This road test dates back more than twenty years. Luckily, the Discovery is still very much with us, despite some reliability issues.
The latest version has come under fire for not being a proper off-roader. We don’t agree. To prove that it’s still as capable as ever, we drove one at the Vleesbaai dunes for 24 hours straight, Le Mans style. You can read all about that by following the link below:
The year: 1999, Leisure Wheels issue 9
The car: Land Rover Discovery II V8i
The scenario: Under the skin is a revolutionary vehicle that bristles with new exciting, but it looks suspiciously like the old. This is brand new Land Rover Discovery. We look at the range, with the spotlight falling on the flagship ES model
Land Rover Discovery II V8i: Heading- A quiet revolution
Body- Its creators talked about “the evolution that hides a revolution,” and the reality is exactly that- new. In response to customer feedback, that iconic profile has been retained with its familiar stepped roof , “Alpine “windows and characteristic three-bar grille , but every body panel is new. And a study of the Land Rover’s dimensions reveals that while the vehicle rides on the same wheelbase , it is in fact notably longer and fractionally wider , enabling designers to address criticisms that included a load area that just want big enough.
So, a decade after the launch of the original, we have a worthy successor that is bigger, bolder and stronger, with wider track and host of subtle styling refinements endowing it with more confident aura.
FEATURES AND EQUIPMENT √√√√√
Whichever model you chose, and there are three distinct specification levels- GS, S and ES – you enjoy numerous features at a price, including some you won’t find anywhere else. By way of example, even the keenly priced entry-level priced entry-level version sports Hill Descent Control (HDC), Electronic Traction Control (ETC), ABS brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and a driver’s airbag. And of course that excellent V8 engine. At R 248 500, it’s very good value for money.
But if you go all the way and opt for the ES model tested here, there’s a veritable feast aimed at ensuring the Discovery rivals the top saloons in the luxury stakes, while delivering a more car-like driving experience, with none of the disconcerting body roll that afflicted Discovery’s of old. Without doubt, the major talking point is Active Cornering Enhancement (ACE), an innovative cornering on tarmac, while still freeing it up for supple, long-travel ride in low-range off-road situations.
An added refinement is the self-levelling rear air suspension (SLS) that maintains constant ride height, with the system automatically raising itself if it detects a ground clearance problem. An accessory that’s a must for caravanners is the remote control ‘plip’ to raise and lower the suspension, and therefore the towbar, for easy hitching and unhitching. Other niceties include the sophisticated In-car entertainment (ICE) that enables children in the third row forward-facing seats to plug in headphones and listen to their own tapes, while Mum and Dad enjoy their favourite CD.
Naturally, the ES comes with all the luxuries you’d anticipate in a flagship model, among them six-way electrically adjustable front seats, plush leather furnishings , a passenger airbag, sophisticated climate control with dual controls, dual air-conditioning controls and twin electric sunroofs.
The aura of the Discovery cabin has always been a major selling point, with the high-roofed design enhancing the feeling of spaciousness, even if it was previously found wanting in the load-carrying area. In the latest models we find slightly enhanced passenger space, but with the huge bonus of a stretched cargo area that dramatically improves load ability while facilitating a third row of forward-facing seats.
Clever touches include the headrest for the centre row middle passenger that reconfigures itself into an armrest when not in use and the roof-mounted head restraints for third row passengers. Owners of the previous Discovery will also delight in the improved seats with better shaped squabs and backrests, and the use of high quality materials to really provide a feeling of well-being.
The driver sits in a commanding position with a panoramic view outwards (aided by a taller windscreen), and easy access to all major controls, one little quibble being the location for the switches for the front and rear electric window winders. Some feel that those switches should be reversed, which is easy enough to do, we’re told. Rear passengers are also comfier than before with three-point inertia belts provided for all seven passengers. The third row seats are a wonder of clever packaging, folding away and still stowing under the rear luggage cover when not in use, providing a security advantage over most rival designs. Base model Discovery’s do without the extra seats, getting two usefully large lidded storage bins instead.
Most of the vehicles extra 22 cm of length are to be found in the luggage area which is now truly competitive, and shaped for easy loading, the spare wheel housed out of the way of the rear tailgate. True to addition, there is abundant stash space with a large bin between the front seats, overhead map compartments front and rear and generously proportioned door bins. And, in a thoughtful touch, there is a “curry hook”, to hang those fast-food packets or litter bag on, avoiding spillage onto the plush carpeting. The cabin is an inviting place to be on lesser models, while absolutely oozing class on the range-topping ES.
The Discovery is available either with the formidable five-cylinder 2,5 litre Td5 turbo diesel , which sets standards for potency, refinement and clean emissions, or the latest development of the 4, 0 litre Thor V8 that has, in various guises and capacities , been the mainstay of the Land Rover’s petrol range. It is a low-compression that feels and sounds wonderful, burbling happily at idle speeds, while becoming delightfully musical as revs soar to the power peak of 132 kW at 4 750 r/min. A torque peak of 320 Nm at 2 600 r/min is a guarantee of good low-down pulling power, the V8 generally impressing with its willingness.
In flat-out performance tests it is near the head of its class, although it won’t compare to Jeep’s super-quick 4, 7 litre Grand Cherokee V8, which is also notably more fuel-efficient. And, if it’s exceptional fuel efficiency you are after, you’ll have to consider the Td5 or at least a new generation BMW V8 on your wish list, a development that seems wholly natural now that BMW owns Land Rover and produces engines as efficient as they are charismatic.
Still, the V8 Discovery does a great job everywhere else other than at the petrol pumps, cruising effortlessly at speed, and having enough acceleration to ensure that overtaking manoeuvres aren’t a white-knuckled affair. Off-road characteristics are close to ideal, a light touch on the accelerator in low range being all that is needed to clear obstacles. Slowing the Disco is also no great challenge, ABS and EBD taking the sweat out of panic stops, while HDC enables you to descend slippery slopes at snail’s pace. The innovative system was pioneered on the Freelancer, and benefits from being available on any gear in the Discovery, rather than just in first and reverse.
RIDE AND HANDLING √√√√√
Where the previous Discovery lurched and rolled like a drunken sailor on the high seas, undermining many owners confidence, ACE has transformed the newcomer, hydraulic activators banishing all boy roll at cornering speeds up to 0.5 g, and then allowing a moderate degree of body lean. The result, coupled with a wider track, is that the ES handles with a poise and confidence that a revelation, moving it to the top of the class in the on-road handling department.
And even if your budget doesn’t extend to the ES, the entry-level GS model has newfound confidence on tarmac, with relatively little body roll, although this is at the expense of the exceptional wheel articulation that is a hallmark of earlier Discos. This means the base model is slightly disadvantaged on off-road conditions, although electronic traction control masks this fact. With ACE there are no trade-offs. When low range is selected it disengages: allowing full travel to ensure the marque’s legendary prowess over inhospitable terrain.
As always, a splendid ride is part of the Land Rover’s equation , all the heavy 4WD hard ware means that it can never feel as light on its feet as the best sedans. Fans of the previous model will be delighted to know that it has retained its agility, despite the greater overall length. Steering-turn in is slightly less sharp, but there’s greater accuracy and stability at speed. If there is one slight disappointment it is that the new traction control invites you to keep your foot down hard, encouraging wheel spin, instead of delicately idling your way over rough ground? There was more finesse with the predecessor, which relied on manually selectable centre diff lock for added traction.
A decade after the launch of the original Discovery , Land Rover is still defending high ground, thanks to a series of hi-tech innovations that have dramatic improved on-road manners without sacrificing the off-road prowess for which the marquee is renowned. In its latest ES guise the Discovery is a class act that delivers compelling mixture of comfort, refinement, safety and all-round performance. Dare, we suggest it, but while it might lack aristocratic appeal of the vastly more expensive Range Rover, it is now the better car.