25 April 2017
Land Rover’s fourth-generation Discovery plays in an SUV market that’s almost unrecognisable compared to the one the original Disco entered in 1989. We now live in a world of luxury SUVs, where sat-nav is more important than ground clearance and where leather seats take preference over locking differentials. The Discovery has changed accordingly, but it hasn’t entirely forgotten its roots. It’s still a stunningly capable 4x4.
The Discovery’s 253bhp is delivered by a 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine. In essence, it’s the same engine you’ll find in the Jaguar XF S diesel and the XJ, but it has been tuned for torque rather than power to make it a more capable mud-plugger.
With 600Nm of torque, the Discovery can drag itself up the steepest inclines and it can tow almost anything. The maximum towing weight of 3.5 tonnes will come in handy for some, but as the car weighs in at 2.5 tonnes, some more recently qualified drivers may need to take a towing test if they want to pull anything even approaching that weight.
All this torque also makes the Land Rover fairly sprightly off the mark. An 8.8-second 0-62mph time is respectable for any family saloon, but for a 2.5-tonne beast of burden like the Discovery, it’s pretty impressive.
It’s the delivery that impresses most of all though, and the engine is unbelievably hushed for such a big diesel-powered unit. Some of that is down to the excellent eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox, but we’ve found this engine incredibly smooth in the XF and XJ too, so we suspect it’s just a well-engineered block.
That said, it isn’t as efficient as it is in either of the Jaguar products. Officially, it returns 36.7mpg, but you’ll be lucky to get much more than 30mpg from it, and around town it’ll do something like 24mpg. It’ll be pricey to fill up, too, with a tank costing about £90 despite the recent cut in the price of diesel.
Even the tax man will want to dip into your wallet for the pleasure of driving the Discovery, because the 203g/km CO2 emissions put it into the £290-per-year road tax bracket and the 37% company car tax band.
If that scares you, though, maybe you shouldn’t be looking at buying a big SUV. Most of the Discovery’s rivals guzzle diesel at this sort of rate, although we aren’t quite sure how Audi has managed to eke 48mpg from its Q7.
The engine isn’t the only thing that’s smooth about the Discovery; it has a fantastically comfortable ride, too. It uses an air suspension system that’s capable of raising and lowering the car to suit the road conditions.
If you venture away from the beaten track, you can raise it to provide an impressive 310mm of ground clearance and allow it to wade through up to 70cm of water, but if you use it on the road it will sit lower, making the car (marginally) more aerodynamic and less prone to body roll.
But don’t be fooled, because the Discovery is no driver’s car. There’s lots of body roll and while the steering is pretty accurate, it still feels like you’re trying to direct an oil tanker. That’s intentional though – if you want a sporty SUV, Land Rover wants you to choose the Range Rover Sport. This, on the other hand, is set up to be a comfy family bus, and it achieves that brilliantly.
As befits a car costing more than £60,000, the Discovery’s build quality is excellent. The cabin is built exclusively with top-of-the-line materials and features smart veneers and soft leather, but it still has a chunky, footballer’s watch-style look.
Like it or loath it, it fits the car’s luxury off-road character, and there’s clever thinking behind it. Land Rover designs its dashboards specifically so they can be operated while wearing gloves. It’s a small detail, but one that sets the British brand apart from luxury-focused German rivals.
In a few places, however, the Discovery does show its age – the touchscreen, for example, is a little short of pixels compared to some competitors’ newer units – but it’s still a class act.
Reliability, on the other hand, is Land Rover’s traditional Achilles heel. We didn’t have any issues in our time with the Discovery, but if the reputation does worry you, take out the company’s £699 Approved Service Plan to cover your services for five years. There’s a three-year warranty on all new Discoverys, too.
The Discovery was last tested by Euro NCAP in 2006, when it received a four-star rating (mainly because any pedestrian unfortunate enough to be hit by one was instant strawberry jam), but we don’t know how it would fare in today’s test. We expect it to be as good as ever for occupant protection, but pedestrians might still be stuffed by the boxy front end and the lack of standard-fit safety technology might hold it back a bit.
Unusually for an SUV, the Discovery is a true seven-seater, with a third row capable of seating 6ft adults in relative comfort. Getting in and out might require some acrobatics thanks to the small rear doors, but we found that the best way in was to use the car as a six-seater and clamber in through the boot.
The boot in question is pretty capacious, too. With only the front seats in use, there’s a massive 1,950 litres of room in there – about as much as you’ll find in the back of a small van. With all seven seats in place, that figure drops to just 280 litres, but that’s competitive for a car in this segment. Anyway, the 1,124-litre capacity you get in five-seat configuration (the one most people will use most often) will be plenty.
Let’s get this out of the way: the Discovery is not cheap. Prices start from £41,600 for the basic SE model, although for that you get 19in alloys, an automatic gearbox, automatic lights, a heated windscreen, a digital radio, parking sensors, cruise control and Bluetooth.
Our top-of-the-range HSE Luxury test car, however, cost £60,000 before the options were fitted, but that did include leather seats, 20in alloys, a Meridian audio system, rear-seat entertainment screens, sat-nav, keyless start and a reversing camera, among other goodies.
Yes, it’s pricey, but compared to an Audi Q7 or a Mercedes GLS, that’s reasonably competitive.
It’s especially competitive when you consider the warm, fuzzy feeling the Land Rover gives you when you realise that it’s not only as luxurious and as comfortable as its German rivals, but even more capable when you swap tarmac for tundra.
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