June Neary gets to grips with the latest version of Land Rover's impressive Discovery
Will It Suit Me?
I wasn't keen on the Land Rover Discovery in its first three generations. They may have been able to move mountains but they handled spirited driving on twisty tarmac like a Channel ferry in a blustery gale. They were also, in turbo diesel form at least, notably unrefined - at least in luxury sector terms. If Solihull really wanted to court BMW and Mercedes customers, something better was needed - and duly provided by the Discovery 4 we first saw in 2009. To be frank, the Disco4 was the first Discovery I would have countenanced buying. Previous models looked too agricultural for me. Fine if you were a school mum or a farmer but otherwise portraying a rather clunky image. This car is very different - and more appealing still in the further developed guise I've been looking at this week. The basics remain as before, though there's a more efficient version of the familiar 3.0 SDV6 diesel plumbed in up-front. It's an engine borrowed from Jaguar and makes astonishingly little noise yet develops truck loads of torque for towing and heavy off road work.
You won't mistake this Discovery for anything else. Land Rover say that this was deliberate: their research suggests that the 'Disco's' shape is one of its most appealing features - at least to potential buyers. The marque's styling treads a classy, predictable path and its customers wouldn't have it any other way. For the latest model year, the car 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. My family were pleased to find that, as before, it's a seven-seater. 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.
Behind the Wheel
Technology is everywhere in the latest Discovery, 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 for your listening pleasure. When this fourth generation Discovery was initially launched, the biggest change was the installation of a 3.0-litre SDV6 diesel which these days puts out a much pokier 256PS. I've been lucky enough to try this MK4 model off road and have been particularly impressed by its 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. You choose 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/ruts, sand, rock crawl). The system will then automatically select the optimum setup for the electronic controls and the traction aids. This encompasses ride height, torque response, hill descent control, electronic traction control and transmission settings. There's also a launch control function designed for deep sand as well as Hill Descent Control and Rock Crawl modes to ensure tricky manoeuvres are made that bit easier. Superb.
Value For Money
This level of excellence doesn't come cheap. Discovery prices start from around £40,000 but most buyers will end up paying in the £45,000-£50,000 bracket for their cars. You can pay close to £60,000 if you go for the plushest version: for that money, I'd rather have a Range Rover Sport.
Could I Live With One?
Easily. The size is not something you notice after a bit and the 'Disco' still seems more solid than its Japanese rivals. It's still the one to beat.