Luxurious, sumptuous and lavish are words that spring to mind when you ease yourself into the cabin of this all-new, three-row, seven-seat Discovery SUV.
I have driven and been seated in plenty of very plush vehicles, such as top-of-the-line Lexus models, German luxury brands and most notably the Rolls Royce Wraith Black Badge. Excluding this last example of ultimate opulence (and perhaps those customised gold-plated, diamond-studded OTT vehicles belonging to princes of oil rich, human rights poor nations), the Land Rover Discovery 3.0 TDV6 HSE Luxury is everything you could ask for to transport you and your family in more than just comfort, but true luxury.
I could ramble on endlessly about the front headrests alone. Covered in leather (although this may change in the future, if Land Rover head of design Gerry McGovern has his way ) there is a padded cushion attached to the front of the headrest, where you place your noggin. This is so soft (it could be calf hide) and engulfs the back of your head like a supportive, giant marshmallow. It’s a great way to start a long drive.
Moving down the electronically adjustable front seats, where you have the option to increase or decrease the lumbar support, you may be delighted to discover that in this specification level the two front seats come with a massage function, which is adjustable using the unambiguous touchscreen controls.
Before changing focus from the interior (we could write a book commending it), we need to mention that there’s a plethora of well thought out, practical storage spaces including a chilled mini-refrigerator in the compartment between the two front seats. It’s just big enough for four beverage cans or bottles and works like a charm. It’s quite delightful tucking into padkos and being able to wash it down with a cool, refreshing drink hours after your last stop. It is easily accessible, too, so no need to rummage around for the cooler box beneath other bits and pieces, just flip the lip and help yourself. We loved this feature.
Under the hood
There are currently two engine options available for the new Discovery, the petrol supercharged 3.0-litre Si6 that produces 250kW of power and 450Nm of torque, and the 3.0-litre TDV6 diesel engine that develops 190kW and produces 600Nm of torque. Our family of four, comprised of a set of parents and two teenagers, were doing a road trip in a Disco fitted with the latter mill.
We started out by travelling 415km from Durbanville (Cape Town) along the N2 to George, where we spent the night before setting out the following day on the old 75km Seven Passes road. This was built between 1867 and 1882 by one of South Africa’s most famous road engineers, Thomas Bain and his brother-in-law Adam de Smit, to connect George to (the recently fire-ravaged) Knysna.
Cruising down over Sir Lowry’s Pass and on onward along the N2, the 20-inch rims clad with 255/55 R20 rubber spun effortlessly across the largely smooth road surface. With a weight reduction of 480kg from its predecessor and with 190kW of power and 600Nm of torque on tap at 1 750 r/min, overtaking slow trucks and other cumbersome vehicles on the road was effortless.
Acceleration in the new Disco is extremely smooth with the power increase directly proportionate to the amount of pressure on the pedal, it’s not twitchy or sudden. For the most part, the eight-speed automatic ZF transmission anticipates your needs and changes gears almost imperceptibly. You can get a bit of a kick from the V6 if that’s what you are looking for, however the large SUV encourages a relaxed and confident drive. The acceleration is so velvety that more than a couple times I caught the speedometer climbing to 10 or 15kph faster than I felt that we were going.
We arrived in George four and a half hours after we had set off and if our journey had been by plane, we would have said that we had travelled first class.
In the morning, we discovered that the section of the Seven Passes road from George to Wilderness was closed for maintenance, which meant that we would miss out on a couple of the passes and the first point at which we could gain access was at Wilderness, 18km away along the N2.
Skipping the Swart River and Kaaimansgat Passes (and the 3km Silver River Pass extension, which would technically make the Seven Passes road an eight passes road), we were going to traverse the Touw River Pass, Hoogekraal Pass, Karatara Pass, the beautiful Homtini Pass and finally the Phantom Pass that leads into Knysna.
The Seven Passes route sounded exciting and evocative and we imagined driving on deeply-rutted gravel pass roads, over old bridges and beneath a canopy of trees dripping with creeper-like foliage, across rivers, seeking out a hidden landscape that is off the regular tourist beat.
Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective), as enjoyable and scenic as the drive is, the old road is no challenge for the Landy. We started out on a dirt road section lined with trees, switching the Discovery’s mode to gravel/snow for enhanced traction from the four-wheel-drive. The Disco didn’t bat a figurative eyelid, it was almost like floating. The air suspension took care of the few dents in the road as if they didn’t exist and the Discovery was as sure footed as a mountain goat on every turn.
We opened both of the Discovery’s roof shields to unveil the two sunroofs and light filtered in above our heads through the forest foliage, as we headed towards our first bridge. This sturdy-looking steel construction sits high above the Touws River. Passing over the river it was back into the forest as we enjoyed the crystal clear sound emanating from the Meridian sound system.
About 4.5km after the Touws River bridge we took a left on the gravel road and stopped to explore a section of the Garden Route National Park where you will find the Woodville Big Tree. Here the fairy-like forest was lush and inviting and the tree was, well big. This spot warrants more than a thirty-minute stop, but if you are on the clock, the plant in question is situated conveniently close to the parking area (80m away).
Driving away from Woodville, the landscape opens up unexpectedly to farmland with cows scattered on the surrounding hills and sections of paved thoroughfare interrupting the gravel at seemingly random intervals.
We meandered through the farmlands and then over the rivers and bridges such as the Hoogekraal River and the Karatara River (where alluvial gold was found in 1876) and their respective passes until we came to the quite spectacular Homtini Pass. After crossing the river, you find yourself perched high among forested hills with wonderful views across the landscape before descending into more indigenous forest.
Another short detour off the main route took us towards the old mining village of Millwood with its museum and the Materolli Tea Garden (that turned out to be closed, as it was a Sunday) situated within another section of the Garden Route National Park.
Here, alluvial gold had been mined off the Millwood tributary of the Homtini river in 1885 and soon after that shafts were dug, machinery brought in and a small village sprang up. However, by the early 1890s it was clear that the mines did not yield enough gold to justify the capital invested and unsurprisingly, as the mining industry of the Witwatersrand boomed, the Millwood Goldfield was abandoned. Back on the Seven Passes road we kept a look out for a place to eat.
Almost immediately we happened upon the charming Totties Farm Kitchen. The arty and slightly rustic setting is clearly a popular spot for Sunday lunch, however disappointingly neither my husband nor children were in the mood for a five course buffet. So after taking a few photos we climbed back into the Discovery to conquer Phantom Pass, the last pass en route to Knysna.
The pass took us down some gravel hairpin bends where a number of mountain bikers were heading in the opposite direction. Again the Disco didn’t flinch and the full-sized SUV handled the corners beautifully (albeit slowly to avoid cyclists). Initially the Phantom forest seemed in tact, but very soon the effects of the Knysna fires on what had previously been a very lush green wooded area, with creepers strung across the tree tops, became apparent. Blackend tree stumps and trunks line sections of the road but more remarkably the area that had in the past allowed you to feel hidden in the secretive recesses of the forest was so exposed. The almost naked hills were scorched.
Although this section has been redecorated by the flames, when we reached the N2 again and approached the main town, things appeared much the same as usual.
Heading to the Knysna Waterfront we settled on the well known restaurant 34 Degrees South, where the kids were happy with the choice of pizza and calamari and we could tuck into some fresh fish. As it turned out the teens were quite satisfied with their meal but ours was exceptionally oily.
Finally we drove the Land Rover up the hill to our accommodation for the night at the Protea Guest House overlooking the Knysna Lagoon and the Heads in the distance. Our unit was the cosy log cabin known as Loerie Family Cabin and from the parking bay where the Discovery would spend the night, the owner pointed out two houses, one across the road and one slightly higher on the same road that had been gutted by the fire. Still despite the effects of the fire on sections of Knysna and the souls of its inhabitants, the area has certainly not been tarnished beyond enjoyment from a tourist perspective – in fact we expected a lot worse.
The next morning we were up early, eager to get back into the Discovery and with the push of a button we reconfigured the seats, so that my youngest daughter who is almost as tall as I am could sit in the third row for the trip to Oudtshoorn and the Cango Caves before heading home…
The total distance driven on this trip (Durbanville to George, George to Knysna, Knysna to Oudtshoorn and Oudtshoorn to Durbanville) was 1 125km with an average fuel consumption of 9.3 litres per hundred kilometres.
Next month we take a look at the technology found in the very intelligent all-new Discovery as we take you from the lush forests of Knysna to the Karoo scrub of Oudtshoorn to our subterranean destination.
Land Rover Discovery 3.0 TDV6 HSE Luxury
Price R1 314 000
Power 190kw @3750r/min
Torque 600Nm @ 1750r/min
Transmission Eight-speed ZF
Top speed 209km/h (claimed)
Claimed consumption 7.8 litres per 100km
Actual consumption 9.3 litres per 100km (over 1 125km)
Ground clearance 283mm (air suspension)
Articulation 500mm (air suspension)
Luggage capacity 258 litres (with all seven seats erect) – 2 500 litres
Tyres 255/55 R20
Land Rover describe the all-new Discovery as being a ‘dramatic reinterpretation of Discovery’s 27 years of heritage’ and practical DNA with a sophisticated design that pays homage to previous models without being restrained by them’, which is perhaps a wordy way of saying that the new Disco is nothing like the previous models. That’s not to say that if you are a Discovery fan that you won’t like the new model, you may well love it, however it has undoubtedly moved away from a utilitarian 4×4 in favour of a more luxurious SUV that is still capable off-road, ideally wearing some more practical tyres.
Text: Elise Kirsten
Photos: Elise Kirsten and Grace Kirsten