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