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The design goal for the Discovery 3 was simple. To produce a modern vehicle that offered maximum cabin space and versatility, and would be instantly recognisable as a Land Rover.

Land Rover Discovery 2005

According to Land Rover’s design director Geoff Upex: “The Discovery 3 is a vehicle derived from its purpose. Everything you see, has been done for a reason. It is functional design, not decoration.

“The vehicle is designed from the inside out. The Discovery 3 had to be great for passengers and the driver. It had to have a Command driving position, for better visibility and safety. It had to have rear ‘stadium seating’ for superb passenger visibility. This vehicle can take you almost anywhere, so it’s important to enjoy the view.”

Upex describes it as product design, rather than car styling. “Car styling dates quickly. Look at old movies, and more than anything else, the cars date them. But truly functional design does not date.”

Upex also describes the Discovery 3 as ‘a work of conviction’. “We were very single-minded in what we wanted. Look at an early sketch of the Discovery 3, and the design has not changed. That is always a sign of good design.”

Although modern and clearly 21st century, the Discovery 3 is true to Land Rover heritage. It is very geometric, very clean sided, like the original 1948 Land Rover (which evolved into the current Defender).

“Land Rover design is all about clean lines, simple and contemporary surfaces,” says Upex. “Straight, geometric styling does not date, and gives visibility advantages, especially for off-roading and parking.”

The iconic Discovery stepped roof provides airiness and space, increasing passenger headroom and comfort. This is a key reason why even the rear-most seats, in the seven-seat version, are generous enough for 95th percentile adults. The high roof and wide doors help cabin egress and ingress too. Other time-honoured Land Rover features are also retained, including the clamshell bonnet and the short front overhang (which helps ground clearance when off road).

Two design details on the Discovery 3 that have aroused particular comment are the asymmetric tailgate and the lack of a side styling ‘line’ through the doors.

The tailgate is a two-piece design, as on the Range Rover, rather than a large outward-opening door, as on previous Discovery models. There are major practical benefits to the new asymmetric shape. First, when the upper part of the tailgate is raised, the asymmetrically shaped lower lid reduces load height into the boot. When both upper and lower halves are opened, the asymmetric shape reduces ‘reach in’ distance. Unlike earlier Discovery’s, the spare wheel is now mounted under the body, rather than on the rear door.

The lack of a side styling line is simply explained. It is superfluous and was rejected.

“It was an area of comment in preview clinics with potential customers,” says Upex. “Most cars have side styling lines, so people expect them. But we found the more people looked at, and became familiar with, the Discovery 3, the more they liked it and ‘got it’. There was similar comment about the car only having one side air intake. ‘Why not two?’ people asked. Simple – it only needs one. So it only has one.”

“It is a clean, simple, minimalist shape,” says Upex. “That is not only appropriate for a new Land Rover, it also ensures a fresh look for many years. Simple, minimal design invariably lasts well.”

As part of the design exercise in shaping the Discovery 3, Land Rover designers looked at many products thought to be timeless. One was Health House, a home in Los Angeles designed by Richard Neutra, a pupil of Frank Lloyd Wright. It is timeless and elegant – and could have been designed in the 1990s. In fact it was designed in the 1920s.

“We were lucky in being able to look much closer to home, too,” says Upex. “The Land Rover Defender, still a style icon, has a basic shape that goes back to 1948. The first Range Rover of 1970 set a design language that unashamedly continues with the latest Range Rover.”

Upex is confident that the latest Discovery 3 will go down as a Land Rover design classic, too.

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