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Land Rover has made big changes to the Discovery, boosting customer appeal. The smoother-looking machine's abilities mean it is an unquestionable success.
- We like - engine, interior, enhanced luxury, better body control, upped refinement, formidable off-road ability
- We don't like - prices have risen, design loses purity of original
Land Rover's Discovery 3 won no end of design awards. Men with good suits and glasses universally deemed it iconic. Fine... apart from one thing. It didn't quite click with the most important people of all - car buyers. Particularly Americans, who did not think it looked posh enough.
The problem was the very same brutalist lines and stark unpainted black plastic that won all the expert plaudits. Five years on, then, it's out with stark, in with richness. Plastics have been body-coloured, vertical lines made horizontal, the vehicle's severe front end softened. More posh, more premium, more Range Rover.
Inside, there's even more social climbing. Inspired by mobile phones, Land Rover has worked hard to give the latest Discovery a classier look. Again, the old cliff-like dash has been made less geometric, with an all-new set-up that's far more luxurious to the touch.
This is all ably driven by the latest 3.0-litre TDV6 twin-turbo diesel. The engine that's impressed us in the Jaguar XF now finds its way to Land Rover. With a host of fundamental work on ride, handling and refinement too, Land Rover's deemed it worthy of a new name. Enter Discovery 4.
Discovery buyers can still get the old 2.7-litre V6 turbodiesel. But it's strongly advisable to spend an extra £2,500, because the 3.0-litre it brings is vastly superior. Performance has taken a real step forward, thanks to 245hp (29% more!) providing sufficient oomph to overcome the Discovery's lardy weight.
There is also 442lb/ft of torque, which equates to a punchy response to the accelerator on the road (most of it comes on stream in, literally, the blink of an eye). A standard silky-smooth six-speed automatic is admirable in its performance, complementing the engine's refinement and super-sweet manners.
On the road, while not suddenly a sports car, the Discovery is now a much more driveable machine. At motorway pace, it is able to accelerate, rather than feel 'flat'. City centre driving is less heart-in-mouth than before, too, as the pull-away response is much more immediate. Goodness, it even sounds nice.
With this extra performance came the need for a more powerful braking system. Land Rover has fitted uprated anchors, although you have to be quite positive with the pedal. Gently brush them, and you'll find yourself aware there's a lot of mass you're trying to slow down...
Ride and Handling
Discovery buyers rate the car's ride comfort as a key attribute. It needs to be cosseting for the family, yet still controlled so it doesn't make them queasy through bends. For a chassis engineer, these are opposing challenges. That's why Land Rover spent three years honing the Discovery 4.
It's been incredibly successful. The straight-road ride is sweet, with a gentle, Jaguar-like ability to glide over road surfaces. And, while there's some turn-in 'softness' evident in the suspension feel, cornering is impressively controlled for one so comfortable. The Discovery never feels like it's keeling over.
A new steering system retains the old car's unexpected precision. It's low geared, but of variable ratio, so is 'faster' when more lock is applied. It's perhaps a bit weightier than some may like, but has a confident feel, too. So, you're thinking, why shouldn't I just buy this instead of the Range Rover?
Because, while it's Business Upper, it's not quite First Class. There's still some surface jitter felt from the road surface. The steering can also shudder and vibrate if you encounter mid-corner bumps. Overall, very impressive, and luxurious compared to rivals; but the Range Rover remains something extra, for the extra it costs.
The real excitement for Discovery buyers will rightly be reserved for the interior. It's now a well-finished design that feels considerably more classy than before. All plastics are soft-touch, the detailing is neat and, generally, it speaks 'upmarket', whereas before it spoke of, well, industrial severity.
Ample space for seven people remains, and Land Rover has upped refinement so they can converse more easily - this is a very quiet machine at speed. The plush ride is feel-good and a slimmed-down trim line is all well-stocked with equipment, too. An all-new electrical system brings plenty of goodies.
Try its jaw-droppingly good off-road ability, for example, and the HSE trim lets you watch progress through the flash TFT dash monitor. Land Rover has rigged up FIVE cameras feeding images into it. More useful than you'd think, when traversing the edge of a cliff face...
Less extreme, but just as pleasing, is a high-end stereo that can be had with rear DVD player - the controls for which Land Rover has cannily built into the top of the door panel. It's as easy to control as a Virgin Pendelino. We also love the optional heated steering wheel...
Economy and safety
The engine's extra go makes you think it must be thirstier. It's not. It consumes nearly 10% LESS diesel than the 2.7-litre. It's now a 30mpg Discovery auto; that's a pretty impressive achievement, thanks to Land Rover green technology. Imagine what it'll do when they make it lighter, too...
There are comprehensive safety-assist aids, particularly for off-road use. These are designed to both broaden off-road ability, and make it a more controlled, linear process. They range from an entirely new traction mode for sandy conditions, to revised Hill Descent Control that releases the brakes gradually, not in one go.
The MSN Cars Verdict
The Discovery 4 improves an already able vehicle. If the Discovery 3 was lacking, it was in engine performance; a superb new 3.0-litre diesel sorts that. Design changes mean customer-pleasing new looks, too, and a far better interior.
It's more expensive, yes, but much more of a car. Particularly as the driving experience has taken such a big overall step. Land Rover's honed every area, making it hard to fault. Throw upped fuel economy into the mix and, well, it's hard to argue against the big Discovery 4...
|Need to know|
|Engine - diesel||3.0-litre parallel twin turbo V6|
|Torque (lb ft)||442|
|Top speed (mph)||112|
|Ride and handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||*****|
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