THE iconic Land Rover brand, now under the auspices of the Ford Motor Company, remains a household name around the world, so the parent manufacturer has a serious reputation to maintain – or perhaps restore, due to recent dubious quality levels. Much effort has been put into the third generation Discovery to achieve this. It’s a difficult enough task, what with just about everyone, even Porsche, venturing into the SUV/4×4 field.
The new Disco has grown to such an extent that it sits higher than the already large Range Rover, and care should be taken to check the maximum height of some garages before entering. The frontal appearance is slab-like, very solid looking and rather ugly, but it certainly does have overtaking presence. Of course, with 220 kW on tap, most other vehicles are happy to move over. The rear end, as with so many 4x4s and double-cab pick-ups, is not nearly as aggressive as the front. In fact, some testers remarked on its “back-of-a-bus” type appearance… The rear lights have been made much bigger than on the previous model, the full-size alloy spare wheel has been shifted from the back door to underneath the floor, and the old, side-hinged door has made way for a horizontally split hatch. Plain black plastic for the front bumper, rear quarter bumpers and wheelarches allows for bumps and scrapes without damage to the paintwork. On the right side, air outlets looking like gills ape those of the Range Rover.
Space is more than ample up front, with a large, thick-rimmed steering wheel to suit the vehicle’s size. The seats in the SE model are trimmed in comfortable, grippy cloth, which is perhaps not as easy to clean as leather, but more resistant to high temperatures from the sun. (HSE models have leather seats as standard equipment.) Adjustment is easy using the manual levers… no help from electric motors here.
The centre row of seats comprises three separate units. The backrests fold down, and then the entire seat can be tumbled forward so as to offer access to the last row. This has two individual seats that cleverly fold flat into the floor. To raise these, one must release catches from the side doors, or from the hatch to lift the backrest. Another catch is then shifted to allow the cushion to be inverted as it takes up its place. Collapsing the seats must be done from the side doors since the catches are not accessible from the load area.
Third-row seats in many vehicles are strictly for youngsters. Not so with Discovery 3. Legand headroom are fine, and huge drinkholders plus large storage bins are provided. The lids also act as useful armrests. Although the release mechanism for the last row of seats appears welldesigned and sturdy, it was sometimes difficult to operate, and required some man-handling to get moving.
With all the seats up and ready, there is 140 dm3 of space for luggage, increasing to 408 dm3 with the third row of seats folded, and expanding to a full utility load volume of 1 768 dm3.
On top of the facia is the satnav screen, which features touch screen controls. The hangdown section extends into the cabin, putting all sound system and ventilation controls within easy reach.
At this price level, one expects not just a full house of features, but a full hotel. In the Disco, these include a Harman Kardon six-CD front loader, park distance control, bi-xenon headlights, foglights, cruise control, a basic navigation system, and electronic traction control.
The sunroof is a standard fitment, together with two fixed glass panels – LR calls this an “Alpine roof” – with retractable screens for rear passengers. These screens are perforated but, for bright sunlight, solid ones may be more suitable.
New to Discovery is the Jaguar-sourced 4,4-litre V8 engine, which has peak outputs of 220 kW and 427 N.m. This is basically a 4,2-litre with its bore enlarged by 2 mm to improve torque output. The unit is supersmooth and refined, but a note of warning: after lifting the “lid” to inspect this powerplant, make sure that you press down both sides of the hefty bonnet to ensure that each of two catches has engaged.
The gearbox is a six-speed unit that includes a Sport mode, in which higher revs are employed before switching gears. The unit is normally adaptive to driving styles but, once the gear lever has been shifted to the left to engage Sport, one can select gears manually in what Land Rover calls “command shift”. The handbrake also reminds us of Jaguar models, and is electrically operated by a small lever between the seats.
Using the “special programs” control knob conveniently located just aft of the gearshift, roads with different surfaces can be tackled. Although the handbook does not explain exactly what is altered in the computer logic, the surfaces programmed in are: normal mode; grass/gravel/snow; mud and ruts; sand; and, finally, rock crawl. Ride height and selective slip or locking of all diffs are chosen according to the program dialled-in. Apart from this, low range can be chosen by flicking a switch while in neutral. In low range with manual mode, the gearbox will not override the driver’s selection and acceleration will continue, if desired, until the rev limiter cuts in at 6 500 r/min. By contrast, high range will swop cogs at 6 000 r/min.
There is little that can be said about the off-road driving experience except that it is rather effortless. You simply pick low range if you feel like it, select one of the special programs, and voila, off you go climbing. Low range provides a speed of about 10 km/h at about 2 500 r/min when held in first gear.
What goes up must come down, so Land Rover’s patented hill descent control comes to your aid in all the special programs, and can also be manually engaged via a small yellow button. This will use the ABS to retard your descent, with speed being controlled by using the steering-wheel-mounted cruise control buttons. According to the book, speeds of up to 80 km/h can be requested using hill descent control – hopefully not off-road!
The air suspension can be used to alter ride height to three levels: a low setting (–50mm) can be selected for easier loading, normal driving height, and a higher setting (+50 mm) for added ground clearance over poor surfaces. The high setting, allowing a claimed clearance of 200 mm (we measured 220 at the exhaust pipe and 255 under the engine), can only be used at speeds of up to 50 km/h. The low “access” setting works up to 8 km/h, after which a warning will sound and the computer will reinstate normal driving height.
On-road performance testing gave us an electronically limited top speed of 195 km/h with a pretty nifty sprint time of 9,59 seconds to 100 km/h. Although the engine sounds sporty when pushed, cruising is mostly a hush-hush affair.
The steering, being hydraulically powered, has a good level of feel and provides the necessary feedback when traversing slippery or rocky terrain. On the handling front, the large body, with its high centre of gravity coupled with an under-damped suspension set-up, means lots of body roll when cornering or switching lanes in a hurry. With cornering, the stability control soon helps out, rectifying body sway by braking individual wheels. The soft set-up does mean that the ride is plush, both on- and off-road, endowing the vehicle with a relaxed atmosphere of capable opulence. Just one criticism: on rough roads, we noticed some rattles coming from the left-side doors.
A luxurious and capable 4×4 offroader with tons of space, but we suspect perhaps too large for most families. Designers seem to think that bigger is always better, but when you start battling to find large enough parking spaces, one wonders where it will end. Taking into account the fact that most of the time there will only be one person in the vehicle, is it really necessary? Still, the Disco remains highly desirable in the status stakes, and does all that it was designed to do with ease.
We get the impression that the quality levels have also improved a lot, so the loyal following should continue to strengthen. Who needs a Range Rover with a vehicle like this?