2016 Land Rover Discovery SDV6 HSE off-road review

$81,680 $97,130 Dealer
  • Fuel Economy
    8.8L
  • Engine Power
    180kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    230g
  • ANCAP Rating
    N/A

With the impending release of the all-new 2017 Land Rover Discovery, it's time to say goodbye to the previous model – one that has become an off-road icon during more than a decade of service.

It’s almost time to say goodbye to a legend.

First though, we’ve got one last bush bash planned for our long-term 2016 Land Rover Discovery SDV6. As such, we have to slog our way out of the city. The harsh reality for all 4WD fans who live anywhere near a major city in Australia is readily apparent. There’s plenty of sealed surfaces that need to be accounted for, before you get to your favoured terrain – dirt/mud/sand whatever your poison. Beyond that threshold, there’s proper 4WDing to be had of course, but there’s a lot of sealed road driving before you get there.

As such, a 4WD that wallows and flops around on-road and can’t ride or handle over sealed surfaces with any competence is going to be akin to Chinese water torture. Wrangler, Defender and 70-Series owners... we feel your pain.

But, for more than a decade now, there’s been one vehicle that excels across both disciplines, a real multi-tasker, the Swiss Army knife of all-terrain, all purpose driving if you will – and that vehicle is the Land Rover Discovery.

We’ve been running our long-term SDV6 HSE Discovery for a while now and standard equipment highlights for the HSE include: eight speed automatic, leather steering wheel trim, Xenon headlights with DRLs, 19-inch alloy wheels, full-size spare, diesel misfueling device, grained leather trim, seven seats, third row accessory socket, electric seats, rear-view camera, Meridian audio system (11 speakers/subwoofer) and USB input for iPod or audio interface.

Added to those standard features, our Discovery has the following options fitted: electric glass sunroof and rear alpine window ($3860), premium metallic paint ($3600), heated/cold climate windscreen pack ($2700), wood/leather steering wheel ($1700), 20-inch aero viper alloy wheels ($1500), privacy glass ($1100), active locking rear differential ($1060), cooled cubby box ($900) and digital radio ($850).

Pricing for this model starts from $96,290 plus the usual on-road costs, with HSE trim being the top of the Discovery pile. Add the options in and you’ll spend $113,560 plus on-road costs. You could argue though, that a standard HSE has everything you need without any options added.

We’ve tested the ‘Disco’ extensively across all manner of driving disciplines. On-road, off-road, mud, rocks, sand, water crossings, towing right up near its maximum, and every time it has handled the given task with consummate ease. The Discovery invariably wins every comparison it is entered into and does so comfortably. Most of us at CarAdvice reckon if we could own only one proper off-road SUV, the Discovery would be at the top of the pile. It really is the best all-rounder.

With that in mind, we headed west out of Sydney for one last foray in the dirt out the back of Lithgow across the Blue Mountains. It’s a favourite destination for Sydney-based 4WDers and one that is easy to get to if you can live with the two-hour slog through peak hour traffic through Sydney's relentless suburban sprawl. Unless there’s been recent heavy rain, the tracks around the Zig-Zag railway are easily passable while still being challenging, and there’s a good range of terrain to test most 4WDs. ‘Our’ Disco has spent way too much time on sealed surfaces too. It’s almost criminal.

The drive west once again highlights many of the Discovery’s strong points. No matter how hard you work the throttle, it won’t average more than 9.8L/100km, and on the highway you’ll watch the real-time usage drop into the low 7s once you’re up to cruising speed. Considering you’re behind the wheel of a proper seven-seat SUV, that has plenty of cabin space, those numbers are genuinely impressive. Keep in mind, that real world figure is against an ADR claim of 8.8L/100km on the combined cycle. The Discovery is quiet at highway speed too, with interior ambience befitting a luxury sedan more than an SUV – something that is typical of Land Rover/Range Rover product.

The diesel still makes some noise under load, but once cruising, it’s refined enough not to be annoying and its roll on overtaking ability is a feature. There’s mountains of torque to access when needed, and you can lope along at 110km/h without the V6 twin turbo oiler ever breaking a sweat. The gearbox plays its part here too, ensuring the engine rpm is kept as low as possible at cruising speeds.

On the road – as it is off-road – the ‘command driving position’ Land Rover likes to trumpet is a tangible bonus. Visibility is exceptional in any direction and if you do a lot of touring, you’ll appreciate the expansive view. A lot of it is down to seat position, but in an age where windscreen pillars cut so heavily into forward vision, the Discovery is a watershed. You’ll also appreciate the view in the confines of the city, where manoeuvring what might otherwise be a handful of a vehicle, is actually quite easy.

The dirt though, is where the Discovery shines most and as soon as we leave the sealed road, the big 4WD is in its element. There are many reasons the Discovery is so good off-road, not least of which the diesel engine and transmission combination, but if you want to head off-road, rest assured this 4WD can stand up to whatever you might be brave enough to throw at it.

First up, the Discovery has exceptional approach and departure angles as you can see from the photos, meaning its snout and the bum rarely get stuck anywhere. Likewise, the ramp over angle is also excellent – aided by the clever adjustable air suspension that can raise the Discovery to a higher than normal setting for off-road work, and an even higher setting if it does touch down unexpectedly. While you need to be trying pretty hard to get stuck due to lack of ground clearance, any serious off-roader knows how much of an advantage extra clearance is.

Next up, there’s the variety of clever electronics on offer, which assist even experienced off-road drivers. The Terrain Response system is something you won’t use if you’re particularly experienced, but it will be a bonus for those of you new to off-road driving. The way in which it dulls the throttle response down especially makes smooth progress really easy. Hill Descent Control is also a feature that works well, although the experienced off-roader won’t use it often. If you’re a little unsure, and you’re likely to be grabbing brakes in a panic, activate Hill Descent Control.

The turbo diesel engine is brilliant as is the exceptional eight-speed ZF transmission, but it's the proper low range gearing, which comes into its own off-road. A heavy slab of torque (600Nm at 2000rpm) available so low in the rev range, means you can really work the diesel’s power to churn through sand for example, a task that often works an engine harder than any other.

Deep gearing makes for safe passage through even the nastiest of terrain and the Land Rover system is so good, you wonder why you’d ever need Terrain Response. If you’re even remotely concerned you might need low range, shift the transmission into neutral, lock low range in, and away you go. It’s an excellent safety net off-road. Our long termer does have the optional active locking rear diff, so if you want your Disco to be effectively unstoppable, tick that $1060 box.

During our variety of extensive off-road testing, the Discovery also deserves credit for being so capable, given the fact it is riding on road-focussed Pirelli Scorpion Zero tyres. While mud build up will ultimately limit their ability to push through really heavy wet terrain, their grip levels are high across most surfaces. We also like the way they respond to a drop in tyre pressure, although unlike really aggressive off-road rubber, you won’t want to be running them at super low pressures. The Discovery 4WD system responds well to more aggressive tyres though, again adding to the competence with which it can tackle the nasty stuff.

We've scored the Discovery around the 8 or 8.5 mark overall for some time now, and with this review looking more specifically at its off-road performance first, and all-round ability second, we've bumped that overall score up to a 9. The Discovery remains as competent as it's always been.

All told, the Discovery remains right at the top of the ‘proper’ 4WD pile despite being near the end of its life cycle. The new model will have a mighty challenge ahead of it to live up to the standard of the outgoing model, and many will be sad to see the back of the boxy, slab-sided styling that defined the Discovery for more than a decade. Buying a run out model right now, might be the smartest move you can make.

Click the photos tab above for more images by Sam Venn.