REVIEW DATE: 30 Apr 2009
There aren't too many vehicles that dominate their class in quite such an imperious manner as the Land Rover Discovery 4. Jonathan Crouch reports
Not too hard, this one. If money's no object and you want the best family 4x4 around, buy a Land Rover Discovery 4. Nothing else really gets close to matching the Disco's all-round abilities. Get it off road and it's just jaw-droppingly capable but it's the improvement in on-road performance, courtesy of the latest 3.0-litre V6 diesel, that really marks out this fourth generation version.
The concept of the facelift is a familiar one at Land Rover, the British marque having shown itself to be a master of the mid-life refresh over the years, but is facelift the right term for the Discovery 4? The market is being encouraged to view this Discovery as a completely new fourth generation of Land Rover's family-sized off-roader, hence the Discovery 4 branding, but it uses the same basic mechanicals and design as the Disco 3. The truth is somewhere in the middle with Land Rover engineers having found ways to improve upon virtually every aspect of the vehicle's make-up. Considering they had a class-leading product when they started, that should be enough.
If you've owned a Discovery3 for any length of time or tried the old 2.7-litre engine that continues in entry-level versions of this car, you won't need to be told what an improvement the 242bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel most will specify in this Discovery 4 represents. At the same time as weight has dropped by a hefty 140kg, pulling power has jumped from 440 to a thumping 600Nm. Result: virtually instant grunt in any situation, accompanied by a rather wonderful snarl at the same time as you move smoothly up and down the 6-speed automatic 'box. Add in superb refinement, bigger brakes, sharper redesigned steering and a tweaked suspension system that flattens out body roll through faster bends and you've a car that's at last a real luxury saloon alternative, if not quite able to match a BMW X5 through the twisties.
"Whether you're up to your axles in mud, carrying a family of seven or needing a soothing ride home on a wet evening after a long day, this car delivers.."
The reason why is that, thankfully, Land Rover continues to refuse to compromise on this car's legendary off road ability. In fact, they've improved it still further, courtesy of enhancements to their patented Terrain Response system. This is virtually akin to having an expert sitting alongside you, helping to get the best out of the vehicle, on or off road. The driver chooses one of five terrain settings via a rotary knob mounted on the centre console. There's a general driving programme, plus one for slippery conditions (dubbed 'Grass/Gravel/Snow') and three specialist off road modes ('Mud and Ruts', 'Sand' and 'Rock Crawl'). The latest system adds a launch control function designed for deep sand as well as improvements to the Hill Descent Control and the Rock Crawl mode to ensure tricky manoeuvres are made that bit easier. You've simply to turn the knob, tune up Radio 4 and watch the worst the elements can throw at you glide past the window. It's brilliant.
The broadly similar looks of this Discovery 4 disguise the fact that over 1,500 parts have changed in an effort to improve style as well as speed. Outside, the familiar boxy shape remains, but it's now been treated to trendy LED lamps front and rear, plus a smart two-bar silver grille and redesigned bumpers at both ends, the front one incorporating a wider air intake to help the powerful 3.0-litre engine breathe. More important is the addition of 17.6cm to the overall length, enough to change this from being a five-seater with a couple of occasional extra seats to something that offers proper MPV-rivalling seven-seater family transport.
Inside, the cabin quality has been stepped up at least a couple of notches, with lots of stitched leather and soft-touch plastics, plus keyless go which offers push-button starting. The Terrain Response console now takes pride of place in front of the gear lever, there are useful controls on the steering wheel and a neat touchscreen cuts down on the need for so many switches and buttons. At the back, there's decent head and legroom, whilst the foldaway third row is very cleverly done, easy to erect and big enough for adults. As for luggage room, there's 1192 litres with all the seats in place, then the second and third rows fold down to leave a flat floor with 2558 litres without the need to remove the headrests, while in true Range Rover style, the tailgate is split so you can use it as a picnic seat or a viewing platform.
List prices suggest that you'll be paying anywhere between £32,000 and £50,000 for your Discovery 4, with the 3.0-litre V6 models that most will want priced from around £35,000. If you think that sounds expensive, then you obviously haven't checked out the kind of figures you'd have to pay for a comparable Mercedes M-Class, BMW X5 or Audi Q7. There are cheaper options like Mitsubishi's Shogun or Toyota's Land Cruiser but they don't really have the Disco's class.
Technology is everywhere in this car, or at least it will be if you have the cash for a posh trim level and a trawl through the options list. The various systems are controlled via the centrally-mounted touch screen display and the driver gets a second LCD display mounted in the instrument cluster through which major functions can be accessed via the steering wheel-mounted controls. The Portable Audio Interface allows all manner of MP3 players and USB devices to be connected and there's a DAB radio option too.
The clever front headlights incorporate a High Beam Assist function that activates the full beam headlights when light levels are suitably low. It then detects the lights of oncoming vehicles and dips the beam when necessary to avoid dazzling other drivers. There's also the option of a Surround Camera System consisting of five cameras that give a near 360-degree view around the vehicle on the central display screen. This is designed to help with tricky parking manoeuvres, sticky off-road situations or when hitching up a trailer.
One of the best things about the Discovery 4's 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo engine is that it easily manages to eclipse the older 2.7-litre unit's fuel economy and emissions figures, despite its 29% extra power and 36% extra torque. You can expect 30.4mpg (up from just under 27mpg) on the combined cycle and 244g/km of emissions - a useful 26g/km improvement. Residual values should you see you getting around half of your purchase price back after three years.
Land Rover has also incorporated a number of other features into the Discovery designed to improve economy. They're bundled together under the e_Terrain banner and include the Intelligent Power System which recharges the battery only when it's most efficient to do so, an energy-saving air-conditioning pump and numerous aerodynamic improvements.
Most big 4x4s make very little sense if you plan to drive them solely on tarmac. Most of the time you'd be better served with a decent full-sized plush saloon or MPV if you need space and great ride quality. But here's an exception. The Land Rover Discovery is so good it almost warrants recommendation regardless of its ability in the mud - but don't ignore that. After all, it's only when you put it through its paces in properly extreme terrain that the genius in its design becomes apparent.
Bottom line? Whether you're up to your axles in mud, carrying a family of seven or needing a soothing ride home on a wet evening after a long day, this car delivers. It's a British success story. And we should be proud of it.
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|Land Rover Discovery 3.0 SDV6 255 HSE 5dr Auto 4 diesel sw|
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|OVERALL||7.5 OUT OF 10|
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