I’m plummeting down the side of a damp sand dune so steep, I fear I’ll fall through the windshield of the 2017 Land Rover Discovery HSE Luxury SUV I’m driving. The sense of impending calamity is fleeting, however, because the car engages the hill descent control and gently brings me to the bottom. Before I can take a breath, I’m already flooring the accelerator to gather enough power and momentum from the supercharged V-6 engine to carry me up the face of another sand dune.
I’m winding my way across the Coral Pink Sand Dunes in southern Utah near the Arizona border miles from any major destination. The Discovery is proving itself to be extremely capable off-road as I take on dirt trails marred by snow and mud and crawl over massive rocks: It helps to have the car’s Terrain Response® 2 selector, which primes the vehicle is for each type of surface condition I encounter. But perhaps the coolest thing is that I don’t have to be an off-road guru: The Discovery automatically monitors surface conditions and conducts itself accordingly (the car can act on its own only after the driver engages the control once). Even more impressive is a feature called All Terrain Progress Control, which is like cruise control for very slow going. I use it to drive up and over some rocky terrain and it is an impressive partner, controlling engine and braking functions while I focus on steering.
This kind of capability is all the more remarkable in a vehicle that bills itself as a family-oriented people mover, thanks in large measure to a comfortable third row that gives the Discovery a seating capacity of seven. There are lots of storage compartments, seven USB ports (nine if you opt for the rear seat entertainment package), six 12-volt charging ports, and Wi-Fi. The Discovery also has its own cellphone app so you can do very handy things like plan a route in advance and then download into the vehicle’s navigation system. Plus, the new one-piece tailgate makes cargo loading easy.
I’m off the dunes now and comfortably driving on a paved road across the bottom of a vanished ocean that disappeared millions of years ago, with vermillion cliffs in the distance like the ragged outline of a towering shoreline. The wind has sculpted the surrounding scenery to a large extent, as it has helped determine the aerodynamic lines of the Discovery—albeit in a Land Rover built wind tunnel back at the factory. But I’m feeling a certain kinship between the vehicle and the land.
My next destination is remote hideaway Amangiri and it appears I have a lovely, scenic drive ahead of me. But should the road end unexpectedly before I get there—I know not to worry.
$82,100 as driven; landroverusa.com.