Why Range Rover when you can Disco?
The Discovery might be a functional machine, but it’s also a staggeringly smooth operator, says
I love the way a Range Rover goes around a corner. The new Discovery handles in the same fashion. There’s a lot of body roll, but the vehicle simply gets to a (sometimes alarming) angle and then stays there, tenacious and compliant no matter what occurs on the road surface beneath. Just 2.3 tonnes on a steady course.
Granted, the cabin doesn’t feel quite as special as the Range Rover, but Discovery’s fit/finish is now much more of luxury-car quality. Nonetheless, you can give your Discovery a pretty decent status upgrade. Our test vehicle is the HSE model, but we’ve also spent a few days in the HSE Luxury, which costs another $10k and brings a suite of extra features. Some are purely functional, like a surround-view camera system and gestureoperated tailgate, but others aim to take the vehicle way upmarket.
The Luxury gets a noticeably more touchy-feely leather upholstery called Windsor, 16-way power-operation/memory for the seats plus heating and cooling, ambient lighting and an upgraded 14-speaker sound system. Secondrow passengers get a pair of television screens. A rear-seat entertainment system does seem a little quaint in this age of the iPad, but you couldn’t accuse Land Rover of lagging behind in its digital awareness: the Discovery boasts nine USB ports.
Having said that, the biggest complaint about the liveability of this hi-tech new SUV concerns the InControl Touch Pro system. The Disco is loaded with clever stuff, including an embedded SIM and a smartphone app whose talents include folding down the rear seats remotely. The look and functionality of the Pro (widescreen) setup is also decades ahead of the clunky system in previous Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) product.
Nonetheless, it all seems a bit too clever for its own good. The screen is quick to respond to the touch, but the OS is still slow to complete many tasks, like setting a sat-nav destination or changing a music track. In fact, neither of the Discoveries I drove could reliably handle playing music from my phone, at least not if I wanted to change tracks or select playlists on-the-go. I tried both Bluetooth and cable-attached iPod-style operation, but it froze so much I ultimately gave up and listened to the radio. Yes, the radio.
I loved the Discovery so much that this issue wouldn’t be a dealbreaker. And of course my complaints are JLR-related, not Discovery-specific.
Which brings us back to that Discovery-versus-Rangie thing.
There are still reasons to buy a Range Rover. There’s snobbery, or the desire to have a monster engine under the bonnet. The TD6 is the entry level for the full-size Rangie; you can also have a TDV8 (start price $190k) or the wonderfully extreme supercharged-petrol V8 (from $236k).
Land Rover has said there will definitely not be a V8 version of the new Discovery, so that’s one way of keeping the status-quo.
But this is the danger of platform-sharing: the less expensive and/or more functional models in a range become too close to the high-end stuff. Good news for consumers, tricky for a carmaker wanting to maintain the hierachy.
The answer is to take high-end products into daring places, make them even more niche, enhance the image.
Land Rover is already on it: ‘‘Range Rover’’ is of course now a family rather than a single model: we have the Evoque, Range Rover Sport and of course the lessbadging-means-more-SUV fullsize Range Rover. There’s another, rather avant-garde Range Rover on the way called Velar. It’s a lot smaller than the big fella (in between Evoque and Sport, in fact), but a lot more interesting. And potentially not a million miles away from Land Rover Discovery money. Bring it on.
If it looks like a Range Rover, maybe it kind of is. New Disco has really stepped up in terms of on-road dynamics and luxury.