IT was only a few months ago that I sampled the All-New Land Rover Discovery on the official press launch in the North West area of South Africa. My summation was centred on the fact that the new Disco “kicked compromise into touch” as in typical Land Rover fashion, it somehow managed to perform on AND off-road duties at an astonishingly high level. Usually, one facet of the dynamic repertoire is compromised, but not in this case despite the fact that some of the bush-whacking was more severe than most owners would attempt.
Now, I’ve had a week behind the wheel to sample an HSE Luxury version with 3.0 V6 diesel power on my home territory which means more trips to the shops and less high speed open road cruising. In other words, usage that mirrors the everyday patterns of most drivers.
But before I go there, I feel I must focus your attention on a subjective matter that was raised by quite a few interested parties and which did come under the microscope on the aforementioned launch. That concerns the thorny issue of styling and the Disco’s rear end in particular.
Cast your mind back to the third and fourth generations of the Discovery and the abiding memory is of the distinctive assymetric rear window that necessitated an offset positioning of the rear number plate. The vertical sides and large glass area of those models meant they could not be confused with any other competitor, and certainly with no other model in the Land Rover range.
The fifth-generation version has taken on a lot more Range Rover-inspired cues, especially around the nose which is rounder and more laid-back, while the flanks are notable for their muscular shoulder line that endows the newcomer with an altogether more imposing stance. The curvaceous flanks do not however extend to the tailgate which is rather upright and which now incorporates a symmetric window that sits atop an offset number plate housing, doubtless retained to maintain the link to famous forebears.
It’s that offset that is questioned along with the lack of tailgate rake but let me make the point that while the offset is purely a styling issue, the automated vertical tailgate does liberate more interior space, it improves visibility and it makes for a much less claustrophobic environment for occupants of the third row of seats, when fitted.
Indeed, the seating configuration of the new Disco is a model highlight with a host of push button-instigated variations on hand such that a mere finger prod can fold backrests or move the middle row fore and aft to ease access to row three, or even to change the angle of the backrest for those luxuriating in the middle row.
With rows two and three folded, there’s a gargantuan 2 406 litres of space on offer but even with five on board, there’s still 1137 litres available to accommodate madame’s wardrobe which is also restrained from skating around by an automatically folding and extending lip that facilitates loading or removal of items over the rear bodywork.
That monocoque ‘lightweight’ bodywork, by the way, sports a really smooth and glossy finish (an impractical maroon in this instance) and is marked out by tight and even panel gaps. The attention to detail continues in the more hidden areas of the doors which are kitted out with multiple rubber seals that do an admirable job of keeping dust where it belongs – on the outside.
Heading back inside, this HSE Luxury model positively drips in smart finishes and an endless array of niceties which extend to a veritable army of airbags. High quality perforated cow hide swathes all seats which transform into all shapes, positions and angles at the mere touch of a button while tired arms and elbows are supported by an array of soft armrests. Tailoring of those super-comfortable and supportive seats is out of the top drawer while good tactile qualities are assured thanks to the widespread use of soft touch surfacing and classy materials which even extend to the roof lining.
I’m not going into the niceties of all the equipment on offer (please go to: www.landrover.co.zw,) suffice to say that everything that matters is powered – and talking of power, there are 5V power sockets all over the cabin – that the new infotainment system with its all-encompassing satellite mapping represents a huge improvement on what went before and that the general ambience is right up with what you’d expect from a luxury sedan.
These days, you almost have a right to expect that an HSE model from the Land Rover stable will want for little but given the extent of the options list which permits bespoke kitting out to meet personal preferences, I’ve elected instead to say more about how the latest Disco goes.
With the well-proven 3.0 TdV6 motor, two words provide the answer and that is: “very well.” There’s 190kW and 600Nm on tap so you can well imagine that not too much will hold back a Disco with this power unit. Even from cold, there’s very little clatter and once on the move, that mill is as good as inaudible. Hills are devoured with disdain and even away from the lights, this high-riding SUV will make some sporty hatchbacks work hard. For the record, top speed is listed at 209km/h and the 0-100 dash disappears in 8.1s.
Sure, the diesel lacks the urgency of the 3.0 petrol unit but what it lacks in sharp responses, it makes up for in effortless progress (and reduced thirst as a 10l/100km real-world average demonstrates) such that this should be your power unit of choice if lots of off-road work is anticipated or if towing work (up to 3 500kg) is common.
The power delivery of this motor is nicely attuned to the proven 8-speed ZF auto box such that there’s little need to employ manual override as the gearbox brains mostly find the right gear for the occasion. Changes are swift and soothingly slurred without the slippage that plagues many older boxes of Oriental origin.
And, exactly as you might predict, the drive goes through all four wheels with almost infinite control provided by the latest iteration of Land Rover’s simply brilliant Terrain Response system that finesses traction according to the surface being traversed. Past experience proved that this Disco will tackle the most inhospitable obstacles but to make best use of all the systems on offer, I strongly recommend that owners spend a day at a Land Rover Experience Centre or study the handbook with great care.
This HSE Luxury model sported air suspension which usefully offers drive-height options for off-road work (and even trailer hitching!) but most importantly, serves up a controlled ride with none of the sloppiness that the initial pliancy might suggest. Indeed, that soft cushion helps absorb road irregularities with aplomb and makes the All-New Discovery a fine open road cruiser, albeit not one that you really want to throw into corners.
The high build ensures that the laws of physics can’t be ignored when it comes to quelling lateral movements induced by enthusiastic cornering, but thanks in part to nicely-geared and accurate power steering, this Disco is more wieldy than its large external dimensions might suggest. It also brakes very effectively but a mildly soft pedal gives the wrong impression that the sheer bulk of the vehicle makes the discs work rather hard to earn their keep.
It’s also decently refined as mechanical, wind and road-induced noises are effectively quelled and notwithstanding that this test unit had led a hard life by finding itself on the press roster from day one, the structure proved to be wholly rattle-free.
This latest iteration of the Discovery formula demonstrates just how much progress has been made in ensuring that a big and incredibly well-equipped SUV can be such an effective tool, on and off-road. In terms of on-road refinement and general drivability, this one is much nearer matching an executive sedan than anyone has the right to expect and for a certainty, it will see off most 4WD bakkies when the going gets tougher than tough.
For sure, you pay for the privilege but if the positioning of a number plate is just about the only issue that invokes negative comment, you’ve got some idea of just how good the overall package is. It does raise the question though as to whether or not its main rivals actually lurk within the same camp.
(Premier Auto are the official Land Rover importers for Zimbabwe)