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We drove the Discovery 3 over the hills and into the dunes. We drove it along the beach, and we tackled a testing 4X4 test track in it. Finally, we drove it the 400km back from Swakopmund to Windhoek on tar, and the new vehicle impressed every inch of the way. The Ford-owned British factory has done its homework properly with this one.
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Although the Discovery's only slighter bigger than its predecessor, its wheelbase is a full 32cm longer, meaning that the all-important approach and departure angles are improved for off-road use. There's also much more interior space, thanks to the better positioning of the wheels. The wagon is a genuine seven-seater, with the rear seats folding into the floor when not in use. Being a born sceptic I travelled in the third row of seats of one vehicle for a while at the Namibian launch to see if Land Rover's claims about comfort are justified, and they really are.
The new Disco really is a technological masterpiece, with a mixture of good solid 4X4 features combining with state-of-the-art electronics to render it user-friendly enough to make even the least-experienced off-road driver look good. Land Rover's patented Terrain Response system allows the driver to choose any of five settings via a rotary dial in the cabin. There's a general setting, a setting for slippery conditions, and three specialised off-road modes catering for mud and ruts, sand, and rock crawling. Selecting any of these options according to the terrain encountered affects ride height, throttle sensitivity and engine torque response, Hill Descent Control, traction control, transmission shift patterns, and differential settings. There are also two diff-locks and a low-range transfer box linked to the computer.
The standard air-suspension is height adjustable, with an access mode dropping the car 50mm below the standard height for loading or parking, and an off-road mode elevating it 55mm above standard for additional ground clearance. That means there's a spread of 105mm available. The ride-height automatically reverts to normal once the vehicle gets up to speed on the road.
Apart from all the luxuries that come as standard, the Land Rovers offer a couple of novel extras. The remote-control key-unit recharges its batteries while in the ignition switch, and the self-releasing electronic hand-brake functions as a very capable emergency brake, operating all four wheels independently of the main braking system. I tried it out and it really works.
The Discovery comes with any of three engines, kicking off with a V6 four-litre petrol unit that delivers 156 kW of power and 360 Nm of torque -- 30 kW and 20 Nm more than the previous-generation V8 could deliver. This is claimed to get the heavy vehicle up to a top speed of 180km/hr, with 100 coming up in 10,9 seconds. There's also a 140 Kw/440 Nm turbodiesel displacing 2,7 litres that gets to 100 in 12,8 seconds and tops out at 180 km/hr, and a superb 4,4 litre V8 doling out 220 kW and 425 Nm for those who can afford the fuel to feed it. Top speed for the V8 is claimed to be 195 km/hr, with the 0-100 km/hr dash taking just 8,6 seconds. All three engines are mated to very efficient six-speed auto transmissions.
Land Rover South Africa has picked up flack in recent years because of poor build quality and unacceptable responses to customers' complaints, but I believe that the company is serious about winning back customers with good service and this new 4X4 is good enough to give them the backing they need.
Pricing of the six-model range starts at R440 000 for the entry-level V6 S Discovery, with the TdV6 S costing R30 000 more. The TdV6 SE or the V8 SE will set you back R510 000 while the full house V8 HSE and TdV6 HSE both cost R570 000 inclusive of a three year/100 000km maintenance plan.
Land Rover's future is resting on the new Discovery 3. And we predict the new car, together with a strong and focused management team intent on pleasing customers, will take the company out of the doldrums and to new heights. We drive it.
It isn't so much the way the Discovery 3 performs in any one area that makes it special. It's the way it performs so well in EVERY way. The first product designed totally under new owners Ford Motor Co. has seen the light of day, has been driven to extremes under the African sun, and has not been found wanting. It has been designed to make light work out of off-road driving, using a "dial-up" system that simply and easily explains every setting of suspension, gearbox, and speed. Even a novice can tackle deep sand, big rocks, slippery roads, mud or forest tracks, ford rivers - or use the car to transport hordes of kids to school in luxury.
The car is more spacious than any Discovery before it without growing much externally. Its seating system is so easy that it flicks from comfortable seating for seven adults (and we know, 'cos we tried it) to a totally flat interior that will take huge objects and still leave room for the driver and front passenger. And, of course, any combination in between.
It has a new range of engines that come from the Ford and Jaguar stables, tried and tested units that give more power than the outgoing BMW derived motors while offering better fuel economy and less complexity. On top of that all the automatic gearboxes (the only option at the moment) are ZF 6-speed units with genuine lock-up facility in the lower gears, with a 5-speed manual to come later on the turbo-diesel variant.
The body is lighter and stronger (and much more attractive) than that of the Series 2 Discovery, but still retains a separate chassis with the body bolted on.
Suspension is for the first time independent all round, but there is huge wheel articulation together with cross-linked air suspension that allows the axles to act in the same way as solid axles in ensuring the bodywork clears rocks. On top of all that Discovery 3 has lots of electronic aids in a dual system that the company guarantees will always get you home. All electronic bits are now out of harms way so they won't be damaged by water ingress, and the car is sealed so it can ford water up to 700 mm deep without the carpets getting flooded. It has three suspension settings to ensure you don't easily end up on your belly in the sand, and it has a full-size spare wheel for those moments we all dread.
I also chatted with Thomas Viehvey, the new head of Ford SA's Premier Automotive Group (and of Land Rover), who has been drafted in from Brazil to move Land Rover forward. Thomas, a German who has also worked at BMW, is adamant his aim is to get customer satisfaction levels up to, and better than, the industry norm. Already things are starting to improve significantly, with a 50% reduction in warranty claims 2002 to 2004, parts supply at 95%, and a dramatic cut in pending problem cases.
New systems have been put in place to deal with customer complaints, and new dealers have been appointed where there have been problem areas. "The cars coming out of the UK are very much better built than before, and the Discovery 3 is also very easy to build, so we expect that area to get better. "But there will always be human error in dealing with problems, and that is the area we are working on the hardest," he told me as we walked together over sand dunes near Sandwich Bay in Namibia.
Why were we in Namibia? Simply, that gave us the widest diversity of terrain we could test the vehicles in a short time, while allowing us space and easy co-operation with authorities to ensure we could do it without interfering with other roads users.
There are only 1.8-million people in Namibia, in a vast and empty land, and sometimes we were the only souls for tens of kilometres in any direction. So we got permission to travel on beaches to access the high dunes, and we were also able to test the cars to their limits on tar roads without falling foul of lawmen. The only thing we couldn't test was snow and ice - but we had lots of slippery gravel. On the road we discovered the cars are quick and quite nimble, albeit with a fair amount of body roll as to be expected from a high-standing vehicle.
The suspension can be raised 55 mm for off-road conditions - and lowered 50 mm when getting in and out - while there's an automatic "normal" setting for ordinary driving which comes in automatically when speed get higher. Off-road, it's simply a matter of defining what you're doing, and following the instructions. If it's an ordinary tar road, leave it in the normal setting and just drive. There's full-time four-wheel drive and ASC anti-skid control, plus ABS brakes all round to keep you on the island. When the going gets tough, you simply select low range by pulling on one lever and holding it, then select the appropriate setting on the Terrain response dial.
Five options face you, each with an easy-to-read drawing, plus settings are also shown on an LCD panel on the dashboard. The first is "General" - for ordinary driving.
Then there's "Grass/Gravel/Snow" for slippery surfaces. "Mud/Ruts" is obvious, as is "Sand", while "Rock Crawl" is for slow and careful driving over rocks and boulders.
There's also Hill Descent Control which prevents you going too fast downhill. The amazing thing about all this is that gearbox and throttle settings, as well as vehicle height and suspension response, adjust to each dial setting.
In the "Grass/Gravel/Snow" mode the wheels are set not to spin. But they are allowed to spin a bit in the "Mud/Ruts" setting. In "Sand" the throttle is much more responsive, while in rock crawl the accelerator settings are slow to respond so you can ease over rocks.
In "Rock Crawl" the suspension stiffens so wheels can lift the body over rocks, while the shock absorbers can over-extend to ensure there's grip.
It's all dead easy, and after climbing to the top of a 30 metres high sand dune and going straight down the other side without even a sign of getting stuck, I can attest to the Discovery 3's abilities. It turns off-road duffers into safe and positive 4x4 drivers.
I was also impressed with the new range of engines. Top-of-the range is a 4.4-litre all-alloy Jaguar-derived engine that is light and compact, and which delivers 220 kW at 5 500 r/min and 425 Nm of torque at 4 000 r/min. Then there's a Ford-based 4-litre petrol V6 - which has an all-new top end for the Discovery, which puts out 156 kW, 13% more than the 4-litre V8 engines of the outgoing Discovery model. Maximum torque is a substantial 360 Nm.
And finally, a high-technology TDV6 turbo-diesel similar to that recently launched in the Jaguar S-Type, to great acclaim. The unit uses common rail technology and operates at even higher pressure than most common rail injection systems - about 25% more than average - benefiting performance, economy, refinement and emissions. Maximum power is 140 kW at 4 000 r/min and maximum torque 440 Nm, developed at only 1 900 r/min.
All are smooth and responsive, though the V8 proved thirsty in high-speed driving, while the turbo-diesel is undoubtedly the pick of the bunch. The petrol V6 also impressed, not least for its relative frugality compared to the outgoing engine, with a combined average fuel consumption after three days of hard off-road and fast on-road driving of 16.6 litres/100 km not bad given the conditions.
Discovery 3 V6 S: R440 000 Discovery 3 TDV6 S: R470 000 Discovery 3 TDV6 SE: R510 000 Discovery 3 V8 SE: R510 000 Discovery 3 TDV6 HSE: R570 000 Discovery 3 V8 HSE R: 570 000
Discovery 3 is new from the ground up, although the Discovery DNA can be seen in the clamshell bonnet and the stepped roofline. But the new car is smooth and angle-free, with almost flat sides that don't hook on trees and bushes, and there's a longer wheelbase to give a smoother ride and better approach and departure angles as well as better access to the third row of seats.
At the front there is much of the outgoing model - and of the Range Rover - in the simple three-slat grille and staggered lights.
But at the back is a huge departure. The tailgate is a two-piece design, as on the Range Rover, rather than a large outward-opening door, as on previous Discovery models. There are major practical benefits to the new asymmetric shape. First, when the upper part of the tailgate is raised, the asymmetrically shaped lower lid reduces load height into the boot. When both upper and lower halves are opened, the asymmetric shape reduces "reach in" distance. Unlike earlier Discoverys, the spare wheel is now mounted under the body, rather than on the rear door. The lights are set high up in the bodywork where they are easy to see and avoid parking damage.
In every major dimension, the new vehicle's interior is either class leading or among the very best. Compared with the outgoing Discovery model, the major improvements are in legroom, shoulder room, and third-row headroom. The Discovery 3 has an extremely spacious third row of seats and the wide doors are designed to ensure easy cabin and boot access.
Second and third seat rows can fold right down into the floor. "Stadium seating" means that each row is higher than the one in front, improving the view for all passengers, helped by the deep glazing. The stepped roof ensures plenty of headroom throughout. All seats are large and comfortable, and higher level Discovery 3 models come with leather upholstery. Both outer seats in the second row are equipped with Isofix attachment points for European-standard and North American child seats
Front seats are available with power adjustment, covering fore and aft movement, height and squab recline, plus manual lumbar support adjustment. In addition, the driver's seat offers electric cushion tilt adjustment. On manual front seats there is fore and aft adjustment and squab recline, plus lumbar support and height adjust on the driver's seat.
The second row of seats features three individual seats. Each folds separately and all retract into the footwell. The two outer seats can also jack-knife forward to provide easy access to the third-row seats. These also fold flat into the floor, and when all rear seats are down, the huge, flat cargo area is almost two metres long. Stowage space is extensive. In the fascia there are two gloveboxes on the passenger side, and a tray at the base of the front console with a non-slip mat. There is also a coin tray and a clip for tickets and toll slips.
The use of an Electronic Park Brake, rather than a conventional handbrake, liberates extra space in the centre console. A large cubby box, which can hold up to four drink cans, is fitted right behind the console, and this is available with a cooling system to keep the drinks chilled. The cubby box lid can be folded back to act as a useful tray for rear seat passengers.
A mobile phone can be stowed within the cubby box lid, and can be integrated into a hands-free system via Bluetooth. Large cup holders for driver and front seat passenger are fitted in the centre console, and there is an additional folding cup holder for the passenger. Both front doors have capacious bins, including holders for large bottles of water or soft drink.
The rear side doors also have large bins, again big enough for drink bottles. In all, 17.5 litres of drinks can be stowed in a Discovery 3. Large lower quarter panels in the rear compartment provide stowage space for those sitting in the third row, or secure stowage in the boot area. The top surface includes a cup holder and shallow tray, as well as in-car entertainment controls for the rear-seat passengers. Recesses, closed with nets, are also offered for extra stowage.
The fascia has a simple, geometric look. There is large instrumentation, plus good-sized, tactile and intuitive controls. Switches are kept to a minimum - the built-in technology, including Land Rover's new Terrain Response system, can do much of the work for the driver.
The fascia moulding is in Thermoplastic Urethane (TPU), which has a luxury feel, resists fade caused by sunlight and has fewer plasticisers to reduce the mist deposited on the inside of the windscreen. The fascia is supported on a die-cast magnesium alloy crossbeam that is both light and strong, and provides precise mounting ? improving finish and reducing any propensity to rattle. Roof trim and door pillar trim are soft fabric, and all grab handles are damped. Two roof-mounted consoles provide interior lighting, with separate lights for the third-row passengers.
Air conditioning is standard on all Discovery 3 models and comes in two forms, manually operated and automatic. Both include a particulate filter to remove pollutants in both fresh air and recirculating modes, and four fascia-mounted adjustable vents with thumbwheel shut-offs. There is an additional lap cooler vent for the driver beneath the steering wheel. Airflow is also directed at the windscreen, side windows and front footwells. For the second row of seats, there are two vents at the back of the centre console.
On higher level vehicles, fully automatic temperature control is used. Both sides operate independently. The system can also be specified with optional rear air conditioning and heating. The rear cabin temperature can also be controlled separately.
The Discovery 3 offers a high level of in-car entertainment systems and one of the most advanced navigation systems available. Higher-line models have a six-CD in-dash unit. Six speakers are fitted to entry models, while upper range models use Harman/Kardon systems with nine speakers, including a sub-woofer. A premium 14-speaker Harman/Kardon 'Logic 7' seven-channel digital surround system is also available. The head unit can also play MP3 files and, with 11x compression the equivalent of a 66 CD library can be stored and played in the vehicle.
The optional state-of-the-art navigation system is DVD-based, and includes the latest generation of off-road navigation. The navigation system is controlled by a 180 mm high resolution touch screen, while two buttons switch the screen between the main 'Home' menu and the navigation system. Voice recognition is available for navigation and audio controls. The screen also displays information from the Terrain Response system.
The car's body-frame architecture gives tremendous protection in impacts and passenger safety is further improved by the use of up to eight airbags. The driver's airbag is installed in the steering wheel boss and the front passenger airbag is in the fascia. Two airbags in the front seats provide protection for the thorax. There are two full-length curtain airbags fitted in the cant rails above the first and second rows of seats, offering side protection. Two additional side bags are fitted in the rearmost area.
The Land Rover Discovery 3 is an all-new, premium SUV that offers class-leading breadth of capability, innovative user-friendly technology, distinctive design and a spacious interior that can comfortably accommodate up to seven adults.
'A true Land Rover, the Discovery 3 benefits from a clarity of purpose and conviction that is evident from its clean design, versatility and outstanding driving experience. Like all new Land Rovers, it's great to drive on-road, as well as being best-in-class off-road,' said Matthew Taylor, managing director, Land Rover.
The Discovery 3 also introduces sophisticated new technologies, among them Land Rover's patented Terrain Response system, previewed on the recent Range Stormer concept car. This optimises driveability and comfort, as well as maximising traction. The driver simply chooses one of five terrain settings via a rotary switch on the centre console: a general driving programme, plus one for slippery conditions (known as 'grass/gravel/snow') and three special off-road modes (mud/ruts, sand, rock crawl). Terrain Response then automatically selects the most appropriate settings for the vehicle's advanced electronic controls and traction aids including ride height, engine torque response, hill descent control, electronic traction control and transmission settings. 'With Terrain Response, it's like having an expert alongside you, to help you get the best out of the vehicle whatever the conditions, on-road or off,' added Matthew Taylor.
Another innovation is the Integrated Body-frame structure, which has allowed Land Rover to deliver all the comfort, refinement and on-road attributes of a monocoque, while continuing to set new standards in off-road performance. The Discovery 3 also features adaptive headlights that swivel with the direction of travel to illuminate the road ahead.
Dynamic on-road performance is a top priority for the Discovery 3. The top-of-the-range engine is a specially developed 4.4-litre version of Jaguar acclaimed V8 petrol engine. Changes for Land Rover use include increased capacity (from 4.2-litres), more low-end torque, enhanced dust- and water-proofing, and revised breathing to enable the car to wade rivers as well as cruise highways. In Land Rover guise, the engine must also be able to run at acute angles for extreme off-road use.
The top-selling engine in Europe is likely to be Land Rover's new, smooth and flexible 2.7-litre V6 turbodiesel (not available in North America), a common rail unit that uses variable geometry turbocharging.
The third engine in the line-up (for selected markets only) is a petrol 4.0-litre V6, a version of one of the world's best-selling SUV powerplants now further developed for Land Rover use.
All three engines offer strong on-road performance, with full-time four-wheel drive. Both petrol derivatives are matched to a six-speed automatic intelligent shift transmission, also available with the diesel though this is offered with a six-speed manual as standard. On-road driving and refinement are enhanced by fully independent suspension all round, using air springs on most models. This is height adjustable, to assist with entry and exit, and to boost ground clearance to help off-road performance.
'The design of the Discovery 3 is derived from its capability. Everything you see has been done for a reason,' said design director Geoff Upex. 'The priority was to give the passengers and driver a superb cabin environment, with more headroom and greater comfort. It has big, deep glazing, because that provides greater airiness and a better view.' 'It is also unambiguously a Land Rover. An absolute priority was that nobody could mistake this vehicle for anything else,' said Upex. 'It had to look thoroughly modern, bold and distinctive.'
Unique Land Rover design cues include its bold, geometric vertical and horizontal elements; its stepped roof (to boost headroom); its asymmetric rear tailgate (to reduce load height when the lower part of the tailgate is closed, and reduce ?reach in? distance when opened); the use of an air intake on only one side of the body (it?s all that was needed); and its large glazed areas.
The driver enjoys Land Rover?s traditional 'command' seating position, while all the rear passengers get stadium seating progressively higher than the seats in front, offering a clearer view. The optional third row of seats serve up great comfort, and are big enough to accommodate 95th percentile adults. Large doors provide easy access, with both second and third rows entered from the centre doors. Cleverly designed seating further improves the outstanding versatility, including fold-flat rear seats in both second and third rows, to give huge load-carrying possibilities.
The all-new Discovery 3 replaces Land Rover?s segment-defining Discovery, the best-selling large SUV in many European countries since its launch in 1989. The new vehicle goes on sale later this year, depending on market.
Editor's Note: The all-new Land Rover wears the name LR3 in North America and Discovery 3 in all other markets.