Car reviews - Land Rover - Discovery - TDV6 5-dr wagon
Land Rover models
Peerless off-road ability, turbo-diesel economy, smooth silence on road
Room for improvement
16 Sep 2005
REALLY, this has to be the most complete all-round off-roader yet.
The new Land Rover Discovery comes close to the fabled BMW X5 on the road in terms of serene, comfortable cruising, yet off-road it's as tenacious as ever.
Forget about the somewhat clunky, live-axle on-road behaviour of previous Discos - justified in the name of stupendous mountain-climbing abilities - and forget about the 1960s V8 engine.
The new Discovery owes nothing to anybody (except Jaguar, which provided the engines) and particularly owes nothing to the BMW-developed Range Rover - which is part of the reason it weighs so heavily on Land Rover executives disappointed with its stupefying 2.7-tonne mass.
It's cheaper to build than the Range Rover, but cheaper, in this case, also means heavier.
This is an obvious issue in V8 and V6 petrol-engined models where the combination of a determinedly non-aerodynamic shape (the Cd is a brick-like 0.41) and weight do nothing to minimise fuel consumption.
But it's not so much of an issue with the perky little 2.7-litre turbo-diesel V6. It does a gutsy job propelling the weighty Disco, while returning fuel economy figures that are quite astonishing given the circumstances in which it operates.
Our test TDV6 HSE averaged 11.7L/100km on a 500km-plus test that comprised mainly urban running. This is better than a new Jeep Grand Cherokee turbo-diesel recorded at its local introduction on quiet, open country roads.
With the (smallish) 82-litre fuel tank, this gives the Disco diesel a comfortable cruising range in excess of 600km.
Clearly the 2.7 tonnes don't faze the turbo-diesel very much. The zero to 100km/h time of 11.7 seconds in auto form isn't especially rapid, but this is one case where official figures don't mesh entirely with reality.
The only time the Discovery feels a little tardy is when initially getting under way, where all that mass needs to be encouraged into action.
This is only momentary, and the Disco soon manages to give some semblance of a shove in the back. On the highway, the velvet-smooth six-speed auto always ensures a ready surge of overtaking power.
So what's behind this compact, and relatively light V6 that makes it so impressive in this application?
It's certainly high-tech, what with its four-valve, twin-camshaft alloy heads and high-pressure common-rail fuel injection. And while it might not employ the alloy block construction of the new Jeep, it's an early adopter of compacted graphite iron (CGI) - a material claimed to be stronger, stiffer, lighter and more durable than cast-iron.
The engine is based on the turbo-diesel seen in Jaguars but resorts to a single, variable-nozzle turbocharger rather than twin turbos, and uses a tough, pressed-steel sump with optimally placed oil pickup points to provide lubrication in off-road situations.
It produces 140kW at 4000rpm, along with a meaty 445Nm of torque which is the main player in delivering the Discovery's on-road performance.
In the S version of the TDV6 it can be hooked up to either of two ZF transmissions - a six-speed manual, or the ubiquitous six-speed automatic - while the HSE comes in auto form only.
The actual drivetrain, as you'd expect, aims at maximising off-road ability and comprises three differentials and a two-speed transfer case as well as a well-stacked box of electronic tricks.
This controls the locking centre differential and the optional locking rear differential, and is the driving force behind Land Rover's Terrain Response system which is standard in HSE.
It enables the driver to select, via a rotating switch on the centre console, from a number of strategies aimed at maximising performance in five discrete types of operating conditions.
In Land Rover terminology they are general driving, grass/gravel/snow, mud and ruts, sand, and "rock crawl". The system brings together all the electronics controlling suspension, engine management, transmission and braking to give the best chance of steady, safe progress in practically any conditions.
And that's not all - in HSE versions anyway.
Where the base S models have all-independent double-wishbone coil suspension, SE and HSE versions use air suspension that also works in with Terrain Response to modify the Disco's behaviour appropriate to the circumstances.
It can also be used manually to lift the body for maximum ground clearance, or dump it to a low setting for easy entering and exiting.
All this is encased in a boldly distinctive new body that is neither old-generation Discovery nor new-age Range Rover.
It's quite a bit bigger than the previous Disco, but not as big as the Range Rover - although it's heavier than either.
This translates into a cabin that's very passenger-friendly, even to those perched on the twin third-row seats arrayed opera-house style up the very back of the vehicle.
But the most realistic comfort is to be found in the first and second row seats where there is decent head, leg and shoulder room and the usual host of storage receptacles on the doors, behind the seats and in the centre console.
The seats themselves are a little flat in terms of contouring, but are firm and comfortable on long trips as well as being easy to slide in and out of.
The rear load area, with the third-row seats folded, is pretty commodious, but the split tailgate does make hefting weighty items a little difficult. It's necessary to lean over the bottom section despite the cutaway that brings you a little closer on the right hand side.
The driver sits high and mighty behind a not-too-big, two-way adjustable steering wheel, eyeing off a set of clearly marked instruments and an array of controls nowhere near as confusing and archaic as previous Discoverys.
It's nice to find a set-and-forget climate-control system, easy to operate (optional) touch-screen satellite navigation and steering wheel buttons for the cruise control.
What's also nice to find is that the Discovery TDV6 is mighty quiet. Not just in the amount of road or wind noise, but also in the far-off muted diesel sound.
The engine does clatter away a bit, but you almost have to strain to hear it - and that's only under load at low speeds, or when idling. Generally, it's hard to pick from a petrol engine.
That's so when prodding the accelerator too. Apart from the slight initial hesitancy, the Discovery picks itself up and progresses with satisfying urge, smoothly and quietly in a manner befitting the Jaguars in which the V6 also resides.
And the ZF auto compliments it all with lovely, smooth shifts and a nicely spaced set of ratios that extract the best from the engine.
The BMW X5 comparisons come when cruising the open road, where the air-sprung Discovery rides serenely and smoothly, damping out the undulations and absorbing the harder, sharper stuff.
It steers well too, although here it is possible to feel the weight. It's accurate and stable but, where the BMW X5 feels like an overgrown sports sedan, you'd never describe the Discovery as nimble. The knowledge that electronic stability control is always on hand is reassuring.
The turning circle, on the other hand, is the sort of thing you'd wish of some other big 4WDs and the standard inclusion of rear park-distance monitors helps cram the big vehicle into tight parking spaces.
And the brakes, comprising big ventilated discs on all wheels aided by four-channel ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, are able to take the 2.7 tonnes firmly in hand when needed.
Off-road, the new Disco does nothing to damage its reputation. It distances itself here from the likes of X5, and most other serious 4WDs and, we suspect, from previous Discoverys as well.
If there's a difficult section of track, selection of the appropriate mode will usually walk the vehicle through with a minimum of fuss.
Like we said, this is surely the most complete all-round off-roader so far. It comes close to the X5 in terms of safe, stable on-road cruising even if it lags behind on the tight, winding sections of tarmac.
And, off road, it plugs ever onward where the BMW can only look on in awe.
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