The dream­ing

You can cross deserts in this. You won’t, though

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - LIFE -

Land Rover is a brand of ex­as­per­at­ing and in­trigu­ing con­tra­dic­tions. It of­fers beau­ti­fully mas­cu­line Bri­tish de­sign elan and in­no­va­tion, yet has for decades been dogged by a cul­tural in­abil­ity to de­liver con­sis­tent qual­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity.

Land Rover Aus­tralia chose Uluru as the launch venue for its fifth-gen­er­a­tion Dis­cov­ery, which is ironic be­cause you don’t see many Land Rovers out there any more. Al­though a Land Rover will take you deep into the wild world, far be­yond the lim­its of any Ger­man SUV, only 30 per cent of to­day’s Land Rover own­ers take their ve­hi­cle off-road, let alone into the Out­back.

“Ah, but it’s the thought,” says Jaguar Land Rover Aus­tralia man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Matthew Wies­ner. He’s right. When you’re sit­ting in your Dis­cov­ery, go­ing nowhere fast in cap­i­tal city traf­fic, you can at least close your eyes for a mo­ment and imag­ine your­self ex­pertly and ef­fort­lessly pi­lot­ing your ul­ti­mate ad­ven­ture ma­chine across the rough­est, loneli­est ter­rain imag­in­able, to the top of a big red dune, there to gaze upon the won­ders splen­did of the sun­lit plains ex­tended…

The lights have changed and the BMW X5 driver be­hind you is on the horn, apoplec­tic and scream­ing. Peas­ant. He would be lucky to get any fur­ther off-road than the lo­cal Bun­nings car park.

This Dis­cov­ery is even more al­chemic than its pre­de­ces­sors at rec­on­cil­ing di­ver­gent on-road and off-road en­gi­neer­ing path­ways, largely be­cause it in­her­its Range Rover’s mono­coque alu­minium body ar­chi­tec­ture, ad­justable air sus­pen­sion and op­tional Ter­rain Re­sponse 2 soft­ware.

In its so­phis­ti­ca­tion, com­fort, re­fine­ment, ef­fi­ciency and dy­nam­ics, Dis­cov­ery has moved closer to lux­ury Ger­man SUVs such as the X5 and Audi’s Q7.

Yet it also ex­tends the unique Land Rover off-road en­ve­lope, with Ter­rain Re­sponse 2 now able to tweak each wheel’s grip and slip co­ef­fi­cient ev­ery 100 mil­lisec­onds. There’s 500mm of ar­tic­u­la­tion at each wheel, 283mm of ground clear­ance with the sus­pen­sion fully ex­tended, plus a wad­ing depth of 900mm. Climb ev­ery moun­tain, ford ev­ery stream? Just about.

The 2017 Dis­cov­ery re­tains the pre­vi­ous model’s 3500kg max­i­mum tow­ing weight, com­ple­mented by a new, op­tional Ad­vanced Tow As­sist au­to­matic steer­ing sys­tem claimed to make re­vers­ing a trailer an easy task even for “ab­so­lute novices”. Maybe. We weren’t given a demo.

Four spec­i­fi­ca­tion lev­els – S, SE, HSE and HSE Lux­ury – are each avail­able with three tur­bod­iesel driv­e­trains and a be­wil­der­ing ar­ray of ex­pen­sive op­tions. Prices kick off at $65,960 for the S TD4, with a

2.0-litre, four-cylin­der tur­bod­iesel that pro­duces 132kW of power and 430Nm of torque, matched to an eight-speed au­to­matic. It’s ba­sic in spec­i­fi­ca­tion, with a high-rangeonly trans­mis­sion, steel spring sus­pen­sion, no nav­i­ga­tion tech­nol­ogy and cloth trim.

The SD4 has the same 2.0-litre en­gine with two tur­bos, giv­ing 177kW and 500Nm. Pack­aged with a dual-range trans­fer case and air sus­pen­sion, plus leather and nav­i­ga­tion, the value sweet spot is the SD4 SE, at $83,450.

Al­though this Dis­cov­ery is up to 480kg lighter than its bull­dozer-like pre­de­ces­sor, two and a bit tonnes is still a hefty mass for four cylin­ders to shift. The SD4 has plenty of ac­ces­si­ble torque, and per­for­mance is com­pa­ra­ble to the pre­vi­ous model’s 3.0-litre V6, but the eight-speed can dither about on down­shifts, am­pli­fy­ing turbo lag and de­lay­ing de­cent ac­cel­er­a­tion. There was no TD4 on the launch drive. Its claimed 0-100km/h time of 10.5 sec­onds puts it in the plod­der class.

Stronger bot­tom end and mid-range mus­cle with su­pe­rior trans­mis­sion re­spon­sive­ness is de­liv­ered by the 3.0-litre TDV6, with 190kW, 600Nm and a claimed 0-100 time of 8.1 sec­onds. Prices start at $78,271 for the TDV6 S, ris­ing to $114,061 – and 40 cents – for the HSE Lux­ury. A “First Edi­tion” TDV6 bling­mo­bile, with be­spoke colour com­bi­na­tions and 21-inch wheels, costs $131,871 – and 40 cents.

Up front, you’re seated in a com­fort­able, sup­port­ive cap­tain’s chair, fac­ing olde worlde ana­logue in­stru­ments and a big touch­screen. Five seats are stan­dard; two man­u­ally op­er­ated rear seats, which re­quire the dex­ter­ity of Hou­dini to climb into, are op­tional. If you add the power-op­er­ated sec­ond and third row seat op­tion, you can ar­range the in­te­rior in up to 21 con­fig­u­ra­tions from the touch screen, switches in the boot or your smart­phone, via a Land Rover app.

You can also op­tion up to nine USB charge points, six 12-volt sock­ets, an in-car wifi hotspot and a rear-seat en­ter­tain­ment sys­tem, so it’s pos­si­ble to carry six con­nected, hap­pily head­phoned kids around in this thing in com­plete si­lence. Did I hear you say “Sold”?

The Dis­cov­ery has many other prac­ti­cal in­clu­sions, such as four Isofix child seat an­chors in the seven-seater, a spa­cious and com­fort­able 60/40 split-fold row two-bench seat with ad­justable legroom and back­rest an­gle, and stor­age nooks all over the place.

An op­tional wa­ter­proof wrist­band Ac­tiv­ity Key al­lows you to lock the ve­hi­cle by tap­ping the D in the rear Dis­cov­ery badge. It also dis­ables the main key, which you leave in­side while you go for a swim, a run, or any other ac­tiv­ity where you don’t want to carry a key around.

Safety fea­tures in­clude cur­tain airbags that ex­tend to the third row, au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing and lane de­par­ture warn­ing – but radar cruise, blind spot mon­i­tor­ing and sur­round cam­eras are op­tional. So is a two-year ex­ten­sion to the stan­dard three-year man­u­fac­turer’s war­ranty, with an as­tound­ing $4120 pre­mium that sug­gests the in­surer, Al­lianz, is not par­tic­u­larly con­fi­dent in the prod­uct.

In the US, Land Rover’s qual­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity rat­ing in in­dus­try bench­mark JD Power owner sur­veys has im­proved re­cently and it has lifted it­self sev­eral places higher in the brand ta­ble than its usual po­si­tion of last. But it’s fair to say that the po­ten­tial for grief in a Land Rover re­mains a con­sid­er­a­tion. Hope­fully it’s op­tional, not stan­dard.

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