2009 Land Rover Discovery 3 Review & Road Test
It's a box on wheels Jim - but not as we know it
- 2009 Land Rover Discovery 3 SE TDV6 - $75,990
- Active Rear Differential $1050
- Technology Pack $6250
- Front PDC $900
- Folding Mirrors $900
- Metallic Paint $1800
Words and photography by Karl Peskett
The day was going quite nicely, until I walked into the dealership to hand over the keys. It's the first time I've ever been told off when I've dropped off a car.
I walked into the office where the manager worked, and sat down and handed over the keys.
"So, how did it go?" he asked.
"Yeah, it was quite good actually," I replied. "Although it didn't go quite as far as I had hoped off road."
"Why is that?"
"Well, it might have been due to the tyre pressure. You know, I was looking at the sidewalls, and thinking, 'they're looking kind of flexy' so I only dropped them to 20psi."
The manager's head fell into his hands, and he rubbed his eyes. "I can't believe you only went down to 20," he said. "What were you thinking?"
"16! It will easily go to 16!" he said, incredulously.
"Okay, but the last thing I wanted to do was roll a tyre off the ri...."
"You won't roll it off the rim at 16! I'm from Dubai, and we go down to 12. Even eight! All we do is drive through the desert, and we never roll tyres off rims."
So, I'm feeling about a metre tall at this stage, and the manager is just shaking his head at me. Lesson learned. Thing is, it wasn't bad off road. Far from it. It was excellent. It's just there was one section of dune that I was hoping to conquer, and couldn't. Mind you, no one that was with us could.
Who knows, had we have dropped the tyres to 16psi or below, we might have made it up the seriously steep, powdery sand incline. As it was, and hampered by too much air in the tyres, the Discovery was still very capable. With its height-adjustable air suspension, low range transfer case, and user selectable terrain programs, the pretensions are there for a dedicated off road machine.
But with its leather seats, Harman/Kardon stereo and seven pews, it looks like it's built to just cater for passenger comfort. Where does its focus lie? At the end of the day, it does both with excellence.
Yes, it's the size of a block of flats. Yes, it's more boxy than a dock full of sea-containers. Yes, it's going to have the Green Lobby up in arms before you even turn the key, but you know what? I love it.
Firstly, I love the shape. There's no mistaking it for anything else on the road. The angle on the rear glass also gives it a bit of distinction, too.
I love how smooth the diesel V6 is, and how the automatic shifts cleanly between ratios.
More than anything else though, I love the space. The boot is huge, and practical, too. If you've got a pram, you can shove it straight in, without having to collapse it. Additionally, the third row of seating has to be among the best of any seven seat four-wheel-drive on sale today. The bulbous, van-like rear end comes into play here.
While the seat back flips up from the floor, the seat base does the same to match up with the bottom edge, revealing as it does, a dip through to the floorpan. This massive gap means that there are masses of legroom. But the seats are far enough apart to not feel like you're sitting on top of your travelling companion.
All three rows are comfortable, and tremendously spacious. The front seats might seem a tad flat when you first hop in, but you soon realise that it doesn't take away from any comfort. It's just they're not designed for holding you in place while you experience high lateral G loads. Which, of course, you're not going to be.
You can also fold down the second row and create a huge flat floor area, which can double as a bed, if need be. Even the boot is usable with the third row erected.
But fully loaded up, the 2.7-litre does struggle a little. It never sounds strained, but the hit in your acceleration is certainly felt, as is the braking. Thankfully, more push means more gain, so it's never ineffective, the left pedal just needs working a little harder.
In most situations, the pace is leisurely but adequate. There's a bit of lag off the line, which you don't normally get from this engine in other applications (Peugeot 407, Jaguar XF, et al) although you get used to accounting for it, especially when pulling out into traffic.
If you want a bit more power, you could always opt for the 4.4-litre V8, the sound is sure to bring a smile to your face, followed by a frown as you realise your litres-per-hundred-kilometre figure has climbed skywards.
Quite surprisingly, the diesel's lag off road didn't seem to hinder its progress. When using the program select, the stability control would brake a wheel here and there, killing the revs, yet they built up quickly enough to never bog down too much.
It did respond much better with the DSC off, no special programs selected and foot buried to the floor. Amazingly, too, although the Disco seems quite tall, it never feels like it's top heavy. That is, until you get it on the black top.
There's a fair bit of roll in hard directional changes, and the wallowy ride contributes to the unwieldy feeling, but you've got to remember it's a heavy car running on air suspension. Thankfully the steering gives enough feel and weight for you to know not to be throwing it around like a BMW M3.
It's also solidly built, with no loose rattles, or bits falling off. You'll feel the jolts when off road and on bad surfaces, but the Disco 3 seems pretty well screwed together. There are a few cheap'n'nasty plastics about the place, but overall the presentation is superb.
The MY09 updates also bring better specifications, with body coloured rear bumpers and wheel arches now on the mid-range models (SE, as tested) and body coloured front bumpers on all models. The diesel S model gets air suspension and terrain response, too.
I hate to say it, but if you've got the budget, the diesel Disco 3 would have to be one of the best family cars out there. The space is brilliant (and flexible), the engine is smooth and relatively economical, it's completely comfortable, and even tackles the rough with aplomb.
What more could you ask for? Oh yes, to make sure you set the tyre pressures correctly. It's not nice being told off as a grown man.
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