Land Rover Discovery
The new Disco dances better in the Bush than looks might suggest
Ihave to kick this one off with a disclaimer. I’m probably not the best person to review the recently launched Land Rover Discovery. Why? Because I’m an old Land Rover nut. Yes, I’m one of those annoying people who still haven’t stopped whining about the demise of the Defender.
For people like me, the Land Rover badge is steeped in Camel Trophy images of Defenders and Discoveries fording insanely deep jungle rivers. Or trailing a dust plume into the savannah sky. An evocative slab-sided bush truck that’s all bars and brush wires.
The problem with this romantic notion is just that. It’s all romance and little substance. And it does neglect to recall sometimes troubling reliability issues and somewhat questionable ergonomics. But really, I probably just read too many Wilbur Smith novels when I was a kid.
So it was somewhat of a challenge to push all of this aside when climbing behind the wheel of this gleaming black Disco and see it for what it really is. Tata’s buyout of Jaguar Land Rover nearly a decade ago has seen much-needed investment in product development – something that has been gathering pace ever since.
And it’s hard to argue against that! So, maybe to appease jaded old luddites like me, the Disco is covered in little styling cues that reflect Land Rover’s formidable off-road heritage. The steering wheel centre, for example, emulates the shape of the old Defender’s dashboard.
The mirror-mounted downlights not only prevent you from alighting into a fresh cow pat or onto a sleeping taipan, they also project little Land Rover logos onto the ground. Which kinda makes it all feel pretty special for an LR fanboy like me.
The new Disco comes with plenty of surprises. For a start, it’s powered by what seems like a tiny 2-litre, 4-cylinder turbo-diesel from JLR’s Ingenium engine family. This is the mid-range engine option. The entry-level TD4 makes 132kW (165hp)/430Nm while the top-spec 3-litre V6 makes 190kW (255hp) and 600Nm. The TD4 is also available as a 2-wheel drive.
What the SD4 engine lacks in stature it makes up for in grunt, 177kW (237hp) at 4000rpm and 500Nm at 1500rpm. Behind that sits an 8-speed dual- clutch automated transmission. The downsized power plant is also reported to be frugal with a claimed thirst of just 6.2L/ 100km. Not too shabby for a truck that tips the scales at 2184kg at the kerb. The Discovery SD4 is also rated to tow a braked load of 3500kg, though TD4 models are rated at 3000kg.
What I wanted to know when grabbing the keys to the SD4 HSE was whether it was now a soft-roading SUV with a Landy badge or whether it had the ability to back up its badge credibility. This HSE has been optioned up with some extra fruit, including 20-inch spoked alloy wheels, 16-way adjustable leather seats, a sunroof, DAB audio and seating for seven.
“The Disco is covered in little styling cues that reflect Land Rover’s formidable off-road heritage”
Standard features include wood finish on the dash, a dual-range 4x4 system with air-suspension and a touchscreen multimedia system with navigation. Three-zone climate control, auto levelling and washer- equipped LED headlights are also standard equipment. Notably for those that leave the city behind, the Discovery also gets a full- sized spare wheel.
Ticking all those option boxes means that this shiny black fourby will set you back $118,275.00 before on roads. Without options, the SD4 will cost you $ 96,950.
All of which places the Disco firmly in high-spec 200 Series LandCruiser territory. Is that a fair comparison?
I wanted to know how the smooth-styled Landy coped away from the city lights and shopping centres, a fair call for a vehicle with heritage steeped in off-road credibility.
From the outside, the Disco looks every bit the urban assault vehicle. The styling is a little nondescript yet there are subtleties that still speak of Disco evolution, from the slight kick up in the roofline to the cutouts and window shaped in the (electronic) rear tailgate. Initial impressions were leaning toward the urban rather than the rural.
Inside does have a prestige feel. From the transmission selection dial that smoothly raises from the console when you press the ignition button, to the smattering of wood grain on the dash, and, of course, the cow skin seats add to that feel. You definitely feel as though you’re driving a vehicle from the Range Rover family. It makes you feel special.
It feels nimble on the road too. While it’s hardly a featherweight at over two tonnes,
85 per cent of the Disco’s monocoque body is aluminium. This shows when on the move – it’s certainly no slouch. Regardless of weight, this is still a sizable truck. The automated transmission, however, like many dual-clutch units, can be a little indecisive and it shifts hard when cold.
On-road handling, though, wasn’t a strong point. Steering and cornering feels quite numb. There’s a sense of disconnect from the driver’s seat. This is even still apparent out on the highway; the Discovery feels a bit disengaged. Competent but remote.
But while its styling may suggest a vehicle more at home in the suburbs, it wasn’t until we were in the bush that this car really started to shine. It’s a great thing off road.
That sense of disconnect on the blacktop soon becomes engaging once the dirt roads start. Power delivery from the diesel four-pot is peaky but predictable.
But once the more gnarly lumps and bumps start, Land Rover’s excellent Terrain Response 2 system comes into play. Select low range and the Disco raises itself to its full height on air suspension. Point it at a decent obstacle and it clambers over with aplomb. On steep downhill sections, the hill-descent control comes into play, keeping the Landy straight and composed.
While the engine is quite revvy in nature, peak torque from 1500rpm saves you from wringing its neck.
This off-road ability may be a hallmark of the Land Rover badge but it’s at odds with the styling and feel of the car on road. It has a finesse in the dirt that is quite unexpected.
With some pretty 20-inch alloy wheels fitted, we didn’t get too carried away in the bush. However, suffice to say I came away impressed. What the Disco lacks in on-road engagement it does make up for in off-road ability. Not bad for a seven-seater wagon trimmed in leather with a 10-speaker 380-watt stereo system. But, then again, considering the asking price, it’s a fair cop to expect the best of both worlds.
Chances are most Discoveries will rarely leave the city lights behind. And the option of 2-wheel drive for some models is telling.
THE BOTTOM LINE
As bush transport, some may be sceptical. The notion of ditching a ladder-chassis 4x4 wagon may be a step too far for some. However, the bush is where the Discovery actually comes into its own. It’s pretty frugal too, with this HSE returning a fuel average of 8.5L/100km over varied roads and terrain.
To an old-school Land Rover fan, the Discovery certainly surprised in the rough stuff. On the open road, however, it lacks the finesse that one would expect from the brand and the price bracket.
“While its styling may suggest a vehicle more at home in the suburbs, it wasn’t until we were in the bush that this car really started to shine”
Top: Styling is a bit bland but there are little Land Rover styling cues dotted around the new shape
Above: Third-row seating is a $3400 option. The seats fold flat electronically
Above: The inclusion of a full-sized spare wheel is an important one for those who venture into the back blocks on a regular basis
Below: It’s a big wagon, both on the outside and the inside