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As Land Rover's self proclaimed next generation Discovery 4 stands in front of me, I walk around it like a drill sergeant critically inspecting his platoon, and mistakenly conclude that despite the spit and polish it's not so much a new generation as an extensive rework of the highly awarded Discovery 3.
The D3 holds some 100 international awards, no doubt sitting proudly in LR's head office trophy case. So you can bet the engineers, designers and bean counters who received the brief to top the predecessors coup de tat spent more than a few sleepless nights trying to figure out how they were going to keep their jobs and keep filling the trophy case with new awards.
The exterior changes seem subtle in isolation, but park the D4 next to its predecessor and you appreciate the simple rule of less is more. LR has effectively changed the previous butch square edged stance into a more elegant pose, and this theme carries over into the renovated interior. A new Range Roverish two bar grill, some eye catching LED running lights and tail lights together with a rounded aero dynamic front bumper encasing a large air duct, produce a more refined visual appeal.
However, LR was careful not to disturb that classic side profile which is unmistakably Discovery, and they've done it well. By retaining the core design and features of the predecessor but refining the image particularly with a vastly improved executive interior, LR has closed the leap to the Range Rover models. The D4 can now confidently stand up, dust itself off, step out of the muddy working togs and don a dinner jacket.
However, rather than the stylish new looks, the most important changes take place in the vehicles mechanical and technical DNA.
The well proven and honest 2.7L diesel is still available in the base spec. But there's little doubt the 3.0L Twin Turbo will be the preferred option for towing duties. A jaw dropping 600Nms of torque (with 500 Nms available just off idle) puts this new powerhouse V6 in elite and heady company.
Our test vehicle was the HSE 5.0L V8 from the Jaguar XF saloon, an elegantly engineered unit leveraging the latest in engine design and technology. Whilst a modest 0.6L increase over the D3's bent eight, this 5.0L confidently raises the Discoverys performance bench mark.
Advanced design, direct injection, higher compression ratios, torque-actuated variable camshaft timing including profile switching, and a variable-length inlet manifold add up to deliver strong low RPM response with crisp higher RPM performance. LR claim 25% power and 19% torque increases, with 8% less emissions and a 7% improvement in economy over the drinking habits of the old power plant. Now given its ability to chew up and spit out everything I could throw at it, this is what a 4x4 V8 should be, never under promising and always over delivering!
There are a number of changes specific to the D4's requirements, power steering, air conditioning, starter motor and alternator are now water proofed, intelligent steps when negotiating creek crossings, with a deeper sump ensuring lubrication when tackling awkward terrain. Plus integration of LR's future smart e-Technologies designed to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions, including Regenerative Charging - the alternator stops charging whilst accelerating minimising unnecessary engine load maximising efficiency and output.
With a corpulent 510Nms of torque available at 3500rpm, push in the boot and you can feel it roll on smoothly yet assertively enough to provide confidence to dispatch any on or off road duties you may encounter with ease. If needed, the 276kWs of power will firmly push you into the seat as the low rumbling dulcet tones of the V8 see the tacho move quickly toward 6,500rpm relentlessly pushing this seemingly slothly creature from 0-100km/h in an eye widening mid 7 second territory. Is that really quick Well, the outgoing supercharged V8 Rangie Sport did it in low 7s? a comforting thought when you need to pull out onto a busy highway and rapidly integrate with traffic speeding along at 110km/h.
Having an engine with this much potential and running it through the updated slick ZF HP28 6-cog auto box is pure indulgence. Shifts are quick, smooth and precise never disrupting the refined driving characteristics. This slick 6-speed puts the extra low down grunt of the V8 to good use with the torque converter locking up sooner, reducing higher RPM slip through the gears and translating directly into dollars saved at the bowser. But don't be fooled by this regal riding carriage, push the lever over to manual shift mode, and well as I look into the rear-vision mirror there's that dumb boyish smirk again!
I was impressed by the D3's very stable ride for its size and weight, thanks to the integrated body frame combining the best of monocoque and full chassis designs. But it felt a little portly. Kudos to LR, the D4 suspension has been tuned to leverage the engines new performance and safely deliver it to any road surface. Revised suspension knuckles bring the center of gravity and suspension roll center closer together, along with stiffer roll bars resulting in noticeable reduction to lay over in assertive cornering. New bushes and dampers further the handling and ride comfort. Whilst re-worked steering provides improved directness just off centre giving a feel of flowing through the bends with small corrective inputs, rather than needing to steer it round the corners. However, the bling-it-up 20" rims and low profile tyres did make this particular D4 a little twitchy over some surfaces.
Cruising some magnificent winding roads, the D4 was as comfortable as many executive sedans. While the D4 can't match its road biased sports buddies like the Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5 for cornering G forces, I was convinced the improved on road performance was close to justifying the numerical promotion to D4.
The key was now whether LR would truthfully stick to its heritage. Had the refined confident road manners diminished the D4's off road ability. We dropped off the black top to get to know the D4 in our preferred playground, somewhere those city slicker executive 4x4s can only dream about.
Heading down steeply rutted tracks I fought the urge to intervene in the superbly executed duties of those highly efficient electronics. The D4 displayed an uncanny and slightly eerie ability to control speed and traction over pretty slippery surfaces, particularly on those 20" road tires.
Cross linked air suspension offered good wheel articulation, keeping tires in contact with terra firma as long as possible to maintain momentum until traction control and the electronic locking rear diff (a must have option) compensated for air borne wheels. Good clearance saw us straddle obstacles standard 4x4s would have hung up on, thanks to adjustable suspension ranging from 185mm to a heady 310mm (extended recovery mode) off road. The absence of low hanging diff centers to act as impromptu ploughs proved beneficial during our testing through the soft sandy sections.
Approach angles of 37.2 degrees, ramp over 27.9 and departures at 29.6 all contribute to this vehicle's off road credentials. We did cross over the Warren River (aka Summer Creek) but with a standard fording depth of 700mm , the D4 didn't even notice.
Those 20 inch alloy rims and low profile tires look good and contribute to brisk on road handling. But it's definitely disadvantaged off road, such low profile side walls instantly reducing ability to extend the tires foot print length when the surface dictates the need for lower pressures, plus the rim will be running uncomfortably close to the action. It's always a trade off and one I'm not totally comfortable with when running the standard OEM road tires.
The D4's impressive techno wizardry really begins to shine as it sets about compensating for the tires off-road shortcomings. Let?s put that into perspective. A 4x4 usually needs plenty of torque and decent tires (i.e. those with real side walls) running appropriate lower pressures to make any good headway in really soft sand. The local boys suggested 12 psi was a good plan for current conditions. Our 20" rims with black rubber bands stretched around them dropped to 18psi before the rims were near to sitting on the ground and there was still negligible side wall deflection. But after selecting sand mode and with the electronics harnessing the engine rpm to its maximum torque at 3500rpm, near enough to 3 tonnes of laden D4 casually walked up the dune in high range. It was impressive to say the least.
We started imagining what the vehicle would be like with more appropriate rims and rubber. But the higher performance ability necessitates stronger braking and the D4 has bigger stoppers all round with 360mm discs up front and 350s out back - hence you can't put 18" rims let alone 17" on this thing. Stuck with 20" rims, make sure you've got a second spare if you intend venturing past the outer limits, good luck trying to get one of those off the shelf in a remote country town!
The D4 retains the brilliant Terrain Response System (TRS) which we've tested and proven to work very effectively with the D3, Range Rover Vogue and Rangie Sport. TRS impressively controls ABS, Electronic Traction Control, transmission and differential settings, Hill Descent Control, suspension height and Engine Management Systems. The driver simply moves a dial to specify the driving terrain (sand, rock, mud etc) and the TRS adjusts the vehicle's key systems to providing the optimal driving capability for the current circumstances buy altering engine performance and dynamic handling characteristics.
New to the D4 is Sand Launch, a feature reducing wheel spin at take off in really soft sand - perfect for those soft sandy beaches. Rock crawl mode, provided greater control at low speeds in first or reverse through judicious brake application making our summer puddle cross a doddle, whilst the Gradient Release Control effectively maintained brake pressure after the foot was removed from the brake pedal, stopping that unnerving lurch as we tipped the nose over the edge of some steep tracks.
Well graded undulating winding gravel roads were a joy to drive; the vehicle took bumps and dips in its stride with the air suspension absorbing the surface irregularities without upsetting the relaxed atmosphere of the cabin. It could have all changed quickly as I rounded a bend without warning the road narrowed to a single lane track and dipped quickly into a right hand 90 degree turn. With a liberal boot full of brake pedal and knuckles whitened on the steering wheel I wondered just how tough that new radiator grill would prove to be and just how a face full of air bag would feel. While I expected little in the way of rapid braking with those rims and tires, the Discovery demonstrated its incredible technological credentials by quickly washing off speed, maintaining stability and directional steering control over the ball bearing gravel and allowed me to negotiate the hair pin bend avoiding the embarrassment of the big D4 being force fed a mouthful of grass and leaves. This was a real testament to just how good this vehicles inbuilt technology and safety systems are when things go unexpectedly pear shaped. As good as the improvements are on road, its fair to say the D4's even better off road.
Historically D3s haven't had a spotless record for reliability of their complex electronics, although problems diminished significantly in recent years. LR claim previous issues have been sorted in the D4. Arrrrr yes, with our test vehicle telling us every morning that the battery was low, and the passengers front camera playing hide and seek with the centre display screen I began to wonder. We later found there was a software update to eradicate the battery warning and a possible loss of connection with the camera.
Looking inside you could be forgiven for thinking you're sitting in a Rangie. There's extensive usage of soft touch surfaces, the vertical button encrusted consol of the D3 is gone, replaced with a simple stylish uncluttered control center inclined towards the driver which sweeps elegantly down to the revised centre console. Everything just seems to be where it should, getting used to the location of the controls was fast and intuitive. This is an interior worthy of a luxury name plate; fit and finish is excellent, everything looks well made and appears to be solidly bolted together. Could this be Land Rover reasserting itself to reclaim its long lost title of a reliable premium quality automotive manufacture.
The new TFT touch control information display is a refreshing and a welcome change, as it now incorporates many of the vehicle's navigation and audio controls, including an Ipod interface, in one convenient location, utilising manual or voice command on some functions. The new hard drive sat nav system is a vast improvement, it's quicker with better graphics and this time managed to display most of the side roads we travelled.
The D4 seats 7 full sized adults in comfort and can carry a decent luggage load when the rear seats are folded flat into the floor. The new seats are supportive and extremely comfortable for longer journeys, and the tendency for the head rest to push the head forward on taller drivers has gone thanks to new adjustable head rests. Sadly gone, however, are those signature grab handles for the rear passengers when things get rough. The D4 retains all the best points of the D3's practicality, folding seats, cubby holes, drink holders and spaciousness.
For more techno wizardry, our V8 had High Beam Assist, which switched the high beam on or off, when it believes you need the extra light. As for the five camera surround vision I instantly thought 'GIMMICK'. Well? it does actually work. It's handy offroad when tire placement is critical. And it makes parking or hooking up a trailer a breeze, and tow assist provides trajectory lines on screen as you reverse the trailer. The D4 also has a system called Trailer Stability Assist it detects trailer oscillations and will reduce engine torque and apply the brakes in a symmetric and asymmetric application to regain trailer control. Very clever.
Over some 1500km of rough corrugations, deep sand, even steeper dunes, being dust blasted and punted across slippery rocky streams, the D4 performed its duties flawlessly with an elegance and refinement limited to only a handful of high end luxury SUVs. Other manufacturers should take heed , it is demonstrably possible to have the best of both worlds!
The D4 has a full 3500kg towing capacity, new levels of performance, an extensive list of standard features, and an executive interior with ride and comfort befitting a luxury sedan. Add in a who's who of safety features including dual front, side and curtain airbags extending back to the third row of seats, and the exceptionally clever technology.
With exceptional on and off road capability and practicality the Discovery smoothly moves from executive transport to load carrying and off road family adventure. This is one vehicle which will offer few limitations in its ability to perform well whatever you throw at it. If the Disco falls in your budget range, don't deny yourself the opportunity to take a test drive of what is probably the most practical versatile and well appointed genuine family seven seater SUV on the market today.
Submitted by Ray Cully
Engines: 2.7-litre turbocharged V6 diesel, max power 140kW at 4000rpm, max torque 440Nm at 1900rpm;
3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6 diesel, max power 180kW at 4000rpm, max torque 600Nm at 2000rpm;
5.0-litre fuel-injected V8 petrol, max power 276kW at 6500rpm, max torque 510Nm at 3500rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, full time four-wheel drive.
Brakes and stability systems: Disc brakes with ABS, EBA, Electronic Brake Assist EBD, Electronic Brake-force Distribution ETC, Electronic Traction Control DSC, Dynamic Stability Control GRC Gradiant Release Control HDC Hill Descnet Control SLC Sand Launch Control EUC Enhanced Understeer Control RSC, Roll Stability Control TSA. Trailer Stability Assist
Wheels, tyres: 18-20 inch alloy rims, 255/55 R18 to 255/50 R20.
Fuel and economy: 10.2 litres per 100km (2.7), 9.3L/100km (3.0), 14.4L/100km (V8) Fuel Capacity 86 litres.
Dimensions: Length 4838mm, width 2176mm, height 1837mm.
Ground clearance - standard height (mm) 185 Ground clearance - off road height (mm) 240 Ground clearance - maxium height (mm) 310 Approach angle - standard height (deg) 32.2 Approach angle - off road height (deg) 37.2 Ramp angle - standard height (deg) 22.8 Ramp angle - off road height (deg) 27.9 Departure angle - standard height (deg) 26.7 Departure angle - off road height (deg) 29.6 Wading depth - maximum (mm) 700