Change is inevitable, and modernisation tailored to fulfill current trends – and wants of a buying public – necessary to ensure the continued success of a nameplate. Such is the case with the Land Rover Discovery, in its current form a very different beast than what it was when it first came to be.

The first Disco of the early ‘90s was a response to emerging SUV competitors from the East, a stripped down variation of the Range Rover and engineered to be cost-effective as such, cobbled together with a variety of parts from other Rover Group offerings of that time.

The ability to seat seven through optional jump seats at the rear may have given it added dimensionality, but what set it on the road to success was its character – its rough-edged, workhorse-like leanings had plenty of appeal, as sales showed. The second-gen continued the pattern, and while the third and fourth iterations became subsequently more polished, the general ethos remained.

Enter version number five, and it’s a whole new take on an old name. The new seven-seater represents a departure on so many fronts from the earlier representations of the type it’s more revolution than evolution, engineering and intent-wise, as a drive in it – over a variety of terrain types – in the United States revealed.

Previewed by the Discovery Vision Concept in 2014, the fifth-gen L462 made its debut in September 2016. Measuring in at 4,970 mm long, 2,220 mm wide (mirrors out) and 1,846 mm tall, with a 2,923 mm-long wheelbase, the new SUV now sits on an unibody as opposed to the body-on-frame layout of its predecessors.

It’s also much lighter than the car it replaces – the application of lightweight and durable aluminium monocoque architecture on the new Disco takes 480 kg off the kerb weight, which is not inconsequential.

Design-wise, the signature stepped roofline – which frees up more headroom for third row occupants – and the prominent C-pillar familiar to Disco aficionados have been retained, but the overall presentation of the exterior has been given a modernised interpretation.

The new skin, scoped to the current family look, cuts a sleeker, more dynamic shape coming in from the fourth-gen, though that new rear is quite open to debate – despite the switch to a curvier outlook, the end result is an oddly clunky-looking tail, especially from dead-on centre. Age, and more viewing, might temper that for some.

Looks aside, the customary stadium seating configuration, which sees each row of seats positioned higher than the one in front, has also been kept. The automaker says that the new car can take seven full-sized adults, as opposed to offering a 5+2 layout, with the third-row seats designed for 95th percentile adults to sit comfortably in.

Numbers are use to tout many bits on the new Disco. With all seven seats up, there is 258 litres of boot space available, which doesn’t sound like much, but in a more usual five-seat configuration the volume swells to 1,137 litres, and with both second- and third-row seats folded, goes up to 2,406 litres (for the seven-seater variant). As for interior storage, 44.9 litres of stowage is available to house occupants’ essentials, and the hidden centre console area can store four iPads, if needed.

The Disco comes equipped with an Intelligent Seat Fold system, which allows reconfiguring of the second- and third-row seats remotely via a smartphone app on top of controls at the rear of the vehicle as well as via the central 10-inch touchscreen as part of the InControl Touch Pro service suite. Both rows of seats can be folded flat in 14 seconds.

There’s also auto access height, which reduces the ride height by up to 40 mm to aid entry and exit from the car, as well as a new dual-purpose powered inner tailgate. When deployed, the 285 mm long tailgate can serve as impromptu event seating and is able to support a maximum load of 300 kg, or the weight of three adults.

Other mod cons include a host of connectivity options. Depending on specification, the Disco can feature up to nine USB ports as well as six 12V charging points, and an on-board Wi-Fi hotspot offers the ability to connect up to eight devices to a network.

The new car continues the Disco’s go-anywhere ability, and improves on that found before. The fifth-gen has a maximum wading depth of 900 mm (200 mm more than the fourth-gen) and a ground clearance of 283 mm (up by 43 mm). Other relevant off-road-related numbers are a wheel articulation of 500 mm, an approach angle of 34 degrees, departure angle of 30 degrees and a 27.5 degree breakover angle.

Tech elements are led by the company’s multi-mode Terrain Response 2 system, which offers modes for just about everything you can think of, with general driving, grass, gravel and snow, mud and ruts, sand and rock crawl on the list.

There’s a choice of two full-time four-wheel drive systems, a single-speed transfer box with a Torsen differential or a twin-speed transfer box with selectable high and low range gears. The latter provides a 50/50 split between front/rear wheels, but the torque can be distributed depending on conditions. It also has shift-on-the-move capability at speeds of up to 60 km/h.

Also on, an all-terrain progress control (ATPC) system, which allows the driver to set a suitable crawl speed ranging from two km/h up to 30 km/h, allowing him to concentrate solely on steering the vehicle. It can also be used from a standstill to help one pull away on slippery surfaces.

The SUV comes equipped with an electronically-controlled air suspension, which offers a few height operation modes in relation to the drive programme. A two-stage off-road mode automatically varies between two ride heights of +40 mm (at speeds of up to 50 km/h) and +75 mm (from 50 to 80 km/h), while a speed lowering function cuts drag and enhances fuel economy by automatically reducing the ride height by 13 mm at cruising speeds above 105 km/h.

No shortage of safety, with five Isofix points over the three rows of seats and 12 items grouped under the Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) suite of safety items being some of the kit on that list. The latter includes lane keep assist, intelligent speed limiter, traffic sign recognition and blind spot monitor/assist as well as adaptive cruise control, which incorporate queue assist and advanced emergency brake assist in its workings.

Equipment includes LED headlamps and signature hi-line tail lights, automatic high beam assist, a four-zone climate control system, paddle shifters, a surround camera system and a fixed panoramic roof, all of which are found on the MY-spec vehicle.

Powertrain choices for the new Disco consist of four Jaguar Land Rover mills. Diesel is well represented, making up three of the available quartet. Two of these are 2.0 litre twin-turbo Ingenium four-pots, running different output tunes. The baseline unit is a Td4 with 180 PS and 430 Nm, the other a Sd4 having 240 PS and 500 Nm.

The other oil burner is the familiar Td6, the 3.0 litre turbocharged V6 offering 258 PS at 3,750 rpm and 600 Nm at 1,750 to 2,250 rpm. The unit, which features a two-stage oil pump, low-pressure exhaust recirculation and a revised fuel-injector nozzle for improved response and efficiency, is good to propel the variant to 100 km/h from standstill in 8.1 seconds, all the way to a 209 km/h top speed.

The solitary petrol engine is a supercharged 3.0 litre V6, the Si6 having 340 PS at 6,500 rpm and 450 Nm from 3,500 to 5,000 rpm in the way of output figure. Performance-wise, it’s a second faster than the Td6, doing the 0-100 km/h run in 7.1 seconds. Maximum speed is also a bit faster at 215 km/h.

All engine options are paired with a ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox, the Td4 and Si6 featuring a 8HP45 while the Sd4 and Td6 is equipped with a 8HP70, which has a higher torque – and power – handling capability.

The US drive, done primarily in Utah with excursions into Arizona, was done with Si6 and Td6 variants, the derivatives that were expected to be sold here. It has since turned out that only the diesel has made its way in, with Jaguar Land Rover Malaysia citing that with the expected pricing, it would have been difficult for the petrol to shift.

It’s a shame the Si6 isn’t coming, because it is the neater of the two powertrains. The diesel may have better pull, but that tractability is more suited to unhurried runs. Once you get past the initial surge, the pace starts to drop off, and the petrol has the upper hand in terms of refinement and energy, especially from the mid-band on.

The oil burner has a languid feel about it, and it becomes obvious soon enough that attempting to lug 2.2 tonnes along quickly isn’t its forte. The petrol moves the SUV along better, but the bulk is inescapable. If it’s pure rapid progress you’re looking for, then seven-seat competitors such as the Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90 are quicker propositions.

This carries over to the handling. It’s tauter and more precise than the previous gen in how it drives and tracks, but its composure is tested when you attempt to wring hard corners out of it. It’s not Range Rover Sport territory, but the RRS doesn’t have the same level of compliance, so it’s a case of how you like your driving pitched.

It’s with the ride that the Discovery shows off its best wares. Cosseting best describes it, the damping of the electronically-controlled air suspension ably soaking up road imperfections without being wallowy.

Based on that gleaned from the drive, it looks like very little will ruffle the Disco from a ride and comfort viewpoint, though it remains to be seen how well the suspension manages under local conditions. After all, US interstates may be dynamically boring from a driving perspective, but such is how it is structured that there’s very little issue with how it impacts primary ride.

Comfort across the seat rows attest to that. The front units fared very well, and the second-row is also nicely sorted, with occupants having very little to complain in terms of head and leg-room.

As for the rear-most seats, a short stint of around 20 km revealed very serviceable levels of comfort for an adult occupant. Spatial amplitude and leg-room is adequate, and judging from that sampled, looks to be workable up to intermediate length drives. In-cabin NVH levels are good, with only noise intrusion from the tyres taking some gloss off what is otherwise a quiet interior.

A quick note about the motorised seat-folding function. Operational aspects are intuitive and execution is smooth and rapid, and it really is a handy addition if you’re the sort that needs to tinker with seating configurations on a regular basis.

The approach of the electrically-assisted steering complements the general delivery, with the rack decoupling road imperfections from the driver in excellent fashion. The downside is that it makes the steering feel wooly and sometimes vague, noticeably when dead-centre. On long, endlessly straight highway runs, both my co-driver and I noted that a fair bit of steering input was needed to keep the Disco true on course.

For those looking at this one keenly, the cementing of the deal comes with its ability to handle beyond the tarmac. The drive served up not just a variety of tough road-going conditions (snow and ice as well as gravel) but a heavy sampling of off-road coursework as well.

The Disco ably ticked the boxes off without as much as a sneeze. It made short shrift of the ridiculously rocky terrain it was supposed to navigate, and was unfazed by the number of incredibly challenging sandstone mounds it was subjected to at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes in Kanab, coming up short only when driver input failed to match its abilities. Indeed, such is its off-road prowess that it’s not just perched well ahead of its rivals, but also anything else the brand has in its inventory in series form right now.

From behind the wheel, it won’t take very long or very far to come to the realisation that the new Land Rover Discovery is a very different creature than its predecessors, even if the intent remains the same. The fifth-gen continues to seat seven, but now with far more finesse and in greater comfort, while its road-going manners have vastly improved, as has its off-road capabilities.

All-round versatility is the name of the game with this one, which should find much appeal with higher-end family-oriented buyers (though perhaps not here, given the pricing). Even as purists and fans of the old lament on the shift in perspective, the reality is this – change is inevitable, even for an icon. In this case, one cannot argue that it is definitely for the better.