Land Rover Discovery TD5
Author: John Oxley
In fact, to be quite honest, this is the first Discovery I have actually LIKED, with a confident all-round feel and look about it that made me glad I was being given the pleasure of testing it.
In the past I have always felt the Disco was a compromise, a cheap Range Rover (it was, after all, conceived out of the need to produce a lower-cost option when Range Rover moved into Royal circles), using the underpinnings of the original RR, warts and all, while RR got the crown jewels.
However, the models of a generation ago took the Disco up the scale, certainly in terms of interior room (and especially luggage space) while the addition of traction control made them more able to cope with slippery stuff.
But still a compromise - much as I accept that electronic gizmos DO work, they are prone to sudden and unfixable failure from time to time - whereas market leaders such as Toyota continued to offer the mechanical certainty of a central differential lock.
Now, though, the excuse book - for that is what I believe compromises in car design represent - has been thrown out of the window, and the latest Disco comes not only with space, and grace (thanks to its handsome design changes) but a surefootedness that is now second to none.
A central diff. lock is now standard, and when allied to traction control, Land Rover's famed Hill Descent Control (a logical and very useful tool), plus ABS brakes, it makes the Disco a formidable player, especially in deep sludge and sand.
On top of that the front end design raises the bumper profile by 70 mm to make approach and departure angles better, while suspension height adjustment at the back makes it possible to give the same benefits there.
And when you're done with dry land altogether, wading depth is an impressive 500mm.
That's off-road. But most 4x4s in South Africa spend most of their time on the tar - and for some their most taxing moments are when being urged to climb kerbs.
And here, too, Land Rover has gone the extra mile, enhancing the suspension package so the big Disco gets rid of much of the body roll that terrifies passengers and inhibits sportier driving, while at the same time improving ride quality to the point where you forget you're in a vehicle aimed primarily at the off-road market.
Key to this is Active Cornering Enhancement (ACE), which uses quick-reacting hydraulic actuators to automatically stiffen the suspension in hard cornering, guided by an electronic control unit taking information from vehicle-mounted sensors.
On top of this there are self-levelling air suspension components to smooth out the bumps and get rid of sick-making fore-aft yaw.
New front end
As mentioned, the latest Discovery has a new look at the front end, and it's one that bears an uncanny family resemblance to the new Range Rover, with big and bold multi-function headlamps incorporating main and dip lamps, plus driving lamps, and side lights and turn indicators, under one smooth cover, while fog lamps are inset into the new front bumper.
At the same time the rear lights have been changed (again) with larger lenses, and both high and low levels. The turn indicators have been moved to the upper vertical light cluster for better visibility to following traffic.
There are also new 5-spoke alloy wheels.
Inside there's a whole new look, with, on the TD5 ES model tested, leather upholstery all round, including the clever folding seats at the extreme rear which alloy the Disco to become a seven seater.
The interior is brighter and more upmarket, in line with its high price tag, while the dashboard has much better ergonomics, with controls, and especially switches, logical and easy to find.
Electrically adjusted seats come as standard and I particularly enjoyed the sound system, with satellite controls on the steering wheel, and the CD shuttle tucked underneath the driver's seat.
I also liked the easy to use speed control, very useful when cruising longish distances in the big 5-cylinder diesel powered vehicle.
Talking of which, it's on the open road that this one really excels. As a cruiser de luxe it offers the right amount of space, plus super ride quality, while the 2 498 cm3 turbo diesel is lusty while still remaining thrifty, giving easy overtaking, and rounding off fuel consumption at the 13 litres/100 km level.
Land Rover was the first manufacturer to incorporate ABS, or anti-lock braking technology, successfully into a 4x4. The latest Discovery sees further ABS sensitivity, but more importantly, much bigger brakes discs and calipers which ensure this is the best stopper yet offered by Land Rover.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's impressive at any level. Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) helps.
As before, the suspension system uses solid axles front and rear with coil springs at all four wheels. And the power-assisted steering is of the worm-and-roller type, which delivers less steering-wheel kickback off-road than the more common rack-and-pinion setup.
Generally quality is hugely improved over previous Discos we have seen and driven. But we were irritated by an obsessive squeak from the backend which seemed to emanate from the rear door. Probably adjustable - but the fact remains that it had NOT been.
That said, it's an awesome package that helped us see whales in the daylight, False Bay in the moonlight, and parts of South Africa we have never seen before.
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