When the Discovery 3 was launched it was worlds better than its predecessor. The same can’t be said of the Discovery 4, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the best SUV out there…
It’s hard to believe the Discovery has been around for 20 years, and is now in its fourth incarnation. It is accepted that the series I and II had some reliability issues, but Discovery 3 was right on the money when introduced nearly five years ago, and the latest version has taken things to a higher plane.
There’s a strong case for considering this a facelift of the last one: length, width, front and rear track and even wheelbase are unchanged. But if Land Rover want to call it Discovery 4 then so be it, and there are enough important changes to justify the new name.
As far as positioning goes it has moved further upmarket (getting behind the wheel will cost a minimum of R595 000) and there’s a more sophisticated look to the front thanks to soft er lines and a two-bar lattice grille reminiscent of the Range Rover models. The front bumper is said to aid both aerodynamics and engine cooling.
Apart from the LED-type lights front and rear, it is quite hard to tell a Disco 3 from a 4 at a glance: there’s the same geometric profile, large glass area, and the trademark stepped roof and Alpine lights.
Features and equipment
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
On test here is the R645 000 SE model, which can be identified by details such as the roof rails, and colour-coded wheelarches and rear bumper. Compared to the baseline S, it also gets electrical adjustment for the front seats, satellite navigation, and an upgraded Harman Kardon sound system.
The undoubted star of the show is what’s under the bonnet: the new TDV6 3,0-litre twin-turbo diesel engine is massively more powerful and torquey than the 2,7-litre it replaces, but is also claimed to be nine percent more fuel effi cient and about 10 percent cleaner in terms of CO2 emissions.
There is a host of new or updated technology to go with it, not least of all an improved version of the revolutionary Terrain Response system, which allows you to pre-select a matrix of settings best suited to the terrain that lies ahead. Advanced electronics combined with independent air-springing at all four corners are key to the Disco’s genuine dual-purpose ability, giving a choice of ride heights whether scaling mountains or cruising freeways. No less than 11 acronyms can be found under the “driving stability systems” heading on the spec sheet, and that’s before even mentioning eight airbags, and headlights that automatically decide when high beam is required (on the SE and HSE).
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
If you clambered into the Discovery unsighted and then opened your eyes, you’d swear blind that you’re sitting in a Range Rover. The upmarket ambience is so marked that it feels like everything has shift ed up a gear and there’s a far more sophisticated look and feel. While arguably now less rugged in persona, there are still cues that remind of its hardcore ability, like the knurled surrounds for some of the rotary controls, chunky switchgear, and the bold air vents.
Ergonomics have been improved by repositioning the Terrain Response controller and other switchgear dedicated to the chassis settings ahead of the gear-lever, while the entire centre console has been angled towards the driver. Once ensconced on plush leather in a redesigned seat it becomes apparent that the driving position is excellent and the heated steering wheel has well-positioned and versatile satellite controls that also have a pleasing tactility. There’s a great sensation of being in charge, further enhanced by front and rear park-distance control and rear-view cameras.
There are plenty of nooks and crannies for oddments (the electronic handbrake liberates space on the transmission tunnel) while between the front seats there’s an array of multimedia possibilities inside a spacious two-ti er storage box. A separate auxiliary-input services those in the rear compartment.
Individual third row seats lie level with the floor when not in use and are straight-forward to deploy, while still leaving enough space up to the horizontally split tailgate for a decent amount of luggage (Land Rover claims 280 litres). As a five seater there’s generous accommodation, and not only can the individual middle row seats can be folded fl at, they can then be compressed down to create a low and fl at luggage compartment with a floor to ceiling measure exceeding a metre.
One of the Disco’s many strengths is the exceptional all-round visibility thanks to the deep windows. Rear windows that wrap around the edge of the roof and a trio of glass sunroofs (just the front one opens) add to a sense of well-being for all and allow the maximum amount of natural light in.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
It is hard to comprehend that a 300cc increase in cubic capacity has resulted in a 29 percent power gain and a 36 percent jump in torque. There’s now 600 Nm of twist effort available and it all seems to be waiting the moment you touch the pedal.
Of course, there is far more to it than a hike in capacity, and the main source of the improvements is the parallel sequential turbocharger system, with a large and a small blower working in tandem to provide both quick responses and high-end power. This has allowed for longer gearing, contributing to the improved consumption and easy cruising gait.
Even when mated to an auto box there is no shortage of get-up-and-go from the bottom of the rev range, and its ability to move more than 2 400kg away from standstill with such alacrity is astonishing. For the record, the Disco hits 100 km/h in 9,6 seconds and is good for a standing kilometre in 31 seconds with a terminal speed of 166 km/h – impressive numbers indeed. Land Rover claims a top speed of 180 km/h, achievable in both the fifth and sixth ratios.
What makes driving the Disco so effortless is the instantaneous kick-down acceleration, anywhere, anytime. The correct gear always seems to be at hand, but if the driver feels he can do a better job, then there is the CommandShift manual override.
With all the extra performance Land Rover deemed it wise to upgrade the stopping ability and the nose gets larger discs and calipers, as per the Range Rover Sport. Discs measure 360mm, which is slightly larger than the rear ones, and all four are ventilated.
Sounds impressive, and that applies to how they work in the real world – there’s never a shadow of doubt whether they’re going to be able to stop the beast, and they aren’t lacking in feel or modulation either. An average of just on three seconds to stop from 100 km/h – fade-free after a dozen tests – is hard to fault.
Ride and handling
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The outgoing Disco was unquestionably a star off-road, and it was pretty good on the black stuff too. Suspension and steering changes made to this version seem to strike an even better balance: geometry changes move roll centre and centre of gravity closer together (it is ultimately this relationship which determines how a vehicle “feels” when cornering) while revised dampers, bushes and anti-roll bars sharpen things up further.
Tarmac performance is thus tangibly improved, with a more stable feel, more accurate and responsive steering and the ability to cruise at high speed seemingly for ever. The electronic systems have been revised to control understeer in bends better, but aggressive cornering certainly doesn’t reveal any inherent chassis shortcomings and none of the warning lights start blinking prematurely.
There’s no discernable sacrifice when it comes to off-road ability. Crank the ride height right up to the max, use that huge wedge of low-down torque and decide which of the Terrain Response settings are the most appropriate and it’ll pretty much conquer anything. Frankly, we found little that could stymie it, without venturing into the realm of the foolhardy.
Not only is a minimum of 240mm of ground clearance and fantastic approach and departure angles good for climbing over hard, lumpy things, but Land Rover says performance in soft sand is better too. This is thanks to “sand launch control”, which limits wheel spin when pulling away on very soft surfaces. Changes have also been made to the hill descent control, and also to the Rock Crawl programme, making this a 4×4 that virtually anyone can drive with complete confidence.
★ ★ ★ ★
Extracting the best out of a vehicle when driving offroad has never been easier and the awesome engine (and we can’t emphasise how much it deserves that compliment) and chassis upgrades also make the new Disco extremely user-friendly on the road.
The only red-flag for us were a couple of quality niggles, such as a left-rear window with a faulty closing mechanism, and warning messages pertaining to the stability control system that would appear on the dashboard display for no apparent reason. The front suspension also emitted some soft moans over speed humps. Our test unit had been used and abused on the press launch, and we assume these issues are related, but in all other respects, Discovery 4 is going to be hard to beat. In fact, we think the first SUV to do so is probably going to be badged “Discovery 5”.