The Land Rover Discovery 4 is a remarkably versatile vehicle. On one hand its a luxury seven-seat SUV, on the other, its a highly capable off-road machine.
The one-millionth Land Rover Discovery rolled off its UK production line in March 2012 and there’s no sign of sales abating for the vehicle that was essentially born as a more affordable version of the Range Rover.
Land Rover’s more utilitarian big 4WD has evolved successfully since its 1989 inception, with the Discovery 3 of 2004 making a huge leap in terms of increased levels of luxury and on-road manners.
It was replaced just five years later with the Land Rover Discovery 4, though this was more of a major facelift than full generational change.
In 2012 the ‘Disco’ received various tweaks to the entertainment and satellite navigation system along with a new entry-level eight-speaker sound system with colour display and full Bluetooth connectivity with phone and music streaming.
The mid-grade Hi-ICE Harman Kardon audio unit was also upgraded from 9 to 11 speakers and output boosted from 240 to 380-watts, while the top-spec premium Harman Kardon unit grew from 14 to 17 speakers with output rising from 480 to 825 watts.
There were also a few minor nips and tucks to the switchgear and three new option packs for the Discovery: The Technology Pack, the Vision Assist Pack and the Cold Climate Pack.
Some more substantial changes will arrive with the 2013 model Land Rover Discovery, scheduled to arrive on showroom floors in December 2012, before an all-new, lighter Discovery benefitting from aluminium construction will emerge in 2014.
By the end of the year, gone will be the aging 2.7-litre TDV6 and in its place, a more powerful 3.0-litre SDV6, developing 155kW and 520Nm (up from 140kW/440Nm) for the entry-level Discovery.
The current high-output (188kW/600Nm) 3.0-litre SDV6 we tested will remain in service, as will the 5.0-litre V8 petrol engine.
Both diesel powertrains will gain the svelte eight-speed ZF transmission with paddle shifters and rotary gear selector from the current Range Rover and Jaguar line-up, while the V8 petrol model will stick with a six-speed box.
The current 2012 Land Rover Discovery SE comes with a fairly long list of standard kit that includes power everything, push button start, cruise control, auto headlamps and wipers, rear parking sensors, auto diming rear vision mirror, full leather trim including steering wheel and dashboard, electric parking brake, 19-inch alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlamps and seven-seats.
However, the lack of a decent-size entertainment screen in what is otherwise a premium grade cockpit seems like a glaring omission for a vehicle priced from $83,400 – before on-road costs are added.
You wouldn’t quite call it plush inside the Discovery SE. What sets it off nicely, though, are the generous number of polished aluminium highlights spread around the console and door panels. These, along with a thick-rimmed, multi-functional leather steering wheel provide a quality look and feel inside the Discovery 4.
There’s plenty of clever space inside the Discovery, too, with seven individual seats. And the third row folds neatly under the floor when not required.
For extra long loads such as surfboards and ladders, any of the three second-row pews can be lowered to accommodate such cargo.
Rear seat legroom is just shy of limo class, while even third-row passengers are looked after in this regard.
Boot space behind the second-row seating is substantial and although this row folds dead flat – they do so on top of the seat cushions rather than recess into the floor.
The Discovery’s relatively low beltline, large glass area and upright seating provide the optimum driving position with unencumbered visibility on all sides.
While the leather seats are certainly supportive, the leather itself is rather coarse and not as cosseting as that used in other Land Rover models, but the upside is that it seems more durable and, therefore, more kid-friendly.
Hit the starter button and there’s a fair amount of that familiar diesel clatter to be heard, at least from the outside. But once you’re motoring along at a steady 60km/h or above, those inside the Discovery 4 will be hard pressed to pick this as a diesel.
Only during sustained acceleration from a standing start can the clatter be heard inside the cabin, and even then it’s reasonably well muted, if not refined.
With a responsive 600Nm of torque on tap from just 2000rpm, there’s little need to ever be gung-ho with the throttle unless you’re overtaking a B-double on the F3. But even that’s a relatively lazy affair with this six-speed auto and its well-spaced ratios.
It’s certainly not sluggish of the line, either. Load up the throttle and the twin-turbo set-up delivers 500Nm of torque in just 500 milliseconds from idle.
Around town the ZF transmission shifts seamlessly, but is quick to move into top gear in the interest of fuel conservation.
Our weeklong test included the whole gamut of driving conditions from city driving to the power-hungry sand on Stockton Beach and yet our average fuel consumption ended up at a commendable 8.2L/100km.
While the Land Rover Discovery 4 is light years ahead of the first-generation Discovery when it comes to on-road dynamics, it’s difficult to conceal the vehicle’s 2600kg kerb weight when cornering.
That’s despite the Discovery 4 employing a sophisticated air suspension system designed to counter lean when turning. While body roll has been significantly reduced in comparison with earlier models, it is, however, still pronounced during tight cornering manoeuvres.
It’s an issue that should be largely removed with the next-generation Discovery that is said to shed up to a half a tonne when it arrives in 2014.
What’s not in question is the ride quality on board the Discovery – it’s simply outstanding on-road and off-road.
Even driving on Sydney’s worst maintained roads (and there are plenty to choose from) at a variety of different test speeds does little to upset the cushioned ride the Discovery 4 affords its passengers.
The brakes are also very capable and offer nothing but confidence-inspiring stopping power with a nicely progressive brake pedal. The variable ratio steering rack provides plenty of weight in the steering for good high-speed stability on the freeway, which lightens up for city driving and parallel parks.
Apart from its people-moving capability, load space carrying capacity and exceptional ride quality, it’s off the beaten track where the Land Rover Discovery 4 does some of its best work.
Stockton Beach, a 32-kilometre stretch of sand from Anna Bay to Stockton near Newcastle in NSW provided a suitable location for the off-road part of this review given we already know what the Discovery 4 is capable of in the mud and water from previous tests.
This is where Land Rover’s arsenal of four-wheel-drive technology comes into play. We dialled up the Sand setting on the Discovery 4’s Terrain Response system as well as raising the ride height – simply by rotating a dial and pressing a button.
The Discovery 4 SE runs standard 19-inch low profile 255/55 series tyres far more suited to the bitumen than any sand dune. However, in order to provide a wider footprint on the particularly soft sand, we reduced the tyre pressures from 34psi to 12psi before commencing the run.
We also turned the Dynamic Stability Control off, as this can retard progress in soft sand by killing engine power in the event of wheel spin.
Progress along the beach at a steady 45km/h was largely effortless for the Discovery 4 and that’s with the transmission left in automatic mode.
We also climbed a few small sand dunes with extra caution as the sand was unusually soft and up to 45cm deep, but even with three adults and their kit on board the Land Rover Discovery largely made light work of the task.
Stockton Beach is a proper 4WD adventure, especially in such arduous conditions. It can also be a challenge for any large SUV, especially so for the weighty Land Rover Discovery 4.
The Discovery’s versatility is exceptional. On the one hand it’s a luxurious family wagon capable of transporting seven passengers in supreme comfort, and on the other it’s a highly capable off-road workhorse that more than lives up to the 64-year-old Land Rover heritage.
Land Rover Discovery 4 Pricing (before on-road costs) • 2.7 TDV6 - $68,400 • 3.0 SDV6 SE - $83,400 • 3.0 SDV6 HSW - $95,100 • 5.0 V8 - $129,400