A few years ago, we tested the then new Land Rover Discovery (known as the LR3 in the US) off-road, and were blown away by the ease with which the vehicle was able to handle the toughest obstacles. So when I got an opportunity to test the new 2010 LR4 (known as the Discovery 4 in the Indian market and elsewhere in the world), I jumped at it!
To find out just how good this vehicle really is, I drove the Discovery for a week, both on tarmac as well as off-road, and I’m happy to report that the Tata Motors influence seems to have been great for Land Rover. The new Discovery boasts a slew of improvements that have given the car better on-road dynamics and far improved interiors.
From the outside
The new Discovery retains the stoic, yet elegant, lines of the older model. New front wings accommodate the re-profiled front bumper, which has a larger, restyled intake. The two-bar grille also has a distinctive perforated design to complement the side vents. According to Land Rover, the new strikingly styled front lamps utilize the latest LED technology to provide better forward vision and a ‘jewel-like’ effect. All the styling changes combined give it a decidedly Range Rover like effect, as opposed to the traditional utilitarian approach of the Discovery.
In addition, it has distinctive wheel arches, and large side windows at the rear that blend into the roof. The rear end is also cleaner, with LED tail lights and a nicely contoured rear glass. All told, the new Discovery 4, or LR4, has a nice blend of traditional Land Rover cues, hinting at its off-road prowess, as well as modern Range Rover elements, which means it won’t be out of place on the porch at dinner parties either.
From the inside
The Discovery is a true 7-seat vehicle, with comfortable bucket seats at the rear that fold down completely to reveal a voluminous storage area. The interiors of the LR4 have been improved, and are now closer in fit-and-finish to the more expensive Range Rover. The Discovery has a new TFT screen that provides a host of data to the driver. The heated steering wheel is a great feature as well if you plan on making regular visits to Leh, although it may not get much use on the plains.
The Discovery has a panoramic sunroof that gives you an almost convertible feel, and is especially nice for those sitting in the back. The cabin really is a wonderful place to be in, with comfortable seats, top-class quality, and well appointed switchgear that’s ergonomically laid out. In fact, the current generation Discovery is completely unrecognizable to Discos of the past, which, especially at the rear, had a hard bench that forced you to sit up with your knees almost touching your chest – and that’s even up until a few years ago when the Discovery 3 made its debut. In this case, there are a great deal more Range Rover cues than ever before, and it’s all the better for it.
On the road
The biggest change, however, is under the hood. The LR4 in the US comes equipped with a new 5 liter V8 direct injection engine that puts out 375bhp and 375 lb/ft of torque, outperforming the previous 4.4-liter V8 for power and torque by 25 percent and 19 percent respectively. The new engine uses variable camshaft timing, which works independently on all four camshafts, improving engine response. This is the same engine that impressed us in the Range Rover Sport that we tested in our January 2010 issue. The engine is mated to a revised six-speed automatic, and its changes contribute to marginally improved fuel efficiency and quicker gear shifts. It’s an incredibly refined motor with plenty of torque available right through the power band. Although it weighs almost three tons, the LR4 can reach 100km/h in a pretty scant 7.5 seconds. In India, mind you, the Discovery is only available with the 3.0 liter V6 turbo-diesel that produces 240 horsepower, and a very impressive 440lb/ft of torque at just 2000rpm. Remember, its torque that makes all the difference in daily driving, and the diesel unit provides plenty of it. Moreover, this is the same engine that does duty in the Jaguar XF, which means that it’s very refined as well.
For a large vehicle, the Discovery is surprisingly easy to drive on the road. The steering is a little lighter than I would prefer, however it is pretty communicative and keeps the driver involved at all times. Four-corner independent air suspension delivers good handling and ride qualities. The air suspension offers variable ride-height flexibility for easier clearance, as well as access and loading. When compared to the Range Rover Sport, the LR4 suspension feels softer with some body-roll during cornering. It is still a comfortable ride, and probably the ideal vehicle to glide over the varied potholes that mark the Indian roads. The Discovery has a new, larger brake system that has been introduced to cater to the LR4’s enhanced performance and to improve braking feel. This new system is inspired by the four-piston, opposed-caliper performance system derived from the Range Rover Sport.
Take the Discovery 4 into the dirt, and you get a true appreciation of the capabilities of this vehicle. The LR4 is happy enough doing daily chores, but once you’re in the mud, it goes through the trickiest situations without any drama – all the while making the driver look like he or she is a veteran of the rain forest challenge.
The updated terrain response system, which we’ve explained many times in the past, features a new, more conveniently located dial that provides optimum settings for all driving conditions. The LR4 terrain response now offers a sand launch control, and its hill descent control now uses gradient release control, which reduces initial acceleration on extremely steep grades. Land Rovers’ focus on building a true off-roader is evident in their attention to detail. All belt drives are waterproofed, as are the alternator, air conditioning compressor, power steering pump and starter motor so that fording a river, which would otherwise seem impassable, is no big deal at all in this vehicle.
It’s a pity that off-road enthusiasts in India have to refurbish old army disposal jeeps to build a capable off-road vehicle. I hope Tata begins to leverage its ownership of Land Rover so that it can offer Indian enthusiasts truly capable off-road vehicles at competitive prices. Given the opportunity, vehicles like the Freelander and Discovery would be the four-wheel drives of choice for the growing tribe of off-road enthusiasts in India – albeit those with big pockets.
Land Rovers’ pedigree and heritage really comes to the fore with the Discovery 4. It’s an immensely versatile vehicle that’s comfortable to drive in the city, on the highway, and on any off-road trail. If you’re never going to use it off-road, and don’t need the extra space, the Range Rover Sport is an attractive option. However, for anyone in the market for a capable full size luxury SUV, the Discovery should be at the top of the list. The Mercedes GL may also provide seven seats, but it can’t match the all round capabilities of the Land Rover.
The current generation Discovery considerably bridges the gap to the more luxurious Range Rover. So, if you want better relative value (at 63 lakhs, ex-showroom), and wish to retain the go-anywhere ability, the Discovery could well be the SUV for you. And if you’re so inclined, you could avoid the relative snob value that comes with a Range, and yet retain much of the comfort and engineering. But if you do opt for one, wade through a river or cross a gorge – it’s only then that you truly get your money’s worth.