Land Rover's 2017 Discovery goes from the summit to the city in style

The problem with trying to showcase your four-wheel-drive skills in the crimson-coloured nothingness of the Northern Territory outback is that it is famously both very flat, and very dry.

It's hard to show off a car's mountain-climbing abilities when the only hills for miles have been built by ants, and boasting about water crossings counts for exactly peanuts when the dirt beneath your tyres is so dry it dissolves into choking dust at the slightest provocation.

And so Land Rover didn't just bring the four-wheel drives to the launch of its new 2017 Discovery, they bought the four-wheel driving, shipping water into the desert by the truckload to create temporary dams and hiring an army of small diggers to create a field of suspension-bothering mounds and moguls.

Why all this insane effort? Because image is everything in the straw-chewing world of "real" four-wheel drives, and this new Discovery's image has suddenly gone a bit soft, having swapped its Driza-Bone for a three-piece Hugo Boss suit in an effort to appeal to an audience more likely to visit a Montblanc store than climb Mount Kosciusko.

Your Disco needs you

This fifth-generation car now shares its important bits with the softer, road-going Range Rover Sport, for example, and it no longer looks like a pile of old fridges stacked awkwardly on top of each other (well, it still does a bit. But not as much). And it's more comfortable inside than ever before, too.

So Land Rover bosses were keen to show the world their new urban-focussed Disco can still get down and dirty when it matters. Which is why we find ourselves skimming over sand dunes and powering through standing water in the huge and impressive shadow of Uluru.

Watching this new Discovery clamber up and over these rich-red hills, the front wheels bent at impossible angles, makes about as much sense as watching someone summit Everest in an armchair. Something this comfortable shouldn't be this capable, and yet, through some combination of dark engineering wizardry, it is.

Sure, it's hotel suite-plush in the cabin, but it can also charge through water almost a metre deep. And it could go deeper, except that it would genuinely start to float away. It's wheels can bend 50cm in either direction, too, leaving them jutting out from the arches like a bad compound fracture when you climb over rocks or hard-pressed dirt.

But while the performance and capability of this two-tonne-plus monster is fascinating, it is the new technology stuff that really raise eyebrows.


Impressive extras

Some of it seems to make little sense (an app that allows you to configure the seats into 21 different positions from anywhere in the world, should you be in Paris when the mood strikes you, for example) but others are genuinely impressive, and will make day-to-day life with the Disco a treat.

You can opt for a waterproof wristband as a key so you can wear it surfing or swimming. And the seat back screens will stream content from phones or tablets so every passenger can watch something different. The car's mobile Wi-Fi hotspot will allow up to eight different devices to connect, too, so you don't even have to pre-load content.

They haven't just thought of the car's human passengers, either; the swollen option list even includes what Land Rover calls its "access mode" - a switch in the boot that drops the car 60mm on its air suspension like you've suddenly deflated a tyre, all so your four-legged friend can more easily leap into the boot.

From the summit to the city

But be warned, plenty of these appear on an option list so stacked with big numbers its like reading a menu for elective surgery (you can more than double the cost of the cheapest $65K S model by ticking some options, boosting the price to somewhere north of $130k without even trying).

It's diesel-only, the Disco, and arrives with a choice between two fuel-focussed four-cylinder engines or (our pick) a big and boisterous V6 that sends a healthy 600Nm of tyre-churning torque to all four tyres. And it can still be had with five or seven super-spacious seats, too.

And the good news is that all this planet-conquering four-wheel-drive stuff doesn't impact a city-side ride that's both quiet and comfortable.

So, if you're into smashing your way through river crossings, crawling over impossible boulders or summiting soaring sand dunes, you could get yourself a raw, uncomfortable 4WD. One that has no doors or roof and that will rattle the fillings free from your teeth on any road harsher than a down-filled pillow.

Or you could get think about the new Land Rover Discovery, which will do all of that and more. It's wearing a shiny new suit, sure. But there's still a Driza-Bone rolled up in the boot.