The Land Rover Discovery has been around for a decade or so, but a recent facelift has kept it near the top of the “luxury barge” segment.
On the first day the new Land Rover Discovery arrived at our offices, we went in search of the perfect location to shoot a few photographs. This was easier said than done, as a black car with black alloys is just about as hard as it gets, photography wise. The car basically acts as a reflector for everything around it, which is nice if you want people gawking at you, but not so good if you just want to take a photograph showing the styling changes on the recently face-lifted Disco.
Rushing from one location to the next, we felt slightly at odds with the new Disco. Something felt different, but we couldn’t put our finger on it, so instead we just enjoyed the luxurious interior accompanied by the faint whine of supercharged V6.
With the photographs finally in the bag, we headed back to the office. Just before we turned off, we caught a glimpse of a “pearlescent” white Discovery 3. It looked majestic and sophisticated, but its owner did not share the same admiration for out blacked-out model.
It was then that we realised why this particular Disco just doesn’t feel right. With all its trinkets and bling it looks decidedly gangster-like. This is fine on something like a Range Rover Sport, but on a Discovery it just doesn’t work.
The Disco is a gentleman’s SUV. When we imagine the average Discovery owner, we see a man with a well-trimmed beard who prefers long-sleeved shirts rolled up to just beneath the elbows. He drinks only single malt whisky but more importantly, he knows why it’s called that. Most of all, he’s a responsible family man with an eye for quality and a love of adventure.
But style and perception are of little consequence here. The biggest issue is the Disco’s age. The current model has been with us in some shape or form since 2004, but thanks to a nip and tuck every now and then, it has been able to keep up with – and mostly surpass – its rivals.
Still, it’s hard to hide a vehicle’s age these days and the fact is that all of the Disco’s direct competitors, except for the Volvo XC90, have been replaced by newer, more advanced models in recent years.
Is this latest facelift enough to keep the Disco as relevant as it once was?
Luckily, the exterior finish of the Discovery can be customised according to taste, because otherwise this particular test vehicle would score minus three stars.
In the right colour, the Disco is actually an automotive design masterpiece. As we’ve said, Land Rover has made a few tweaks here and there, but the basic shape has been kept the same since 2004. One would expect it to look dated by now, but its chunky appearance has stood the test of time. Unless you’re an automotive expert, you’d be hard pressed to single it out as the elder in the group.
The most noticeable changes to the latest model include a new bumper, headlamps and tail lights, but the design feature that immediately jumps out is the Discovery lettering on the bonnet. This is a huge change for a motoring icon like the Disco, but it’s all part of a new model structure that Land Rover will be introducing over the next few years. Regular readers will know that the Freelander name will soon be dead and replaced by the new Discovery Sport on which we report on page xxx.
While the new Disco Sport looks utterly sensational, we’re still very fond of the Discovery we know and love. In the right specification, it’s an elegant vehicle that looks as expensive as it is, without being overly bombastic about how big a hole it has made in its owner’s wallet.
The interior of the facelifted Disco is almost faultless. The driving position is sublime, as is the leather that the seats are wrapped in. There’s more than enough space for five people and their luggage, but the Disco has two extra fold-up seats, making it a seven seater. The rear seats are, however, suitable only for children and when folded up they leave little to no room for luggage. We won’t subtract any marks for this little problem, however, as it’s also a drawback on every single one of its competitors.
As the Disco was designed in Britain, we were expecting copious amounts of luxury. It did not disappoint. Manufacturers often make the mistake of showering a car with the latest infotainment systems and calling it a luxury vehicle but, in our opinion, this is not what luxury is about. Luxury is all about space, comfort, ease of use and minimal intrusion from the noisy outside world. The Discovery fares well on all these fronts.
Yes, it has all the modern gizmos and gimmicks, but it’s the level of sophistication that wins our hearts. Land Rover has made it very easy to understand what each and every button on the centre console does, and the touch-screen infotainment system is easy to understand and navigate. It’s slightly slow with certain functions, but since the rest of the interior is a joy to operate, we’re willing to let this small niggle slide.
It’s a deeply satisfying experience driving this car on the open road, or in rush hour traffic. You simply turn the gear selector dial to “D” and tootle along while the car does the rest.
Our favourite feature by far is the Meridian premium sound system with 380 watts of power. It’s not so much the power that impresses but rather the quality of the sound. We listen to the same songs in every single test vehicle, but in this car we noticed new layers in old familiar songs. It seems the Discovery lives up to its name in more than one department.
Performance and handling****
Our Discovery was equipped with the new 250kW/450Nm supercharged V6 petrol engine. This unit replaces the 5,0-litre petrol V8 found in the pre-facelift Discovery. It’s down on power compared to the old V8, but it consumes less fuel and emits less harmful emissions into the atmosphere.
The engine is mated to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, which does a decent job of selecting the right gear at the right time. The Discovery is particularly impressive off the line, as it does the sprint to 100km/h in just over nine seconds. That’s not bad for something as porky as the Disco, which weighs in at more than two-and-a-half tons.
We have to be honest and say that we wouldn’t actually recommend the Discovery with this engine. The turbocharged diesel powertrain makes more sense most of the time, and there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s still a thirsty beast.
One could argue that fuel prices simply don’t matter when it comes to a car that costs more than R800 000, but we do feel that the irritation of having to refuel every four days or so would get tiresome fairly quickly.
The Discovery was delivered to our offices fully fuelled and by day two it had consumed half a tank. At that point it had only done around 150km, and we had not driven it enthusiastically.
Other than that, there’s not much to complain about. For a vehicle of this size, the Discovery handles reasonably well on tar. It did not feel nervous or twitchy at high speed. In fact, it was like a well-sorted saloon car as far as soaking up bumps was concerned. Large SUVs often tend to bounce around for a few seconds after passing over a pothole, but the Disco sorts out any irregularity in one fell swoop and continues effortlessly on its journey.
Handling is a moot point in our opinion, but it’s worth mentioning that the steering is nicely weighted. It’s light enough to make manoeuvring around the city easy, but heavy enough to inspire confidence on the open road.
As this is a Land Rover, we have to comment on its off-road prowess. These vehicles tend not to be bought as status symbols as most of the Discos we’ve noticed during our week with the car had ZA stickers on the back.
While we didn’t dare take this particular unit off-road for fear of scratching its blackened exterior, we can tell you from previous experience that it is exceptionally good at exploring less than hospitable places.
As standard, you get Land Rover’s famous Terrain Response system, which sets the car up perfectly for whatever conditions you may be driving in. All you need do is look out of the window, identify the terrain and toggle the Terrain Response switch until you get to the right option. After that it’s mostly just a case of pointing the car in the direction of your final destination.
Land Rover has included Extended Navigation on the facelifted Discovery. This means you get the full suite of Tracks4Africa maps as standard. As most of the content in these maps is user-driven, you’ll find loads of interesting alternative routes as well as points of interest, even when you wander outside the borders of SA.
When Euro NCAP first tested the Discovery back in 2006, the vehicle received four stars. It scored well in all departments back then, but Land Rover has now beefed up the Disco with a few nifty extra safety features.
Obviously you get the standard active and passive safety fare such as ABS, DSC and airbags, not to mention the bonus of permanent four-wheel drive.
The safety technology in the facelifted Discovery includes blind spot monitoring, reverse traffic detection and cameras mounted at the front, which give you a better view of oncoming traffic at a T-junction.
Top-of-the-line models can even be specified with wade sensing, which is technology currently unique to Land Rover. This useful feature allows the driver to monitor how close he/she is getting to the Disco’s maximum wading depth of 700mm by looking at a real time projection of the vehicle’s profile on the TFT screen housed in the centre console.
Practicality and versatility****
The Discovery is part of a very small club of luxurious SUVs that are often used for the purpose they were designed for. The only other luxury barge we can think of that can make this claim is the Toyota Prado.
As a family off-road express, the Disco offers everything one could reasonably expect. At almost five metres long and more than two metres wide, it offers loads of interior space. This is augmented by large windows, which gives the interior a nice open feel.
With five passengers on board, there is well over 1000 litres of boot space available. Access to the boot is easy via a split tailgate, which makes loading large objects a hassle-free experience.
Land Rover has included a few features that should come in handy on longer trips, such as 12V sockets for the rear passengers and the cargo area, a fridge located between the front seats and a set of rubber mats that can be taken out and hosed down.
You get the sense that the people who planned this car really understood what it was going to be used for, and designed it accordingly.
Value for money****
The Discovery sits more or less in the middle of the petrol powered large luxury SUVs. When it comes to choosing, it depends on what kind of vehicle you’re looking for, because you can either go for a luxury SUV with limited off-road ability, such as the Mercedes ML400, or a luxury barge that you can take deep into the unknown, like the Toyota Prado.
If it were our money, we’d definitely spend it on the Discovery, but we’d walk right past the supercharged petrol model and go for the 3,0-litre turbocharged diesel Discovery.