Jewel in the desert
Land Rover’s genuine off-roader takes the Utah landscape in its stride
IT’S Utah, it’s sharply brisk at the end of winter, and the landscape is very, very rugged and almost impossibly beautiful.
This high-desert country is where a Land Rover Discovery can do its best work, even though the vast majority will tackle nothing tougher than a hill start outside a private school.
We’re here to crawl over giant boulders and down dry riverbeds, cruise deserted highways, and pile seven adults into the cabin to see if the fifthgeneration Discovery has the luxury and flexibility that upscale families demand of their SUV.
The new Discovery looks good, both inside and out, with the genuine off-road credentials of a Land Rover including the ability to wade through 900 millimetres of water. It’s 480 kilograms lighter than the previous model and loaded with cutting edge technology.
A fold-down rear panel can work as a seat for three people and there’s also a dog-friendly luggage space.
There are already more than 400 orders for the Disco 5 in Australia, a number that will soon jump past 1000 during a nationwide teaser tour, with more than 80 per cent of buyers prepared to pay in the $80,000 range.
The starting price for the Disco 5 is $65,960 for a fiveseater S powered by the “low output” four-cylinder turbo diesel with 132kW and 430Nm, but that’s irrelevant for now because none will reach Australia until the final quarter of 2017.
Rivals for the newcomer, according to Land Rover Australia’s managing director Matthew Wiesner, cover a broad spread. “It’s everything from the Toyota Prado and LandCruiser to Audi Q7, Volvo XC90 and Mercedes GLS. But we’ve added a lot more at the top end,” Wiesner says.
The basics are simple: fourcylinder and V6 turbo diesel engines — 177kW/500Nm and 190Kw/600Nm — an eightspeed auto gearbox, permanent all-wheel drive that adjusts to different terrain, a five- or seven-seater cabin and as much luxury as you can afford.
The highest price is $117,750 for a TD6 seven-seater HSE, but there is a heavily-loaded “First Edition” at $132,160.
“This is a core Land Rover, but it shares the platform with the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport, so it gets a vast improvement in driveability, technology and design,” Wiesner says.
Disco 4 averaged between 2500 and 3000 sales a year over the past three years and Wiesner sees those numbers surging in the short term. “It will be our top seller, for sure.”
ON THE ROAD
The new Discovery is larger than it looks in pictures but it’s fresh and modern and far less utilitarian than previous models.
It’s not as metrosexual as an Evoque but far less blokey than a LandCruiser and the cabin is a major improvement with more upscale materials and finishing.
We’re driving heavilyloaded preview cars in Utah, with no chance to sample the basic Disco 5 S, as JLR is pushing the wow factor with lots of leather and electric folding seats.
My first disappointment is the continued absence of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto but it’s a minor thing.
It fades fast as I open the driving in an SD4, which is a bit flat in the engine room but wonderfully quiet, cushy and cosseting to drive. It’s far quieter than I expect at 100km/h, the steering is firm and rewarding, and the suspension is both capable and controlled.
Moving into the TD6 diesel brings much more lively response at all speeds. The fourcylinder might be all right for family-car work but the V6 makes a huge difference and will be the choice for people who plan to tow up to 3.5 tonnes or go seriously off-road.
OFF THE ROAD
The Disco 5 is brilliant when the bitumen stops. It copes easily with gravel roads similar to Australia, deep sand — both wet and dry — and some serious boulder hopping.
The technology makes things easy, from the heightadjustable air suspension to the Terrain Response system that automatically tweaks the engine-gearbox-traction settings for the best result.
Throughout some of the toughest off-road driving I’ve tried the Discovery is quiet, comfortable and composed.
It’s a genuine Land Rover but also a luxury car, not just transport. It’s not as refined as a Range Rover, but it is a true seven-seater SUV and it’s far more likely to be taken into the bush. It’s also way cheaper.
At a time when every newcomer gets better, the Discovery is a lot better. It might not be for everyone, and there are still worries about Land Rover’s quality, but it’s going to be a benchmark SUV in its class.