Dis­cov­er­ing the Truth

Is the new Dis­cov­ery re­ally bet­ter than its pre­de­ces­sors? Four own­ers of Dis­cov­erys 1, 2, 3 and 4 take the lat­est ver­sion off-road­ing

Land Rover Monthly - - Contents - Story: Mark Dixon Pic­tures: Alisdair Cusick

Four LRM read­ers drive the new Dis­cov­ery on East­nor’s 43 miles of tracks. But would they buy one?

You can thank LRM reader John Hooker for this fea­ture. John drives a Dis­cov­ery 4, and when the new Dis­cov­ery was launched, he wrote to this magazine to say that we’d been too un­crit­i­cal of it. We’d ap­par­ently taken the press re­lease at its word, and not probed deeply enough into whether the ve­hi­cle lived up to its claims.

In our de­fence, we had only driven a pro­to­type for less than 30 min­utes, so we (and ev­ery other magazine) could pub­lish lit­tle more than what Land Rover chose to tell us at that stage. But John was mak­ing a very good point. So LRM ed­i­tor Pa­trick Cruywagen in­vited him, and three other own­ers of pre­vi­ous-gen­er­a­tion Dis­cov­erys, to put a new one through its paces on an off-road course. Af­ter all, who else is more qual­i­fied to com­ment on the new ve­hi­cle than the peo­ple who have in­ti­mate knowl­edge of its pre­de­ces­sors?

There was re­ally only one place we could choose as our test venue. Af­ter Soli­hull’s Lode Lane fac­tory, East­nor Cas­tle is Land Rover’s spir­i­tual second home. They’ve been test­ing Landies on its estate for more than 50 years, and the grounds now house a flag­ship Ex­pe­ri­ence Cen­tre with a fleet of the lat­est Land Rover prod­ucts, new Dis­cov­ery in­cluded. Plus, of course, a bat­tal­ion of highly-trained in­struc­tors who can show you just what a Land Rover can do off-road.

So, on a damp and driz­zly sum­mer morn­ing, we meet John Hooker and his newly-re­cruited team of fel­low test driv­ers, all from the Dis­cov­ery Own­ers Club, in the Scan­dis­tyle re­cep­tion area of the Ex­pe­ri­ence Cen­tre. Over cof­fee and bis­cuits, the group gets to know each other. Rep­re­sent­ing the Dis­cov­ery 1 is G-WAC owner and Project Jay Preser­va­tion Group co­or­di­na­tor, Roy Pre­ston. Vicechair­man of the Dis­cov­ery Own­ers Club, Richard Wil­cox, has brought along his very late ex­am­ple of a Dis­cov­ery 2 V8. Over from Cam­bridgeshire is Andy Logs­dail and his sil­ver Dis­cov­ery 3, while John has driven all the way from Corn­wall in his ev­ery­day Dis­cov­ery 4. Let bat­tle com­mence!

Sadly, the dreaded ‘Elf and Safety’ means that no one will be al­lowed to drive their own Dis­cov­erys on the East­nor estate. The upside is that with four brand-new Dis­cov­erys al­lo­cated to us for the day, ev­ery­one will get plenty of time in the hot seat and one-on-one tu­ition from the in­struc­tors. And, when we see what th­ese ve­hi­cles will be put through, it’s easy to un­der­stand why Land Rover is un­will­ing to al­low own­ers to have a go in their own ma­chines. If some­thing went wrong, the po­ten­tial con­se­quences could keep a lot of lawyers in em­ploy­ment for a long time.

Al­though we’re all itch­ing to get out onto the jun­gle-like trails that snake through East­nor’s ver­dant land­scape, our first trip in the Dis­cov­erys is just a few hun­dred yards up the lane and into a spe­cially-con­structed tech­ni­cal site – all con­crete and land­scaped ground – where the ve­hi­cles’ abil­i­ties can be safely demon­strated. Do you re­mem­ber the fea­ture in LRM’S July is­sue, in which the Bri­tish and Irish Lions rugby team were put through their off-road­ing paces? Well, this is where it hap­pened. It’s known as the Sheep Field, and sheep do in­deed safely graze here, sep­a­rated from the ac­tion by stout fenc­ing.

The site’s ob­sta­cles are de­signed to show off the ex­treme an­gles at which Land Rovers can op­er­ate, and the con­crete has been poured with mil­li­met­ric pre­ci­sion to en­sure that

the ve­hi­cles tip just so far and no fur­ther. A Dis­cov­ery can safely roll up to 29 de­grees, and from the in­side that feels like be­ing on board a ship that’s just about to fall down the side of a tsunami. Those of us who are pas­sen­ger­ing make full use of the var­i­ous grab han­dles (al­though, in­ter­est­ingly, the new Dis­cov­ery doesn’t fea­ture the in­te­gral seat head­rest han­dles that were so use­ful for back-seat pas­sen­gers in pre­vi­ous Dis­cov­erys).

Us­ing Rock Crawl mode, the in­struc­tors show our testers how to do that clas­sic Land Rover thing of ap­proach­ing a knife-edge ridge at 45 de­grees, ever-so-slowly crest­ing it un­til the Dis­cov­ery is bal­anc­ing on two di­ag­o­nally op­po­site wheels, and then eas­ing it for­ward so that it gen­tly tips side­ways onto three wheels, and then for­ward onto four. It al­ways feels slightly scary and never fails to thrill, whether you’ve done it be­fore or not.

There’s also a wad­ing tank here, to prove the new model’s 900 mm max­i­mum wad­ing depth. “Engi­neer­ing started with a tar­get of one me­tre for the wad­ing depth,” says in­struc­tor Richard, “but the prob­lem was that the ve­hi­cle tends to float away when the wa­ter’s that deep!”

It’s all very im­pres­sive, if a lit­tle bit clin­i­cal, since any trace of veg­e­ta­tion has been cleared away for safety rea­sons. Our testers have en­joyed them­selves im­mensely, though. “I like play­ing in the woods with my Dis­cov­ery, and I’m used to it, but the tech­ni­cal sec­tion was great for al­low­ing us to push the ve­hi­cle to its lim­its in safety,” ex­plains D2 owner Richard Wil­cox. The other three own­ers echo his sen­ti­ment, and even th­ese sea­soned Dis­cov­ery users ad­mit that they still find the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the new ve­hi­cle sur­pris­ing.

Nev­er­the­less, the af­ter­noon ses­sion is what we’re all look­ing for­ward to. It’s sched­uled to take place in East­nor’s Deer Park, but that bland la­bel is about as ap­pro­pri­ate as de­scrib­ing the Darien Gap as a green lane. There are cer­tainly deer here­abouts, but the log­ging trails we’ll be driv­ing are less park and more trop­i­cal jun­gle – well, as trop­i­cal as Here­ford­shire gets. Our con­voy of 3.0 Td6 Dis­cov­erys purrs down the lane from the Ex­pe­ri­ence Cen­tre to the far side of the East­nor estate, be­ing care­ful never to ex­ceed 30 mph: this day is all about tak­ing it slow.

“The tech­ni­cal sec­tion was great for al­low­ing us to push the ve­hi­cle to its lim­its safely”

“Au­to­matic Ter­rain Re­sponse got us up the slope with no in­put from me what­so­ever”

Dis­cov­ery 1 owner Roy Pre­ston is hav­ing his eyes opened pro­por­tion­ately wider than the oth­ers, be­cause he’s never driven a ve­hi­cle with Land Rover’s Ter­rain Re­sponse sys­tem. Hard to believe that this tech­nol­ogy, by which the driver uses a ro­tary knob to se­lect the most ap­pro­pri­ate trans­mis­sion and en­gine char­ac­ter­is­tics for a par­tic­u­lar of­froad chal­lenge, has been around since 2004, when it was launched in the Dis­cov­ery 3.

“The tech­nol­ogy is won­der­ful!” en­thuses Roy. “In the old days, when I was tri­alling in my 80in Se­ries I, you would have to at­tack the course a lit­tle bit quicker, to make sure you had enough mo­men­tum, but now the ve­hi­cle does it all for you and you can just crawl up. And, of course, you don’t have to worry about chang­ing gear.”

Andy Logs­dail agrees that the tech­nol­ogy is in­deed amaz­ing – but he won­ders whether it’s al­most a bit too good to be en­joy­able. “The hard­ened off-roader won’t like it be­cause ev­ery­thing’s done for you; it’s just point and shoot. It’s lit­er­ally bet­ter than any hu­man could man­age.”

How­ever, Andy ad­mits that he did find the Au­to­matic Ter­rain Re­sponse op­tion very use­ful. Press the ro­tary knob down, and the car’s com­puter au­to­mat­i­cally picks and chooses be­tween its var­i­ous ter­rain set­tings, con­stantly analysing and ad­just­ing the driv­e­train to max­imise trac­tion. The ef­fect is, quite sim­ply, mag­i­cal.

“In the morn­ing ses­sion, on one of the tech­ni­cal sec­tions that had an in­cline that was stepped on one side and smooth on the other, us­ing ATR the car was in full con­trol of it­self. It started off up the in­cline, stopped, thought about what it needed to do, and then got us up the slope with no in­put from me what­so­ever.

“Then, in the af­ter­noon, there was one par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult wooded sec­tion, where we had to ne­go­ti­ate a tight right hair­pin turn that led straight onto a slip­pery hill,” re­calls Andy later. “The ve­hi­cles in front all needed two or three goes to get round, but we did it in one be­cause we were us­ing ATR. It’s just bril­liant. Of course, the hard­core of­froad­ers will com­plain that it takes all the fun out of it!”

No one se­ri­ously ex­pected the new Dis­cov­ery to ac­tu­ally be worse off-road than the D3 and D4, of course. How­ever, more than one of our testers com­mented that its more

rounded shape, com­pared with the brick-like pro­file of the older mod­els, makes it harder to place in a tight spot. John Hooker is quite scathing on the sub­ject, hav­ing had an anx­ious mo­ment at ex­actly the same right turn that Andy was just re­fer­ring to.

“I knew that I had to move quickly and not slow down, but as I came round the cor­ner I had no idea about whether I was go­ing to hit the far bank. Of course there are cam­eras, but you don’t al­ways have time to look away and down at a screen: you need to be watch­ing out of the win­dow. The C-pil­lars are also very bulky, and the ris­ing waist­line of the car means that vis­i­bil­ity out of the back is ap­palling.”

Quite sep­a­rately, Andy Logs­dail also felt that out­ward vis­i­bil­ity wasn’t as good as it could be, al­though he reck­oned that the on-board cam­eras – four of them on the new Dis­cov­ery, giv­ing an al­most 360-de­gree view – go a long way to com­pen­sat­ing for that. John ad­mits that the res­o­lu­tion of those cam­eras is a lot bet­ter than a D4’s: “It’s like watch­ing a film be­ing played on an ipad” is the way he de­scribes the use of cam­eras in the new Dis­cov­ery.

Com­pared with the orig­i­nal high-tech D3, the touch­screen graph­ics are cer­tainly a lot more so­phis­ti­cated, and it’s fas­ci­nat­ing to watch parts of the trans­mis­sion schematic flash­ing as wheels oc­ca­sion­ally spin be­fore, al­most in­stan­ta­neously, find­ing trac­tion again. “I don’t find the screen par­tic­u­larly in­tu­itive, though” grum­bles John. “And I do miss those chunky but­tons you could op­er­ate in gloves!”

Need­less to say, all the new Dis­cov­erys be­ing driven to­day are fit­ted on fac­tory-spec road tyres, as is Land Rover pol­icy when demon­strat­ing its ve­hi­cles. Would chunkier off-road

“The lack of a proper split tail­gate is dis­ap­point­ing”

tyres make them even more ca­pa­ble? “Prob­a­bly not,” says in­struc­tor Ben. “The elec­tron­ics make up for any de­fi­cien­cies in the tyres.” Which is quite a sober­ing thought.

The rain never lets up for the du­ra­tion of the day, and while this un­doubt­edly makes the tracks more greasy, muddy and there­fore more in­ter­est­ing, the Dis­cov­erys are never even remotely fazed. Com­ments about driver’s vis­i­bil­ity aside, no one has a bad word to say re­gard­ing the Dis­cov­ery’s off-road­ing ca­pa­bil­ity.

But the same isn’t true about what it would be like to live with day-to-day. In­ter­viewed sep­a­rately af­ter the event, ev­ery one of our testers crit­i­cises the rear load space.

Roy Pre­ston: “Al­though there’s plenty of room in­side, the aper­ture’s not wide enough. A big piece of fur­ni­ture might phys­i­cally fit in­side, but you wouldn’t be able to get it through the tail­gate aper­ture.”

Richard Wil­cox: “I’m not con­vinced about the load space size com­pared with a D4’s.”

Andy Logs­dail: “The boot space seems about the same size as a D2’s, but I’m not sure it’s as good as a D3 or D4’s.”

But the most de­tailed anal­y­sis comes from John Hooker, who uses his D4 for work and cov­ers 30,000 miles a year.

“I of­ten have to load bulky ob­jects into the rear, and I have se­ri­ous is­sues with the height of the rear sill in the new car, the fact that the aper­ture is about four inches shal­lower, and that its more rounded shape makes it impossible to load big boxes. It just doesn’t ap­pear to have been de­signed for the same peo­ple who bought a D3 or D4.

“The lack of a proper split tail­gate is also dis­ap­point­ing. I fre­quently use the D4’s lower tail­gate as a desk when I’m out work­ing in the field, and the asym­met­ric shape of up­per and lower tail­gates means that you can keep out of the rain. The new Dis­cov­ery’s fold-down flap is much smaller, so you can’t sit on it and keep your legs clear of dirt on the rear bumper and tow bar.

“Fur­ther­more, the rear seats don’t fold down to give a fully flat load space, un­less you in­struct the car to fold them flat­ter – which Land Rover ad­mits could dam­age the leather sur­face of the seats. The elec­tric tail­gate is painfully slow in lift­ing up, and the in­wardly an­gled cor­ners are pos­i­tively dan­ger­ous: they are go­ing to kill some­one, one day.”

Strong stuff. But John is not anti-dis­cov­ery, and he does like some of the new car’s features. “I’m al­ways wor­ried about leav­ing my bor­der col­lie Ben in­side my D4, and the app for remotely check­ing and ad­just­ing the Dis­cov­ery’s in­te­rior tem­per­a­ture would be an ab­so­lute god­send to me.”

John also points out that what he per­ceives as the Dis­cov­ery’s de­fi­cien­cies wouldn’t turn him off the brand. “Iron­i­cally, the full-fat Range Rover is now clos­est to the kind of util­ity ve­hi­cle that they used to build – so I’d prob­a­bly buy one of those in­stead!”

Our other three testers, Roy, Richard and Andy, have fewer reser­va­tions about the new Dis­cov­ery and say they’d very much like to own one. Andy won’t have to wait long. He was so im­pressed by his day out at East­nor that he’s al­ready placed an or­der for a new Dis­cov­ery HSE!

Above and right: The new Dis­cov­ery has a wad­ing depth of 900 mm – a whole 200 mm deeper than the D4’s; smart­phone app can mon­i­tor in­te­rior tem­per­a­ture

Above and left: Greasy, rut­ted tracks, lu­bri­cated by a con­stant drizzle, proved no chal­lenge at all to the Dis­cov­erys from the Land Rover Ex­pe­ri­ence fleet


Above and right: The Dis­cov­erys were all fit­ted with the well-proven Td6 3.0-litre tur­bod­iesel; touch­screen of­fers masses of info and con­nec­tiv­ity, but takes a lit­tle time to mas­ter

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