Words by Grant Spolander Pictures by Grant Spolander and Rob Till.
Grant Spolander takes our new long-term test vehicle, a Discovery 4 HSE TDV6, for its first real off-road jaunt. Will this iconic off-roader live up to its reputation or has it become soft in its quest for opulence?
IN ‘08 it was announced that Tata would be buying Land Rover. When the news hit our shores many Land Rover supporters took to the hills – we heard it had something to do with chirping Toyota owners.
Earlier this year saw the release of the much anticipated Discovery 4, a vehicle that would either silence Tata-scoffing critics or reaffirm their predictions of a Land Rover demise.
Well, after spending some time in this vehicle both on- and off-road, my view is that all Landy fans should come out from hiding and walk with their heads held high.
On the outside, not much has changed from the previous generation Discovery 3 – the bumpers are marginally modified, there are LEDs integrated into the head and taillight clusters, and the plain-faced grille has been replaced by a metallic honeycomb item that closely resembles the new Range Rover’s grille.
In fact, many of the Discovery 4’s exterior changes have taken on a slight Range Rover feel, which in my opinion is great as the new look pleasingly combines upmarket appeal with purpose-built lines and good ol’ Disco heritage.
Previous Discoverys have offered class-leading storage solutions and the Disco 4 continues this proud (and handy) tradition. With all seven seats in their upright position the new Disco sports laudable measures of head and leg room throughout the cabin – we transported several adults in the Disco and even those in the third row reported good comfort levels. Fold the second and third rows flat into the floor and the 4’s square-shaped interior is transformed into a help-your-daughter-move-into-her- first-flat-in-one-trip storage area of 2 558 litres.
This seat-folding configuration is nothing short of genius; it may take a while to decipher which lever does what, but once you’ve cracked that Rubik’s Cube you’ll soon appreciate the ingenuity of how each seat folds, flips and shifts forward to provide a completely flat cargo area.
As for the rest of the cabin, ample storage space can be found in the form of slots, pockets, trays, as well as cup and bottle holders. There’re also two glove compartments and a deep centre-console box between the driver and passenger seats.
I always thought the Discovery 3’s dash was a little too utilitarian for such an upmarket SUV; happily the new Discovery’s dash boasts swish, modern styling and is pitched at an angle which makes for easy access for both driver and passenger.
Another ergonomic feature of note is the broad, padded windowsill that forms the perfect armrest for your right arm; with your elbow resting here your fingertips are within easy reach of the window controls. Your left arm can take a break on the fold-down inner armrest, which caters for both front seat occupants.
The driving position offers class-leading all-round visibility, except out of the rear window when all the rear headrests are in place. Another slight gripe is that the vehicle’s three sunroofs (yip, every row gets one) sport flimsy light diffusers; these covers are simply not up to the task of blocking out African heat and glare.
The owner’s manual lists the vehicle’s Terrain Response options as: General (full-time 4WD), Grass-Gravel-Snow, Mud-Ruts, Sand and Rock-Crawl modes. The manual states that you may have to experiment with the various programmes if one isn’t producing the desired results. For example, if you’re driving in slightly damp sand it may be best to try the Mud-Ruts programme.
I was a bit sceptical when I read this, doubting that an onboard computer could offer such a performance difference off-road. However, on our test trail (Tierkloof 4×4) one of the toughest obstacles was a deep axle-twister on a slippery slope; with only two tyres on the ground, the Discovery 4 failed to conquer the obstacle on its first attempt in Gravel mode, but then sailed through using the Mud-Ruts selection.
Throughout the day, as we slipped from one mode to the next, the Discovery 4’s Terrain Response system proved me a cynic, performing flawlessly. We never had to charge an obstacle or rely on momentum to get us through.
Such adaptability is achieved through the Discovery’s comprehensive traction control system coupled with the vehicle’s electronically controlled rear limited-slip diff, which is also lockable in a 50:50 torque split – this can’t be done manually but is automatically operated in conjunction with the vehicle’s traction control system. In other markets, like Australia, this diff-lock system is an optional extra but in SA it’s standard across the Discovery range.
The Discovery’s single off-road weakness is its low-profile road tyres (Goodyear Wrangler HP 255 / 55 / R19) which are easily pinched or punctured on the sidewall. Fitting 17” rims with higher profile tyres is the obvious solution, but the Disco 4’s massive brake discs and callipers are already a tight squeeze within the vehicle’s 19” alloy rims, so there simply isn’t any room for downsizing on wheel diameter. On the plus side, Goodyear manufactures a 19” MTR tyre that’ll fi t on the Discovery 4 – we’re planning to fit a set to this vehicle in the months to come.
With the abovementioned tyres fitted, the Discovery 4 should be unstoppable off-road; that said, even with its road-biased tyres the Landy successfully navigated a section of trail that gave the Hummer H3 a stiff challenge (see pg 86 of our January ‘10 issue).
Although many off-road purists might favour the Hummer with its front and rear diff-locks and seemingly tougher ladder-frame chassis, the Discovery boasts far more ground clearance and much better driver sight lines.
As for its suspension, the Discovery 4 doesn’t feature conventional coil springs but rather a double wishbone setup integrated with four air bladders – an onboard air compressor controls the pressure within the air bladders and therefore the desired spring rate, comfort and ride height. And because the Discovery 4’s air suspension is adjustable, this vehicle can increase ground clearance from 185 mm on-road to a very laudable 310 mm off-road.
What’s more, with the Disco’s air suspension set on its highest off-road setting the vehicle presents excellent approach, departure and break-over angles of 36º, 30º and 27º respectively.
Although the air suspension system doesn’t feature large measures of wheel articulation, the system is self-levelling and therefore partly able to reduce body roll on uneven ground or in an off-camber situation.
Unlike many 4x4s with conventional independent suspension setups, the Disco 4’s adaptable system seemed less prone to large suspension movements when descending rutted slopes – basically, the system stiffens up and prevents the front end from nose-diving. While on the subject of slopes, we also found the Discovery 4’s Hill Descent programme to be useful, effectively slowing down this SUV’s rate of descent without locking the wheels and breaking traction.
On gravel, the Discovery 4 retains its luxurious feel no matter what the terrain, offering a smooth, comfortable ride with positive steering feedback and a great sense of control. In summary, this Discovery simultaneously provides outstanding off-road ability as well as five-star luxury and comfort.
I’m a big fan of Ford’s 3.0 TDCi motor, not only for its respectable torque output but because this engine has very little turbo lag. Well, now the Ford motor has dropped to second spot on my favourites list…
The Disco’s 3.0-litre TDV6 motor is phenomenal. It’s not just that it punches out 600 Nm @ 2 000 rpm and 180 kW @ 4 000 rpm, it’s the fact that it does this with almost zero turbo lag thanks to the vehicle’s Parallel-Sequential Turbocharging system.
Unlike convention twin-turbo systems that commonly use two small turbines (one for each cylinder bank on V motors) for quicker spool-up speeds, the Discovery 4 utilises a dual-stage system – a primary turbo operates below engine speeds of 2 800 rpm while the secondary turbo kicks in thereafter, creating a flatter torque curve by providing lowdown grunt as well as high-end performance.
Bury your right foot and the Discovery 4 responds quickly, accelerating from 100 to 120 km/h in 4.5 seconds or from 0 to 100 km/h in just 9.5 seconds – let’s just remind ourselves that this is a 3.0-litre diesel hauling 2.7 tons. Braking performance is good to excellent with sharp, reassuring stopping times even when the discs were smoking hot.
Whether around town or on the open road, the Discovery 4’s ride comfort is exceptional – it’s difficult to believe it’s such a capable off-roader too. Though one look at this SUV’s high roofl ine (1 887 mm) will have you doubting its ability to negotiate a tight turn, at no point did I feel uncertain or overly concerned about body roll. The Discovery’s boxy dimensions do come into play with strong crosswinds; you need to be alert to make frequent steering adjustments in such gusty conditions.
The Discovery 4 HSE comes equipped with a multitude of driver aids, one of which is TSA (Trailer Stability Assist) – the vehicle automatically detects trailer sway, and then makes adjustments to the steering, torque and brakes to rectify the problem.
Many of you will also be pleased to know that this brawny SUV boasts a towing capacity of 3 500 kg, as rated by the manufacturer for a braked trailer. South African legislation states that it’s illegal to tow more than your vehicle’s tare weight, but still, 2 767 kg isn’t to be scoffed at.
Our sister publication, Caravan & Outdoor Life, said that the Discovery 4’s towing performance was “unbelievable”, recording 0 to 100 km/h acceleration times of 14.6 seconds and braking times from 100 to 0 km/h of just 3.28 seconds – with a Jurgens Exclusive caravan (1 750 kg) in tow. They also noted a fuel consumption reading of 14.6 l/100 km in their tow test while we recorded readings of 11.5 l/100 km on a combined cycle (freeway, urban and off-road use) without anything hooked up.
On the fuel front, some good news: The Discovery 4 ain’t fussy about what diesel you use. Land Rover would prefer owners to use 50 ppm but if 500 ppm has to be used it won’t affect the Discovery 4’s warranty or its operation in any significant way – a slight performance difference may be felt, as well as more exhaust smoke and a marginal increase in fuel consumption.
The Disco 4 manages this feat because SA vehicles aren’t fitted with a Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF), which is often the first component to fail when high sulphur diesel, such as 500 ppm, is used. In other parts of the world where low-sulphur diesel is freely available, DPF is offered as an option across the range.
The Discovery 4 is available in both 3.0-litre diesel and 5.0-litre V8 petrol form. Both engine derivatives are mated to the same 6-speed auto box. I can’t comment on this gearbox’s performance when mated to the petrol motor, but in the case of the 3.0 TDV6 it seems perfectly suited, boasting seamless gear changes throughout all six ratios.
The design traits that make a 4×4 capable off-road are generally the same attributes that reduce on-road comfort and safety. For example, wheel travel improves off-road traction but also increases body roll through corners.
This give-and-take scenario drastically limits the abilities of many 4x4s, but has very little impact on the Discovery 4 which somehow manages to defy many of the rules. That said, I’m not suggesting that the Discovery 4 is as capable as a Wrangler Rubicon off-road, nor as comfortable as a Merc GL500 on-road, but if you’re looking for the ultimate balance of both attributes, then this is the clear winner.
Add to this the benefits of respectable fuel economy, superior cabin ergonomics and excellent towing ability, and you’ve got yourself one helluva overlanding rig.
Sure, R725 000 is a large sum of money to part with, but when you consider the technology lurking in this vehicle and what’s involved in making the Discovery 4 such a well-balanced SUV, it’s kinda understandable. Plus, it should be said that the new Discovery is available in three specification levels: S, SE and HSE. So if you can scrape together R595 000 and you’re willing to forgo things like onboard cameras and touch-screen navigation you can still own a Discovery 4, which comes with exactly the same engine and gearbox as this one. I know I’ve said it before, but 600 Nm from a 3.0-litre diesel… I’m speechless.
THE EDITOR’S VIEW
Whenever I’m asked, as I often am, “What’s the best 4×4?” I generally duck the question. But if you’re really persistent my answer will be: “For me, it’s the Discovery 3 TDV6”. I base my choice on the fact that the Disco is both the most comfortable vehicle I’ve ever driven off-road and one of the most competent; it’s also cleverly designed with lots of usable space – something the manufacturers of other large SUVs get wrong surprisingly often.
But I know that the cynics amongst you are going to look at the fact that Land Rover SA is a regular advertiser in this magazine and the fact that I’m driving around in a Discovery 4, and you’re going to raise your eyebrows and say “Of course you’d say that”, which is why this road test bugs me and I’ve made Grant rewrite it twice, trying to be more critical each time.
But try as we might, we just can’t get away from the fact that this vehicle is supremely competent. It’s not the best in every department, but much like the Fortuner, it’s the overall score that counts.
Of course you’ll have noticed that at the beginning of this panel I said that the Discovery 3 was the best vehicle for me. The only thing that keeps the Discovery 4 from becoming my favourite is tyres. You simply cannot expect the D4’s on-road biased tyres to deliver the goods when you’re doing a lot of off-road work. At present there’re only a couple of off-road tyres available in this size (the Goodyear MTR Grant mentions and the Pirelli ATR); hopefully, as more of the new Discos enter the marketplace, other tyre manufacturers will develop and offer similar products.
It’s interesting to note that in other markets the Discovery 4 is offered with the “old” 2.7 TDV6 motor, and 18” rims. It’s possible to fi t 17” rims onto the old model, which gives you a great range of useful off-road rubber to choose from. That’d probably be my ultimate 4×4…
The Tierkloof 4×4 route for the use of their trail and facilities. Approximately 1.5 hours’ drive from Cape Town, Tierkloof 4×4 offers excellent views of the surrounding area (Rawsonville and Worcester), as well as a range of terrain types to enjoy, including rock and sand. The track is rated 3 to 4 and there are a number of axle-twisters to test driver skill and 4×4 abilities. For more information, contact Willem or Mariana Viljoen on (023) 349 1481 or 082 578 1853.