Want a Land Rover Discovery with the kind of trim package that best suits it? Then you probably need to stretch your budget towards the SDV6 HSE variant. Jonathan Crouch tries the revised model in exactly this form.
Ten Second Review
Land Rover has recently made their already class-leading Discovery more luxurious, safer and more efficient. If money's no object and you want the best family 4x4 around, nothing else really gets close. On terrain that would stop some less serious rivals dead in their tracks, it's virtually unstoppable. But it's on the road, courtesy of the fortified 3.0-litre V6 diesel and new 8-speed ZF auto, that this revised fourth generation model really comes into its own. That only leaves the question of which variant to have. The answer to that is that if you're going to spend over £50,000 on a car like this, you probably want features like leather seats, metallic paint, a rear parking camera, xenon headlamps and a bit of wood trim. In which case, you need the HSE version.
The world takes on a different appearance from behind the wheel of a Land Rover Discovery. Suddenly the terrain passing around you seems to throw up continual opportunities for putting that fabled off-road ability to the test. Potholed tracks no longer need to tackled at a snail's pace, the softest roadside verges become viable turning opportunities and any muddy bank cries out to be driven down and up again, just for the hell of it. A Discovery will tackle anything that most owners would consider pitting it against but if you're having to manufacture ways to use its capability, have you bought the wrong car? Land Rover insists a Disco is at home in any scenario customers might encounter. This is arguably the most significant revision yet of the fourth generation Discovery, the flagship Land Rover product if we go along with the assertion that Range Rover is a different entity. As well as a raft of subtle cosmetic updates, the main focus has been to improve efficiency and lower emissions to create an even more compelling multi-purpose proposition. Let's try it in plush SDV6 HSE guise.
When this fourth generation Discovery was initially launched, the biggest change was the installation of a 3.0-litre V6 diesel which these days in improved SDV6 form puts out a much pokier 256PS. Teamed with a smooth 8-speed ZF 'box, CO2 emissions are down by 17g/km to 213g/km and combined consumption reduced from 32.1mpg to 35.3mpg. From the lofty driving seat, it means virtually instant grunt in any situation, accompanied by a rather wonderful snarl at the same time as you move smoothly up and down the ZF auto's 8 ratios. Also found in Jaguar and BMW models, the transmission comes with a Jag-style 'Drive Select' rotary gear selector and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Land Rover claims shift times of just 200 milliseconds which, in conjunction with the boast that the 3.0-litre diesel delivers 500Nm of torque in only 500 milliseconds from idle - thus giving instantaneous access to 95 percent of the engine's maximum torque - perhaps explains why the Disco feels so unfeasibly lively off the mark. Add in superb refinement, strong brakes, accurate steering and a 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. 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 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. It's brilliant.
Design and Build
For the latest model year, the Discovery has been given a fresh look and numerous detail exterior changes. A smarter front grille, a re-styled front bumper, a sleeker headlamp design, trendy daytime running lights with a distinctive LED signature, plus two extra alloy wheel designs further enhance the car's appearance. As before, it's a seven-seater. We liked the Disco's rather natty Timed Climate feature - standard on top models - which pre-heats the cabin and engine in cold weather and works on a seven-day timer operated much like a home central heating programmer. Programming is accomplished via the audio system touch screen or remote control. Where touchscreen audio systems are not fitted, the feature is controlled with the remote control only. In the back, there's decent head and legroom, while 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.
Market and Model
List prices for this Discovery start at around £40,000, but most customers stretch either to the £47,000 budget required for a mid-spec XS variant or find the £55,000 budget needed for the plusher HSE model we tried. All models get the 7-seat interior, the 8-speed auto gearbox, the heavy duty 4WD system and low range gearbox and the clever Terrain Response system. HSE niceties include eight-way electrically adjustable heated leather seats, wood trim, a rear view parking camera, smart 19-inch alloy wheels, metallic paint, xenon headlights, keyless entry, mood lighting, the Alpine roof set-up with its three sunroofs and timed climate control. This latter item is my favourite feature, pre-heating the cabin and engine in cold weather and working on a seven-day timer operated much like a home central heating programmer. Programming is accomplished via the audio system touch screen or remote control. Safety stuff includes eight airbags, tyre pressure monitoring, DSC stability control and a Brake Assist function in the ABS system to help in emergency stops. If you're towing, you'll be glad of the TSA Trailer Stability Assist system that stops your load from swaying about. And off road, you'll value Hill Start Assist to get you up steep slopes, Gradient Acceleration Control to help you crest them and Hill Descent Control to ease you down the other side.
Cost of Ownership
It is perhaps instructive to compare the efficiency of this latest version of the Discovery's 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo engine with that of the older (and now dropped) 2.7-litre unit originally offered as the entry-level powerplant. You can expect 35.3mpg (compared to just under 27mpg) on the combined cycle and 213g/km of CO2 - a substantial 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. If you're going to buy one of these, then you probably owe it to yourself to stretch to a version featuring equipment that shows it at its best. The plush HSE variant we tried certainly fits that bill. 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.