A few months ago I had a good look around the all-new Land Rover Discovery at Marshall Land Rover of Cambridge and as impressive as the car was, it didn’t look like a Discovery. I know it has some respectful nods to the now iconic form of it’s previous incarnates and I know that the Discovery 4 was now starting to look whiter dated, but it just didn’t give me the impression that this was the next model in a line of pioneering all terrain vehicles. Now I am not saying the car looks bad, in fact I think the complete opposite. I love its new streamlined figure and that front end is just magnificent. It just isn’t a Discovery.
I said at the time I wouldn’t give a real verdict of the car until I had driven it, as, like everything else coming out of the JLR factory these days, I knew it would be a lot more than just a pretty face.
Last Thursday I finally got to test the 5th generation of the mighty Discovery. And to make it even better, I got to drive two! I had the pleasure of taking the 3.0 TD6 model off road at Millbrook Proving Ground’s purpose built off road course, and then I got to put the new 2.0 SD4 through its paces on the demanding Alpine Circuit.
I started off going straight into the mucky stuff with the 3.0 and I must say, any reservations I had about this vehicle just flew out the window. The Discovery 3/4 was a great off road car straight out of the box. You could drop out from a helicopter anywhere in the world on the factory tyres and you would probably find your way home safely. That was one of the great things about it, it was a fantastic piece of engineering that made everyone an off road hero – but the new Discovery does all that but manages to make it a million times easier! With a lot of the old tech used and upgraded along with a whole load of new settings paired with its recent 500kg weight loss, this really can go anywhere and everywhere. As mentioned, the weight loss is instantly noticeable, as you try and force the truck up steep hills you no longer feel like the weight of the car is an issue. There is just so much grip from the standard Pirelli tyres. Having driven all of the previous Discoveries over the years, the other thing you notice straight away is the steering. It isn’t so light that you feel you don’t have any control, but at the same time it’s not like trying to manouva a cruise liner round a 90 degree turn like the others does.
Inside the cabin it feels nice and calm as we whack the Hill Decent Control on and hang over the edge of what looks like an impossibly steep downward slope from the drivers seat. The position of all the controls is nice and clear and the visibility over the bonnet is great. It wasn’t an issue in the old models, but it’s just a bit better now and the slightly raised centre console gives you a kind of arm-chair explorer feel but that doesn’t seem to take any of the joy away, which is good. One thing I am on the fence about still is the sheer amount of drivers aids available now. If you put the Discovery’s Terrain Response 2 setting into Auto and then set the All Terrain Progress Control (ATPC) to, say, 5mph, the car will literally drive itself up a mountain. All you have to do is steer… Don’t get me wrong, this is an amazing feature that I played with a lot and obviously you do have the option to not use it, but it still feels a bit like I am cheating at this. I first experienced this in a similar format in the new Jaguar F-Pace and I thought it was brilliant, and I think it’s brilliant in the Range Rover Vogue, but the Discovery is meant to be for farmers, explorers, proper die hard off-roaders and so on. This new version just, to me, screams “All the gear, no idea”.
After about an hour or so driving up and down hills and through big puddles to demonstrate the car’s new improved wading depth of 900mm (that’s an extra 200mm on the previous models!) we headed back to base via a quick jet wash. That is one thing I do love about this car and I have done through the generations. You can jump in a Discovery, rag it through the mud, drive through rivers, up mountains and over moors and then as soon as you turn back on to the road it becomes a great, quiet and smooth mile-muncher of a car.
Now it is time to really see if all this weight reduction was worth it… As far as the physical car goes, the 2.0 was pretty much indentical with regards to the spec – both cars were HSE models with lots of bells and whistles with the only difference being this one is 2 cylinders short. Performance wise, there isn’t actually a big difference on paper – 18hp and 100nm of torque separate the two and the smaller block will squeeze an extra 4 miles out of a gallon. Admittedly I never got to drive the 3.0 on the road apart from for a few hundred yards to the off road course and back, but having owned the 2.7 TDV6 and spending a day with the 3.0 SDV6 in the D4, I know what to expect.
The Alpine Circuit at Millbrook is a 6.5 km circuit with various tight turns and steep climbs designed to put all the mechanical parts of a car through its paces. With blind summits and sharp hairpins, it was the perfect place to see if all this dieting has worked for the Discovery. With its strict 55mph speed limit with marshalls on every corner, this was not a place to test top speed round corners, but more of a test of the powertrain and gearbox and to be brutally honest, I just don’t think that the 4 cylinder diesel unit could handle it. When the road was straight and flat it was great. Smooth, refined and very quiet inside, but as soon as you started climbing, the engine started to struggle and I found it downshifting a lot to reach the top. That is literally the only area I can fault this as a car. It managed the corners beautifully with the air suspension keeping the car flat and calm and the brakes were fantastic all the way round. It might have been because I am so used to that bigger V6 and I had been driving a lot of much more powerful cars that day, but the 2.0 SD4 just felt very underpowered for a car of this size. It may have lost 500kgs, but that still leaves over 2000kgs to manage!
All in all, I like the new Discovery a lot. I think it’s a great step forward for Land Rover and I am really excited for the future of the brand. If I had the choice, I would go for a 3.0 TD6 HSE Luxury and not need another car for anything. If you live in town, have many kids and only really need the car for it’s size and ease, then the 2.0 SD4 is the perfect choice. All the luxury and benefits of the Discovery with a fuel efficient and polar bear friendly engine.