The Discovery has been a major success for Land Rover ?and Jaguar Land Rover as it now is. We鈥檝e become used to its boxy shape on our roads and byways over the last 28 years. With the fifth generation about to unleash its technological prowess upon us, it seemed a good time to get behind the wheel of each generation that has brought us to this point. Let鈥檚 meet the ancestors.

Back in 1989 the first Discovery drove itself neatly into the gap between the Defender and the Range Rover. There really wasn鈥檛 anything between the more agricultural Defender and the luxurious Range Rover. The Discovery filled that gap and then some, appealing to not only a core audience but also a lot of new buyers.

That first Discovery is probably going to start appreciating any time now. It鈥檚 easy to see why. It was straightforward and simple, certainly compared to current models. You sat high, in full command of all you surveyed, with acres of glass and thin pillars. You really did get a great view over the hedges and over the cars in front.

The ride is very comfy, floaty almost, which does mean that there鈥檚 some pitch in the corners and some diving under braking. But the 2.5-litre TDI engine did an honest if slightly raucous job, even if 111bhp was obviously not going to be enough for very long. It took a while before owners discovered the other Discovery drawback, which was rust, notably below in the chassis, but by then subsequent generations were upon us.

The Discovery TDi300 replaced the TDi200 and it did have more power. Just 2bhp more. Five years of waiting for 2bhp didn鈥檛 really seem worth it, even if the gearbox was much better. But the Discovery still delivered that serious off-road ability and it continued to sell.

It took until 1998 and the TD5 ?the Discovery S2 ?for power to start ramping up. At which point people reacted by complaining that the vehicle was now too dependent on electronics. Because, obviously, they weren鈥檛 going to use their Discovery for going to the shops and picking up the children from school, they were going use it to cross the Gobi Desert while staring steely-eyed over the horizon.

But the Discovery was a big, accommodating thing, based on the 100in Range Rover chassis and large enough to handle a third row of seats. It was getting bigger and the rear end was getting longer, with more overhang ?another thing which didn鈥檛 please the purists ?but it was hugely practical.

Less so when you add in the big V8 petrol engine in the vehicle we drove, but definitely capable and fun nonetheless. The V8 had 182bhp against the five-cylinder diesel鈥檚 136bhp, but they were both useful. Fuel consumption isn鈥檛 great off-road, but if you鈥檙e staring steely-eyed at far horizons, who cares?

The high-speed handling had been improved with Active Roll Control, which still allowed good articulation at low speeds, so it should have kept everyone happy. It did, when it worked.

The Discovery 3 that followed had a lot more tech. There was the independent air suspension all round, a sophisticated four-wheel drive system, a six-speed auto box and a whole lot more. The vehicle was bigger, with a 2.7-litre V6 diesel, and it felt and looked a major step change up from the Discovery 2.

The Discovery 4, brought in to appeal more to buyers in the USA, wasn鈥檛 such a big step but it did make the Discovery more mainstream, with, for example, that three-bar grille replaced by more conventional mesh. There was more luxury inside, a 3.0-litre V6 diesel under the bonnet and yet more technology.

Some owners may wince when you mention the air suspension or the electronic parking brake, but overall the current Discovery 4 is a fine iteration of the values inherent in that first model. Few vehicles have such a disconnect between what is asked of the Discovery and what it is capable of. You really can cross deserts in it ?try that in your soft-roader.

The Discovery has come a long way, picking up new owners with every generation. Now, with the fifth generation waiting in the wings, we鈥檒l see how it continues the family tradition. One thing is certain, technology will continue to play a major role in its operation, something owners of the first Discovery may just shrug their shoulders at as they continue down their muddy lane.