IN its biggest show of strength since coming under the ownership of Tata, Land Rover rolled out a thoroughly-revised product line-up at last year’s New York Show.
The most noteworthy arrival was Discovery 4, and the extent of its aesthetic and ergonomic advances suggested a conscious shift on the part of the marque to appeal to a non-traditional sophisticated and affluent, urban-based clientéle. More so, in fact, than with previous upgrades.
Evidently, Land Rover’s action hero had slicked back his hair, cropped his beard and borrowed a mate’s dinner jacket, and the result was a subtle makeover, in terms of exterior aesthetics, anyway.
The bumpers have been colour-coded and smoothed over for improved aerodynamics, LEDs have been incorporated in the new head- and tail-lamp clusters and there are riddled fender vents that echo the texture of the grille. Our test team unanimously agreed that the Discovery has lost none of its imposing (and instantly recognisable) hewnfrom- granite presence.
On the inside of this HSE-spec 3,0 TDV6 is a plethora of interior appointments: heated multifunction steering wheel, LED mood lighting for night-time ambience, a 14-speaker Harman Kardon LOGIC7 audio system with iPod and USB connectivity, a touch screen display with a five-camera “surround” system to assist with parking and offroad manoeuvrability, keyless entry with push-button start/ stop function… and that’s just to name a few.
Having said that, the Discovery 4’s greatest interior improvements are in the avenues of ergonomic efficiency and build quality. The electrically- adjustable driver’s seat, for example, offers generous hip and lumbar support and a variety of adjustments, including added bolstering.
Furthermore, the commanding driving position is complemented by a completely revised facia and centre console design with high quality materials and improved fit and finish. Brushed aluminium trim tastefully encircles virtually every roundel, including air vents, ventilation and temperature, audio and light adjustment knobs, and even the stop/start button.
The almond/ nutmeg interior colour scheme may not be that practical over time, but when combined with Grand Black lacquer inserts, the overall effect is nothing short of opulent…
Second-row passengers benefit from good leg-, head- and shoulder room and the rear seats, if not colossal, are suitable for young people or adults (for shorter trips).
The centrally-located Terrain Assist console, which now offers users additional access to a Sand Launch Control mode that prevents excess wheelspin when pulling away on the loose stuff, and Gradient Release Control, which eliminates the initial lurch felt when engaging Hill Descent Control, is still class leading.
Some testers had misgivings about the sparsely marked speedometer (there’s no marking for the freeway speed limit, for example), felt uneasy about trusting the accuracy of a vertical strip LCD fuel gauge readout, and thought the analogue chronograph in the centre of the facia looked a little passé compared with the rest of the switchgear. However, the quality of the carpeting is top notch.
The rear sill is relatively high (courtesy of the spare wheel being mounted underneath the vehicle), but when the two rearmost seats are folded flat into the floor, the luggage capacity is 402 dm³, which increases to a sizeable 1 864 when the second row is lowered.
It is clear that Discovery has closed the gap on its bigger, more expensive, brethren by virtue of its extraordinary cabin refinement and specification list. What may worry rivals even more, however, is the on-road prowess of the 3,0 TDV6.
It all begins with a 3,0-litre twin-turbo diesel powerplant that produces 180 kW and peak torque of 600 N.m – the latter figure is claimed to be the highest output for any six-cylinder dieselengined passenger vehicle currently on the market – mated with the ZF HP-28 six-speed automatic transmission.
The 3,0 TDV6 features, inter alia, a parallel sequential turbocharging system that makes use of a larger primary turbo most of the time, with the smaller one only coming into play when more power is required.
Its third-generation common-rail Piezo injection system and improved fuel metering also contribute towards reduced fuel consumption. Eerily quiet at cruising speeds, the engine responds briskly and accurately to light and heavy throttle inputs alike.
The sheer intensity of the test unit’s acceleration belied the SUV’s mass and the well-matched ratios of the ZF ‘box contributed to smooth, predictable shifts. Whereas some previous-generation SUVs were hampered by, shall way we say “purposefully robust” engine/gearbox combinations, the 3,0 TDV6 is a revelation and could arguably match the performance of some mid- to higher end compact executive saloons… Its braking feel is strong and progressive to boot.
But before we get carried away, consider the test unit’s handling and steering qualities. It’s a well-known fact that the new Discovery is more than capable on the rough stuff, thanks mainly to its short overhangs, extended ride height and the wizardry of its Terrain Response system.
On sealed surfaces, the addition of stiffer and larger anti-roll bars has reduced body roll during cornering, but the Discovery is still no go-kart and changes direction with reasonable agility – at least as much as can be expected from a vehicle with a similar weight and centre of gravity.
Similarly, the variable ratio steering system is commendably light at parking speeds, but unfortunately remains largely uncommunicative at higher velocities. The ultimate payoff for wielding a soft touch, however, is a compliant and altogether forgiving ride quality.
“Superb”, “Very Comfortable” and “Excellent” were some of the adjectives testers used to describe the behaviour of the suspension over a variety of sealed surfaces, which the majority of urbanbased owners would undoubtedly appreciate.
Although there are always exceptions, the Discovery 4 3,0 TDV6 HSE’s list price of R725 000 positions it very much in the luxury, road-biased “family” off-roader category.
It seems expensive compared with many of its traditional competitors, but its specification is similar to larger and significantly dearer seven-seater competitors – and some of them hail from the Discovery’s very own stable.
The aforementioned group probably constitutes a major target market for the top-of-therange turbodiesel Discovery model. Having said that, the SE model, which costs R80 000 less, offers arguably better value and is also worth a look.