Try driving up a mountain, minus road. Cameron Officer discovers a Discovery breaking new ground.

Once in a while - or even more rarely - a product comes along that re-defines a market or market segment.

That's what the new model Land Rover Discovery does, principally through an enhanced off-road capability that mixes its deep reserves of practicality with a heightened sense of adventure and interior refinement and space, re-modelling thinking about premium SUVs.

Re-imagining a classic is no small thing. This is the fifth generation of the Discovery and, impressively, Jaguar Land Rover engineers have managed to ensure both sides of the premium SUV equation (off-roading plus luxury) have grown and developed in concert with each update.

That's not easy to pull off when you have loyal customers who use one attribute more than the other. The new Discovery manages the clever trick of sitting wholly apart from what has gone before, yet is still imbued with subtle nods that make it distinctly a Discovery.

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But, even given the external design and elegance of the cabin and appointments, it is the enhanced off-road muscle of this classic that gives the new model market-altering qualities.

That still defines the Discovery. Its off-road abilities link it indelibly to the go-anywhere heritage of Land Rover - but also drives the brand forward in the modern era.

In Land Rover's hands, off-roading has gotten very, very clever. It'll go up a mountain in a straight line without even pausing for breath.

It produces confidence-inspiring, effortless off-roading in some truly gnarly environments. While I'd like to take the credit for deftly traversing near-sheer rock faces and the softest sand I've ever attempted to place a tyre on, I can't. The Discovery did it.

It features an impressive arsenal of rough-stuff-conquering hardware and software, designed to be easy to engage and responsive when needed.

In addition to permanent four-wheel drive with low-range gearing and a locking differential, the updated Terrain Response 2 drive system monitors driving conditions in real-time and can shift through different modes for grass, gravel and snow, mud and ruts, or sand and rocks.

Through careful management of a number of parameters, such as throttle sensitivity and gear-change characteristics, the SUV essentially ensures it's always giving itself - and the driver - the best of its four-wheel drive abilities, regardless of the surfaces being driven across and how they change.

For steeper inclines, the impressive All-Terrain Progress Control (ATPC) is also available, autonomously maintaining a careful crawl at a suitable speed, chosen by the driver. The driver just has to concentrate on vehicle placement, rather than modulating acceleration and potentially giving the SUV too much - or too little - power for purpose.

The fifth-generation Land Rover Discovery was launched globally in Utah, with the 3-litre V6 diesel. Photo / Nick Dimbleby
The fifth-generation Land Rover Discovery was launched globally in Utah, with the 3-litre V6 diesel. Photo / Nick Dimbleby

There are plenty of design details that engender double-takes. The vehicle still features the signature 'stepped' roof line, albeit more subtle these days. Other nods to the nameplate's lineage include the large boot lid and the glass area at the rear of the SUV.

At 4.9m long and over two metres wide, the Discovery feels big and solidly planted to the road - but weighs 480kg less than its predecessor.

Maximum braked towing capacity is class-leading at 3500kg. Towing is less stressful with the new Advanced Tow Assist function. Many Discovery owners use their SUV to tow boats, horse floats and large trailers - so the engineers came up with a system which takes care of counter-steering and helps the driver guide their trailer into the desired space by using the rotary controller for the Terrain Response 2 system and the reversing camera's moving guidance lines.

The Discovery is designed with adventuring in mind and boasts impressive 34-degree approach and 30-degree departure angles. Thanks to a height-adjustable suspension system which can vary body height automatically (ground clearance is up by 43mm over the last model), it also boasts a wading depth of up to 900mm. That's up to the headlights and probably beyond the comfort level of many drivers.

Inside, it's all about premium finishes, convenience technology and lots of space. The Discovery is designed to house seven adults without a struggle (as a six-footer, I found a third row seating position perfectly comfortable). Everything you touch - whether it's leather, metal or wooden inlay - feels top-notch and authentic.

Front and centre is a massive 18cm touchscreen, which houses the InControl Touch Pro infotainment system. An app allows the driver to check on vehicle status, lock or unlock it remotely, plan a navigational route on a smartphone and set climate control to suit outside temperatures - before the drive home even begins.

Even the seating can be configured from your phone; the Discovery's Intelligent Seat Fold system lets the driver access 20 different seating plans, depending on what you're transporting, or how many kids need to be kept separate for that road trip.

The Land Rover Discovery pushes things ahead in a vibrant segment of the market. There is plenty of choice in the premium SUV space these days.

But, quite honestly, there is nothing like this.

*Not all features available in New Zealand; contact dealer for more details or go to www.landrover.co.nz for more information