The latest incarnation of the Land Rover Discovery makes a better “go-anywhere-do-anything” statement than its predecessor.The Land Rover Discovery will always be popular with trendy urban buyers, but the latest incarnation of the Landy, which was launched in Namibia last week, makes an even better “go-anywhere-do-anything” statement than before.

A whole new SUV from the ground up – and with its exterior design (particularly at the front) heavily influenced by its bigger sibling, the Range Rover – the robust Disco sets a striking silhouette. During the business presentation, Land Rover representatives highlighted the fact that, in response to a change in the driver profile, the Discovery had gone from a rugged 4x4 to a more rounded family vehicle.

Equipped with a host of comfort features, the Discovery 3 is a spacious seven-seater with "stadium seating", which allows the rear passengers to have a greater view of the road ahead. This was demonstrated by several journalists at the launch - who later found the rear seats provided suitable legroom, but advised against tackling any lengthy cross-country trips from the "comfort" of the third row. However, both rear seats come with headrests and three-point seatbelts. There is also room at the back for a couple of medium-sized suitcases.

Discovery 3 was the first vehicle wholly developed by a new management team after Land Rover was incorporated into Ford Motor Company's Premier Automotive Group in 2000. To accommodate buyer demands, the iconic spare wheel at the rear has been done away with, and the full-sized spare is now located beneath the vehicle for quicker changes that require less effort. The split tailgate is electrically operated and sturdy enough to support objects while they are being loaded into the back. Although more user-friendly without the distinguishing rear wheel feature, the Discovery’s rear end appears disjointed and unimaginative, despite being more streamlined.

But the most exciting features on this vehicle are the terrain response system and the integrated body frame, both of which make their production débuts.

With terrain response, the driver simply selects the setting most suitable for the particular terrain, via a dial on the centre console, and lets the car do the rest. Including a general driving system, one for slippery conditions, like gravel and grass, and three special off-road modes, the Discovery is prepared for most eventualities. By selecting the "mud and ruts", "sand" and "rock crawl" modes, the system automatically selects controls and traction aids appropriate for the conditions. For example, in sand mode, the throttle is more responsive and provides instant power at the slightest touch of the foot, making it easier to avoid being bogged down in softer patches.

One gripe is that the illuminated controls on the centre console are just a bit too faint, especially in harsh light. Luckily, on vehicles equipped with touch-screens, you are able to see which mode you are in by glancing to your right. The icons are quite easy to identify, though it would be better if they were labelled, as with the base model, where the particular mode is highlighted on the driver’s display panel on the instrument binnacle.

At the launch, journalists were given the chance to explore these features on a specially built 4X4 course a few kilometres outside the Namibian capital. Traversing mud and soft sand, over boulders and through water (maximum wading depth is 70 cm) was effortless – and without a squeak from the Landy’s ample frame. On a scenic mountain ride, Hill Descent Control, another feature of the terrain response system, was activated. This limits the car's downhill speed and, while it could be very handy, was also found to be somewhat intrusive after a while – but it can be deactivated with no problem. HDC, along with the Landy’s other dynamic safety systems (ABS, traction control), give the new Disco the ability to make the driver feel in control all the way.

A flick of a switch also allows the ride height to be raised while exploring off-road. In the event of the driver forgetting to revert to the normal ride height once back on the road, the car emits an irritating yet effective beeping sound to warn about the speeds and the car's imminent self-adjustment, which is almost imperceptible as first the rear, and then the front, change their angles of attack.

In addition to this feature, the handling of top-line models is also aided by fully independent air suspension, which cushions even the bumpiest of terrains, achieving comfort levels usually reserved for family saloon cars. And, even though the entry-level model comes with coil springs, comfort remains uncompromised, with bumps and dips easily absorbed. Insulation is good too, as a stint in a dry riverbed with the cars kicking up the powder-fine sand was completed without any appreciable rise in noise level inside the cabin.

To achieve the "Integrated Bodyframe", the chassis is moulded to the contours of the bodyshell by hydroforming, achieving better torsional rigidity and consequently better handling. The use of lightweight materials also helps to lower the centre of gravity of what is a pretty large vehicle.

The Discovery 3 range is offered locally with three engine derivatives and three specification levels. A 4,0-litre petrol V6, sourced from Ford, powers entry-level models. Quite the performer, it produces 156 kW at 5 000 r/min and 360 N.m at 3 750 r/min. The other petrol engine offered is a 4,4-litre V8, derived from the 4,2-litre V8 used by sister-company Jaguar in its XJ range. It is offered in the top-of-the-range Discovery models. Armed with 220 kW at 5 500 r/min and 425 N.m at 4 000 r/min, the V8, while lively, seemed somewhat lacklustre when a burst of power was required.

The 2,7-litre turbodiesel, with 440 N.m on tap, may prove to be the favourite for many, since this engine impressed with its levels of smoothness andt flexibility. The TDV6, a common rail unit developed jointly by Peugeot-Citroën and Ford, is also used in the Jaguar S-type. Whether on the road or at idle, the whisper-soft engine barely hints at its diesel life source.

All models come with an automatic six-speed transmission which allows "intelligent shifting" (manual gearbox characteristics) with a flick of the gearshift. The diesel can also be ordered with a six-speed manual gearbox.

Switching between high- and low range can be done on the move simply by slipping the car into neutral, moving the lever either forward for high-range or back for low-range, waiting for the beep and slipping the car into Drive again before moving off.

For added traction, the centre differential is locked electronically when the conditions require it, and locking of the rear differential is controlled by an electronic control unit.

All three differentials are mounted onto the chassis in a move designed to maximise the ground clearance when venturing off-road.

The level of gadgetry on the Discovery is extensive, and includes adaptive headlights that are also able to move up and down, as well as bluetooth capabilities on the better equipped models. The electric park brake allows you to move off without physically having to disengage it, and also acts as an emergency brake, which triggers the ABS and slows the car down to speeds of about 20 km/h. The fully-encased waterproof and shatterproof key fob is charged in the ignition, and Land Rover claims that a battery change will probably only be required every five years.

The new Discovery comes with a three-year/100 000 km maintenance plan.

PRICES:

V6 S R440 000

TdV6 S R470 000

TdV6 SE R510 000

V8 SE R510 000

TdV6 HSE R570 000

V8 HSE R570 000