TopGear.com is currently sitting on the deck of a US aircraft carrier, the USS Intrepid, there's a Virgin Galactic spaceship about 20ft away, not to mention a Lockheed SR-71, a Concorde and a bloody Space Shuttle (Intrepid is an amazing floating aviation museum these days.) Plus, we've just been treated to a spectacular laser show, as if the Manhattan skyline wasn't a crazy enough backdrop. Sci-fi and showbiz: and all to usher in a Land Rover concept.
It wasn't all smoke and mirrors, either. Yes, the Disco Vision trails what LR calls a “future Discovery family” – including an all-new smaller Discovery Sport to replace the Freelander – but the other big news in this mission statement is that Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) as a whole wants the world to know what a humungous technology player it now is. JLR is UK PLC's biggest R&D investor – £3.5bn this year alone –which is partly why it's also a good fit as the first partner for Sir Dickie Branson's long-gestating commercial space-liner odyssey. We'll get back to you with more details on that...
Anyway, back to the car. The Vision concept might feature seven full-size seats and a remarkably versatile cabin, but that's just the start. Among the innovations showcased include an autonomous drive feature, gesture control, smart glass, new age Terrain Response with laser scanning capability, and a head-up display that extends as far as a transparent bonnet.
The Vision concept also sees the first outing for the company's latest HMI – Human Machine Interface – thinking, which sets new standards for connectivity while aiming to minimise driver distraction. “We believe the next 25 years will be the most exciting and dynamic the car industry has ever experienced. The [Discovery Vision Concept] scopes out the technologies we'll see emerging in that time,” JLR's research and technology director Dr Wolfgang Epple says.
The current Disco is arguably the world's most capable all-rounder, but its chunky design was more of a hit in the design community than it was with punters. The stepped roof, clamshell bonnet, alpine lights and command driving position are all intact, but design boss Gerry McGovern and his team clearly couldn't resist importing some Range Rover cues. Jewel-like headlights use LEDs and lasers, and there are bespoke Pirellis wrapped around enormous 23in alloy wheels. The concept has rear-hinged “coach doors”, opening onto a vast and vastly impressive interior. Gesture control has done away with conventional handles.
Inside, there are seven endlessly configurable full-size seats, four of which have 10in hi-res screens set into them, and detachable luggage is integrated into the doors. A techy new water- and oil-repellent leather called Foglizzo H20w is used inside, and accessories include blankets and cushions trimmed in Harris tweed. In the concept, the third-row seats are differently trimmed to create a “personalised ambience”.
The current Disco's signature dual tailgate is now a single-piece item, but an under-floor “social seat” can be mobilised for whatever social activity floats your boat. Safe to say that wrangling a sheep on a desolate Yorkshire moor is no longer in the Disco's remit.
The next Disco will use the current Range Rover's aluminium architecture, but details on that and the engine range are still under wraps. Instead, Land Rover is all over the next wave of in-car tech, which will amuse anyone who's grappled with the current car's shonky sat nav. The Vision concept's stunning instrument display is cradled by a lightweight aerofoil top structure, there are two hi-res touchscreens and two rotary controls, one for the gearshift, the other for Terrain Response. This second one can be detached to operate what LR calls Remote Control Drive.
Even the steering wheel has a pair of tiny touchscreens to operate the infotainment, and gesture control means that column stalks have gone to the same retirement home as the exterior door handles. The quality and execution of the interior is spectacular, a feat matched only by Land Rover's intense ambition.
A version of this story originally appeared on TopGear.com.