What's it about
No matter what your thoughts on Land Rover are, and its past reputation for unreliable products, one can't deny that the Discovery 3 is a very capable 4X4. The Discovery 3 is in the same league as other big guns in the 4x4 category such as the Toyota Prado.
Good news for Landy fans as well is that recent quality studies (such as the Synovate survey) show that Land Rover is on the revival path. Apparently there has also been a reduction in warranty claims and Land Rover is adamant to get customer satisfaction levels up.
So, there is hope for the Disco.
The latest Discovery is also instantly recognisable as a 'Disco' and is to be a good ambassador for the iconic Land Rover Brand. In a way the boxy design reminds of Landies of yesteryear, but the overall styling is actually more clean-cut and modern. It definitely has presence and should age well too.
Its muscular appearance hints at the vehicle's rugged nature and indicates that it is not to be messed with.
The asymmetrical styling works well too, while the almost flat side panels are practical as they won't hook on trees and bushes.
Recently Land Rover added a new entry-level model to the range, the TDV6. This 'bread-and-butter' derivative is also more aimed at true off-roaders as it does away with some of the pricier models' luxury features.
As the entry-level model (prices start at R 415 000), the TDV6 is missing out on comfort features such as leather trim, climate control and a sunroof. But who will miss this?
There's also no third row of seats, which in most cases is a waste anyway. It does get regular air-con and the cloth seats appear durable and of a good quality. Of course, there are still other comfort features such as electric windows, a CD frontloader and central locking.
The Disco also offers generous space and comfort for driver and all passengers in the airy cabin. Furthermore the driver has excellent visibility thanks to a commanding driving position. The distinctive and asymmetric two-piece tailgate provides flexibility and ease of access.
In general the vehicle has a solid feel to it while the perceivable fit and finish is good. But the interior features a lot of different grade of plastics, with some of them looking a bit cheap.
Under the skin
The high-technology TDV6 turbo-diesel unit uses common rail technology and operates at even higher pressure than most common rail injection systems - about 25% more than average - benefiting performance, economy, refinement and emissions.
Maximum power is 140 kW at 4 000 r/min and maximum torque 440 Nm, developed at only 1 900 r/min. The engine is mated to a smooth 6-speed manual transmission.
Suspension is independent all round, but there is huge wheel articulation together with cross-linked air suspension that allows the axles to act in the same way as solid axles in ensuring the bodywork clears rocks.
On top of all that Discovery 3 has lots of electronic aids in a dual system that Land Rover claims will always get you home.
All electronic bits are out of harms way so they won't be damaged by water ingress, and the car is sealed so it can ford water up to 700 mm deep without the carpets getting soaked.
It has three suspension settings to ensure you don't easily end up on your belly in the sand, and it has a full-size spare wheel.
The Disco's Terrain Response system features five terrain settings that you select using a knob on the centre console. You can choose between muddy, gravel covered, sandy, rocky, slippery or rutted. It works very well as the system then selects the appropriate setting for ride height, gear selection and so forth.
There's also Hill Descent Control which prevents you going too fast downhill.
The Discovery's ride quality is good at it is nimble at higher speeds. There is obviously some body roll, which is to be expected from a high-standing vehicle.
Its air suspension gives the vehicle great ability off-road, while providing for good composure and high-speed stability on tarmac. The suspension can be raised 55 mm for off-road conditions - and lowered 50 mm when getting in and out - while there's a "normal" setting for ordinary driving that comes in automatically as speed increases.
Take it off road and the Disco shows its mettle. More than enough ground clearance and a low-range gearbox enables it to tackle rocky surfaces, inclines, declines, mud or sand with awesome confidence.
When the going gets tough, you simply select low range by pulling on one lever and holding it, then select the appropriate setting on the Terrain response dial.
It's simply a matter of defining what you're doing, and following the instructions. If it's an ordinary tar road, leave it in the normal setting and just drive. There's full-time four-wheel drive and ASC anti-skid control, plus ABS brakes all round for peace of mind.
The Discovery is best to be discovered in the real world. Yes, there are the issues around the Land Rover reliability, but if one gives the brand the benefit of the doubt, the Disco is an awesome 4X4.
The vehicle is extremely refined and has a lot of substance. The 2.7-litre V6 diesel is an impressive powertrain too, and at idle you barely hear it. Furthermore, the Terrain Response traction control and suspension system is a great feature, which is easy to use and makes 4X4 exploits a breeze.
With the Discovery 3 Land Rover has developed a desirable 4X4 that feels very much at home off-road, while its on-road manners are good too.