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Car reviews - Land Rover - Discovery - HSE 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Design, off-road abilities, cabin space and presentation, V8 refinement, all-round capabilities
Room for improvement
Heavy, V8 can get thirsty, unreliability reputatiion

27 Jan 2006

IN the GoAuto office the V8-engined Land Rover Discovery 3 was akin to the last kid waiting to be picked for the school footy team.

With petrol prices the way they have been, every tester was keen on the relatively frugal 2.7-litre V6 turbo-diesel or ex Ford Explorer 4.0-litre V6 engined editions.

Meanwhile the eight-pot – a 4.4-litre AJ-V8 unit derived from criminally underrated Jaguar XJ-8 – sat on the sidelines like an automotive Milhouse Van Houten.

But just like Bart Simpson’s best friend in that episode where he gets to play the superhero lead, the Disco V8 ended up shining.

So with an open wallet as well as an open mind, into the V8 Disco we go, for an on-road experience to see whether the Land Rover can cut it as an urban runabout.

And, for a two-and-a-half-tonne-plus SUV, many things are not what they seem.

Misconception number one: fuel consumption isn’t too unreasonable.

According to the trip computer, a week’s worth of highway, suburban and inner-Capital City recorded 14.2 to 14.8 litres per 100km.

Now, as any Holden Adventra V8 or Ford Territory AWD driver can tell you, that’s not too bad at all.

Especially when you consider the practical and sensual advantages of having that V8 under the bonnet that essentially means you’re driving a half-price Jaguar.

Bury your foot and you can feel the 425Nm of torque overcoming all that weight inertia in an instant, to catapult the Discovery forwards with impressive thrust – and sounding like a proper V8 should all the while.

The 220kW power output peaks at 5500rpm, an area the V8 seems happy to visit. It’s what you expect from a Jaguar engine – creamy performance with a very un-SUV veneer of velvety refinement.

LR has also had the foresight to fit ZF’s fantastic 6HP26 six-speed automatic gearbox that seems as if it was bred to belong to this V8.

In regular Drive mode it’s agreeably smooth and responsive. Slot it leftwards into Drive Sport and you alter the timing of the gearshifts and throttle response, so it zings forward with a bit more fire.

Manual sequential shifting is a third ZF feature, allowing keen drivers to delve into each ratio’s boundaries.

And like in this terrific gearbox’s recent BF Falcon and Territory AWD application, there’s trick software that adapts to the driving style and road conditions. Brilliant stuff.

Really, if you’re not particularly put-off by non-diesel fuel consumption figures, this is a pearler of a V8.

It’s a drivetrain that contributes significantly to the Discovery’s relaxing, long-legged cruising abilities.

Disco V8 misconception number two is its manoeuvrability – or lack of it.

Obviously, with full-time 4WD, optional air-suspension (that automatically soften or increase the firmness of the springing for both on and off-road applications) and all that weight, you are always aware that this is a 4.835 metre by 1.915m by 1.882m (length/width/height) box on wheels.

So an entirely reasonable 3.3 turn lock-to-lock steering means roundabouts and sharp corners aren’t the leaning, lumbering exercises Discos of old were, while an 11.45m turning circle is do-able around town.

Plus the helm, using a powered rack and pinion steering system, never loads up or feels too heavy.

Faster curves do induce a fair degree of body lean, but the immense grip and impressively tight body control the air-suspension affords means this never feels alarming.

Underpinning the Discovery are double wishbone independent suspension front and rear, which does bring virtually car-like dynamics, as well as very strong braking abilities, to the Land Rover in most normal circumstances.

But if it is a BMW X5’s dynamics that you are used to or expecting from this, then disappointment awaits, simply because the Disco is not built like a car.

LR calls its chassis construction ‘Body-frame’, whereby a monocoque (or unitary) body is combined with a ladder-frame for astonishing off-road abilities.

Aiding this is ‘Terrain Response’, a simplified 4WD system that allows the driver to dial in – via a console sited rotary knob – the following two on-road driving programs: General Driving, Slippery Conditions and three off-road set-ups: Mud and Ruts, Sand and Rock Crawl.

Terrain Response works in concert with the ride height, engine torque, Hill Descent Control (which limits the vehicle’s downhill speed), traction control, gearbox and differential settings.

Although not tested here, previous drives on dedicated and tough off-road courses have shown vehicle’s superior 4WD ability.

So for all you off-roaders out there the Disco certainly delivers the goods.

And so does the chunky cabin, if you don’t mind some cheesy Land Rover-esque design cues liberally sprinkled here and there.

One VW Touareg owner who sampled GoAuto’s Disco was horrified at the lack of slush-moulded soft surfacing about the dashboard and door trims, but – like the VW – this is a tough off-roader with very real abilities attached to its C.V.

And so as long as the Land Rover is well built – and it seems like it is – then this is all that matters.

This is one SUV you clamber up and into, with seats perched high and mighty.

All five chairs are firm and quite comfortable although for taller occupants the high floor and low seating position means that there’s not enough legroom out back for long-journey relaxation. At least the front seat people can stretch out.

But the front headrests protrude forward a little too much. However ample adjustability of the seats themselves can easily overcome this.

The middle rear seat also folds down and flat to sit flush with the rear loading area, but curiously the outboard ones only fold and tumble forward. Either way a cavernous cargo capacity awaits.

Another oddity is the lack of a centre rear armrest when the front pews have one on each side.

Aiding vision and helping to shrink that behemoth sensation is an upright windscreen and deep side windows.

Obviously LR’s designers were keen to emulate the exterior’s blocky style inside, with lots of vertical and horizontal lines adding a no-nonsense traditional 4x4 look.

Actually the harmonious symmetry of the dash recalls the original Rover SD1 3500, particularly in the test car’s black-on-beige colour combo.

At any rate, the Disco strikes a happy balance of practicality and prestige.

Addressing the former are superb ventilation, lots of handy storage areas, a commanding driving position, elegant and clear instrumentation, a wonderfully simple automatic climate control set-up and big easy audio.

Meanwhile high-quality (and well screwed-together) materials like leather, metallic-like trim surrounds, thick carpet, rubber inserts scattered throughout and a cloth-finished ceiling help justify the HSE V8’s $85K ask.

Behind a conventional sunroof up front is a pair of fixed skylights that add an airy ambience to the interior. Nice, but a memo to LR is necessary here: a thicker sun block is needed to fully cancel out searing Aussie sunlight and sunrays.

Another foible is the slamming needed to fully close the fiddly split tail-gate.

The rear is arguably the only unsuccessful styling element, with too many conflicting lines.

But the handsomely square-cut nose and nicely balanced profile add up to a good-looking 4WD with more than a passing resemblance to the beautiful Range Rover.

With its breadth of pleasant on-road and astonishing off-road ability, the latest Discovery deserves the many accolades it has accumulated in the past few months.

In fact the silky, superbly strong V8 deserves a few extra ones too.

Far from being the dipsomaniac its high piston and displacement suggests, fuel consumption is surprisingly reasonable.

While the excellent performance and refinement on offer elevate this 4x4 to luxury-vehicle status. If your company is paying for the petrol bills anyway then you’re in for a good time behind the wheel of this Land Rover.

Sidelining the 4.4 V8 for the 2.7 TD V6 is understandable but you’re overlooking some serious SUV talent.

Think of the Discovery 3 V8 as a half-price Jaguar SUV and you’re pretty much on the money.

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