Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept: The 4x4 of tomorrow

After 25 years of the Discovery, Land Rover has started to look to the future as to what is possible for the iconic 4x4 that you see ferrying around everything, from a pack of dogs to a gaggle of children on the school run.

To highlight that vision, Land Rover has created the Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept, which attempts to answer many of the "where next" questions before fully committing to building and selling something.

With a design that has been refined rather than dramatically altered over the last 25 years, creating something new yet familiar is a hard job, explained Richard Woolley, studio director at Land Rover Design, as we drove through Great Windsor Park on route to see the new concept at the Royal Windsor Horse Show. We were suitably transported in an array of old Discovery models, including the first one off the production line.

Rather than on board the USS Intrepid on the Hudson river next to a Virgin Galactic spaceship - as was the case in the US - Jaguar Land Rover opted for a low key launch event in the UK, at the Royal Windsor Horse Show, a favourite of the Royal Family.

The new Discovery concept sits comfortably amongst a bevy of Range Rovers, Evoques and current Discovery models allowing us to see clearly that it's all part of the same family, that it has its roots steeped in heritage, a heritage Land Rover are only too keen to reference, by insisting that we drive all of the vehicles released so far. Admittedly, that's no great hardship.

As you can imagine, the technology used in the concept is lightyears ahead of the simple pulleys and levers found in some of the first models to come out of Land Rover in the 1990s.

The new concept still keeps the stepped roof to allow for a full headroom in the third row rear seats, but it's a lot more subtle.

The door handles have been hidden, it's still got seven seats in a stadium seating arrangement, but a rail system now allows for a limousine configuration that lets you fold the middle seats out of the way.

"It's a looking glass concept into the future," details Woolley as he goes through some of the more intricate parts of the design philosophy. "You buy a Range Rover as a personal choice, but you buy a Land Rover for you and your family. That's the important difference between the two."

That important difference has lead to the creation of a car that is proportionally very similar to what the Discovery offers now.

The Vision Concept is only 25mm longer than the current Discovery but comes with a number of changes inside and out including laser headlights, a new rounded front face (it looks like it is frowning compared to the BMW Mini happy front grill configuration) and an innovative back tailgate that ditches the two fold door system, but still offers a slide out seating area and stand for those that like to use the back for watching that all important Polo game. Or counting sheep.

"The Vision Concept still has that distinctive silhouette. It's moved on a lot from current range, but it still harks back to the popular range that we know," affirms Woolley.

That's true. Land Rover has managed to fit in more windows in the rear so the third row doesn't feel like an afterthought, and there is no central pillar allowing the doors to open symmetrically creating a huge open space that instantly delivers an airy experience.

The roof is mostly glass, although those worried that it will be like sitting in a greenhouse shouldn't be. The Vision Concept features Variable Transmission Glazing that can be dimmed at a moment's notice.

Although not working on the Vision Concept we looked at, Land Rover says that it does work. We suspect that it will be similar to the technology that we've already experienced in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner that had dimmer-enabled windows rather than blinds.

Where it will take things to another level however, is that Land Rover has enabled this dimming technology to be executed not by a button, but by a hand gesture. Wave your hand in the air in a certain way and you'll shut out the light.

It is not the only thing that will possibly be controlled by gesture in the future either. Land Rover says that the Vision Concept also allows you to use gestures to open or shut the door and turn on left and right indicators with a swipe of your hand if that's your thing, but acknowledges all these gestures could drive you crazy if they aren't implemented correctly or humanistically.

Whether these features will make it into a final production model remains to be seen, manufacturers from camera to games companies are experimenting with gesture control with mixed results, but it shows that Land Rover are trying new control mechanisms to help them reduce the number of buttons in the car, something that again it has clearly achieved here with the Vision Concept.

But it's not just about filling the car with screens, gesture and even eye controls, but being Land Rover the 4x4 needs to perform in a variety of climates and environments, rather than just helping you get to the office on a Monday morning. For this, Land Rover says it has turned to a growing number of engineers on its books.

"It isn't little old Land Rover anymore. We have over 375 engineers now and are real pushing them to create new technology and new opportunities," explains Dai Jones, Jaguar Land Rover's senior research manager across both groups and also involved in the project. "We have strong partnerships with people like MIT in Boston and Warwick University in the UK."

Those engineers are working on a single goal, something Jones calls Peerless, effortless, all terrain.

"Autonomous driving will come, but some customers still want to engage with the vehicle."

For those that don't, the Vision Concept features lasers built into the headlights that can look at the terrain in front of the car and work out the best route or scan under water to make sure you aren't about to hit a large rock, or as Jones likes to suggest is more likely the case "a supermarket trolley." 

Using this and a series of other technologies the car will then be able to assist you in your driving rather than completely take over.

A lot of the technology does sound pie in the sky at times, and without the car being on, we have to give Land Rover the benefit of the doubt, but both Jones and Woolley repeatedly told Pocket-lint that all the technological marvels they have outlined do work, but acknowledge that finding the sweetspot between "can do" and "can afford to do" are still being ironed out.

Concept cars are always designed to be an aspirational moment, to give you something you can stick in the sand and aim towards, while enjoying the chance to woo the crowds at the same time. The Discovery Vision Concept feels very much like that. 

Land Rover are coy about whether this is the next Discovery it will release, or merely just a way of teasing us without having to commit to much before the launch the next model, with its square lines and plethora of buttons. But with the promise of $5.7bn in R&D funding in the future, and ideas that make driving anywhere in the world more comfortable, we would happily say yes please if Land Rover wanted to drop a Discovery Vision Concept off at Pocket-lint towers.