Good news for Discovery 4 fans: Land Rover has added a new entry-level XS model to the range that does away with a lot of the Disco’s fancier (and more expensive) bits. We joined Kingsley Holgate on his Izintaba Zobombo Expedition in this budget-friendly Discovery to see what it could do
Text: GG van Rooyen
Photography: Ross Holgate
A lot has been written lately about the state of SA’s rhino population. The rhino was even voted (rather controversially) as SA’s Newsmaker of the Year for 2012 by the National Press Club. There’s no doubt that poaching is a real problem, but aren’t we over-reacting a little? Far from it. In fact, the problem is probably worse than we realise. The life expectancy of a rhino that crosses from the Kruger National Park into Mozambique (there is a fence, but there are places where animals can cross) is around 48 hours.
The problem, of course, is the staggering amounts of money being paid for rhino horn. In some cases, it is said that poachers are being paid R1 million (in cash) in the centre of local villages. When this is happening, it is hardly surprising that people from poor areas are jumping the Kruger Park fence and trying their luck at rhino poaching.
One of the aims of Kingsley Holgate’s latest expedition – called the Izintaba Zobombo Expedition – is to raise awareness about rhino poaching, and to attempt to educate rural communities about the situation.
“We’ve met some of these poachers, and the money they make is astonishing. One in particular was celebrating the arrival of R14- million in his bank account when we travelled through his village,” says Kingsley.
Kingsley and his team, who have traditionally focused on malaria prevention, are now going into villages to talk about rhino poaching.
“We hand kids sheets of paper and encourage them to draw pictures and write a couple of sentences about poaching,” says Kingsley. “It is clear that, despite the money, it is having a negative effect on a lot of the communities. One little girl wrote that she hoped the poaching would stop, because fathers and brothers were coming home in body bags – killed by anti-poaching teams.” The expedition began at the historic starting point of the Lebombo mountains, Crook’s Corner, where Zimbabwe, Mozambique and SA meet. The Land Rover convoy is tracing the mountain range all the way south, and will end at Ghost Mountain in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
We met up with the expedition as they travelled through the Kruger Park. Although the team’s work took them all over the park, they tried to stay as close as possible to the boundary fence with Mozambique, which meant driving along the Lebombo 4×4 Trail. This was good news, since it gave us an opportunity to get a sense of how the new entry-level Discovery XS – which we had picked up at Hoedspruit Airport – performed in off-road conditions.
On the road
The other models in the Disco range are all equipped with Land Rover’s 3.0 STDV6 oilburner, which produces 183 kW and 600 Nm of torque. The XS, however, has a 3.0 TDV6 engine that produces 155 kW and 520 Nm of torque. Despite the drop in power and torque, the XS still performs well on the open road. You can sense that it has less power if you really pay attention, but the difference isn’t as marked as you’d expect. The XS certainly never feels lethargic or underpowered. Press down the pedal and the Disco accelerates briskly and without fuss.
The engine is mated to the same eight-speed automatic transmission used in the other Discovery models. And predictably, it works well with the engine, swapping cogs quickly and smoothly. The XS offers largely the same refined ride as the other Discos. Hit a bad road, though, and you might notice that the suspension doesn’t smooth out the bumps quite as effectively as the pricier models. Unlike its brethren, the XS is not equipped with air suspension. Instead, it has a coil spring suspension.
The move in equipping the XS with old-school coils will no doubt be applauded by those looking for a tough overlander without fancy gadgets – such as air suspension – that can conk out in the middle of nowhere. Indeed, that is the entire point of the XS. Land Rover says the vehicle is an expedition vehicle designed for robust, overland work, which is why it has lost a lot of the nice-to-have (and costly) features in other models.
Inside the cabin
Unlike other Discos, the XS does not have leather seats, though there is an option to replace the cloth seats with leather.
The third row of seats has been removed. This makes sense if you regard the XS as an overland vehicle, since these seats are seldom used on long trips. Other items that have been omitted are the sunroof and electric seat adjusters. Despite their absence, the cabin can hardly be called austere. It still has Bluetooth connectivity with steering-mounted controls, climate control, cruise control, a cooled centre cubbyhole, a good entertainment system and a USB/iPod connection. It even has steering- mounted paddles for gear shifting in manual mode. The interior is a bit more basic than those of other Discos, but it remains very comfortable and impressively well equipped. And, of course, it is as spacious as the other models – the most important issue.
Off the beaten path
The biggest perceptible difference between the XS and other Discos is arguably in its off- road gadgetry. In fact, the XS has quite a bit in common with the Defender.
As mentioned, it has coil springs in place of air suspension. Like the Defender, it also has only a centre differential lock. There is no diff lock at the back, though it does have traction control to assist in tough 4×4 situations.
There is also no Terrain Response system, only a dial that allows you to choose between park, reverse, neutral, drive or sport modes. The last of these optimises the gearbox response times for maximum acceleration, improved response and sharper upshifts.
How does the XS perform off road? The Lebombo Trail isn’t the most harrowing 4×4 route you’ll ever encounter, but it did give us some idea of what to expect from the XS. And overall, we feel it would make an excellent overland vehicle. It is still comfortable and plush, but has done away with some of the fancy and fiddly bits that hardcore overlanders might be apprehensive about.
Moreover, the XS is substantially cheaper than other models. It is priced at R598 600 – R111 000 less than the next model (the STDV6 S, at R709 600).
The XS is a solid 4×4 that will broaden the appeal of the Discovery.