales in the new Discovery's first year, with many of these buyers existing Disco owners.
"But we see a lot of conquest too. It'll be a blend of moving up from the existing Discovery, and from other product," he says.