Most Land Rover Discovery SUVs wear a sticker on the rear window that proclaims: World's Most Awarded 4WD. It’s a tagline that hasn’t been won easily but it’s a deserved one. Tested the world over, the Disco as it’s come to be known, keeps winning every comparison test it is entered in.
The styling of the 2015 Land Rover Discovery might be a little ‘love it or hate it’ and the platform itself is at the end of its lifecycle now and starting to age a little, but the Discovery remains an impressive performer and still looks for all the world like an expensive SUV. Now might be the time to take a close look at a runout model before the new one lands.
In another life, I spent much of my time testing off-road vehicles specifically, most of them in properly harsh environments too. In the face of that, every single discipline we tested the Discovery 3 and 4 models in, they won easily. On road, towing, off-road, serious 4WDing, highway cruising, cruising around town, the Discovery is a true allrounder that can tackle anything owners can throw at it.
You’d be right to assume that proper off-road ability doesn’t necessarily come cheaply, and that’s definitely the case with the Discovery. As tested here, the RRP for the 3.0 SDV6 Diesel SE starts from a hefty $84,429.10 for what is, effectively, the second model up the Discovery ladder. There’s a cheaper model, which is pushed along by the lower-powered, single-turbo diesel engine, and that model is still an exceptional performer if your budget doesn’t stretch to 85 grand.
Speaking of which, your budget will need to stretch somewhat further than 85 grand if you want to drive exactly what we’ve tested here. Take a deep breath while we list the options…
The Black Design Pack (including the 19-inch alloy wheels, which are silver as standard) costs $3900, the electric sunroof with glass tilt and slide costs $3860, the Technology Pack costs $3520, Grand Black Lacquer costs $1880, metallic paint is $1800, rear air conditioning is $1590, locking rear diff is $1060 and finally digital radio costs $850. That brings the total for our test Discovery to a whopping $102,889.10 before dealer and on-road costs. Sure, the Discovery exudes luxury and road presence, especially with the black detailing, but that sense of luxury will cost you.
You can argue the merits of which options really need to be added depending on what you love or hate - for example some people cannot live with a solid paint colour, it has to be metallic. For me, that’s not such an issue. The Technology Pack though, is one box I would definitely tick. For that price of $3520, buyers get voice control, a rear-view camera, HDD navigation system and park distance control sensors for the front of the vehicle. That said, I’d love to see a reverse camera standard in any vehicle with pricing that starts from 85 grand.
The 3.0-litre twin-turbo diesel V6 engine is a powerhouse in output terms. It generates 183kW at 4000rpm and a meaty 600Nm just off idle at 2000rpm. A 0-100km/h time of 9.3 seconds means the 2558kg Discovery feels more rapid than it has any right to, and despite that power and performance the ADR claim for the combined cycle is 8.8 litres/100km. The relative efficiency is partly due to the excellent eight-speed automatic, which continues to impress in every iteration we test, even though it’s been around for a while.
On test, we saw an indicated return of 9.3L/100km - very impressive for such a large and capable SUV. We didn’t get the chance to tow on this test, but the Discovery will haul up to 3500kg, and from past experiences, we can report that it will tow heavy weights easily.
Every time we road test a Discovery, we’re impressed by the way in which it effortlessly gets up to speed. It’s the one time the Discovery doesn’t feel as large or ungainly as it might. Roll-on overtaking on the freeway is also a breeze but it’s the sprint from 0-60km/h or 0-80km/h that is most impressive. It’s effortless too, such is the power and torque delivery of the diesel engine.
Around town the Discovery generally feels large in both length and width, but that feeling of heft is offset by a surprisingly impressive turning circle. You’ll find yourself executing turns in tight spots with ease, which was an unexpected bonus the first time I executed what I expected to be a three-point turn. I remember Land Rover engineers explaining that there had been tweaks made to the steering system in the transition from Discovery 3 to 4, and whatever subtle tweaks they have continued to make have been worth it.
The ride around town, no matter how awful the road surface, is sublime. The Discovery takes any imperfection, no matter how sharp, in its stride without any sense of uncertainty or wobbling in the cabin. It’s an SUV that will ensure your passengers always feel comfortable when they’re being driven around town. The same goes for speed humps and sharp traffic islands - nothing seems to unsettle the Discovery’s sense of calm. That it can achieve that level of ride comfort on 19-inch wheels is equally impressive.
Largely due to the well-tuned adjustable air suspension, the around town ride is backed up by beautifully insulated handling off-road too. Even terrain that requires a shift into low range won’t see passengers being bashed around the cabin. Picture the kind of surfaces you’d find in the closest national park along its dirt tracks - the Discovery will eat them up with ease.
The air suspension allows you to lower the Discovery down to what Land Rover refers to as ‘access height’. It chops 20-30mm out of the ride height and can be locked in as well, which is a handy feature for loading and unloading, as well as tighter underground carparks if you’re a bit worried about the roof height. It also assists with getting into and out of the Discovery as well. Whereas you need to climb down out of the Discovery at normal height, you can almost step out of it at access height.
In the cabin, the first thing you notice behind the wheel is what Land Rover refers to as the ‘command driving position’. It’s a factor that is ingrained in the DNA of every full-size Land Rover and it revolves mainly around that high and mighty position of visibility you get. Despite sitting down into the cabin once you get the electrically adjustable seat where you want it, you retain a feeling of sitting on top of the Discovery, such is the view all around you. That factor makes off-roading a breeze certainly, but it’s also handy around town, especially in traffic. The grained leather trim is also standard and adds to the air of quality inside the Discovery’s cabin.
While the Land Rover infotainment system is genuinely easy to use, it is starting to feel like it’s ready for an update. The competition has started to move ahead significantly now, and Land Rover will need to step forward soon. Despite that, the functionality of the system is excellent. The integration of a portable audio device for example is impressive and the satellite navigation system works reliably too.
I used the Bluetooth phone connection extensively, and the same goes for the audio streaming. I also spent some time listening to digital radio and all those features were easy to set up and reliable once tuned in. People on the other end of a phone call consistently report that the Land Rover system is crystal clear. The standard sound system in the Discovery, as it has for some time, deserves special mention for it’s expectational clarity and quality. Even if you’e a certified audiophile, you’d be questioning the value of the optional systems after experiencing the standard fare. It features 11 speakers, a subwoofer, USB input and iPod connectivity.
Discovery also gets plaudits for second-row seating comfort - even for three adults - and a third row that will also accommodate two adults in genuine comfort. Seven seats are standard across the range. While folding that third row up and down isn’t quite as easy as it could be, it does fold flat into the floor, and continues to lead the way for comfort and room in an area that is often an afterthought for some manufacturers.
As you’d expect, fold that third row flat and there’s a huge cargo space for the family’s gear. Fold the third row up and you lose a lot of that, but we’d expect most Discovery owners to employ the third row sparingly. Land Rover doesn't have a fixed-price service plan for the Discovery.
As I mentioned earlier, the Discovery platform is starting to age and that is backed up by the replacement model that is on its way, but don’t write the outgoing Discovery off just yet. There’s still some life in this old dog. Discovery is still not what we’d call cheap, but you can be clever with the options list and perhaps even consider the entry-level model. That said, have you priced a Prado or - heaven forbid - a LandCruiser 200 recently? Maybe the Discovery isn’t quite so expensive after all. As it stands right now, the Discovery is as impressive all round as it’s ever been.