Land Rover Discovery

Fifth generation cuts family ties to please the SUV herd, if not Disco devotees

MATT RAUDONIKIS

FIRSTDRIVES

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

WEíRE NOT certain whether itís the work of fashion or unbridled population growth, but it seems many of todayís buyers feel the desire to have seven seats in their family wagon. Car makers, of course, are only too happy to feed the masses with increasingly larger, heavier and more comprehensively equipped SUVs, a style of vehicle thatís long left the station wagon in its dust.

Land Rover was ahead of the curve when it introduced its first seven-seat Discovery back in 1989, and the Disco has since grown through four generations.

A seven-seater option contines in the fifth-generation Disco, but the new model marks a shift in priorities, from a family-friendly off-roader to an (optionally) offroad capable high-rise wagon for the suburbs.

Creating a slick-looking vehicle with such capacity and ability isnít a new challenge, however rising buyer expectations mean designers and engineers must now work harder.

With the Discovery 3 and 4 generations, Land Rover delivered a mix of ability and accommodation few brands could match, while the boxy exterior and signatures such as the asymmetric rear window and tailgate resulted in a design icon with enduring popularity.

If creating a cult from a pair of rectangles had been easy, designing a Disco that would sit stylishly alongside the Evoque in showrooms presented a challenge. ďWhen youíre doing a vehicle this size, designed to seat seven adults, that is a big vehicle, and to package that successfully and still make it look dramatic is a difficult task,Ē said Gerry McGovern, Land Roverís chief of design.

The resulting fifth-gen Discovery loses the cubist style of its predecessors and taps into McGovernís new face for Land Rover and Range Rover products.

An unmistakable part of the current line-up that in shape and proportion looks like no Disco before it, the fifth-gen retains a few design quirks to tie it into the modelís heritage.

The stepped roof that allows the stadium seating for the second and third rows has carried

SPECS

Model Engine Max Power Max Torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Fuel economy Price On sale Land Rover Discovery HSE TD6 7-seat 2993cc V6 (90į), dohc, 24v, TTD 190kW @ 4000rpm 600Nm @ 1750-2250rpm 8-speed automatic 2230kg 8.1sec (claimed) 7.2L/100km $103,950 July

into the new generation too, to provide adequate headroom for adults in the back seats.

A new top-hinged tailgate (made from a lightweight composite material) locates the number plate to the left in the recess between the taillights, in an attempt to echo the asymmetric rear window from a time when a spare wheel was mounted on the tailgate.

Whether or not the design works is subjective but initial indications suggest that it polarises.

An element of the new tailgate design that does work well is the way Land Rover has kept the Ďseatí previously provided by the lower part of the two-piece tailgate when it was opened. Now thereís an inner tailgate that folds out to serve the same purpose. Itís rated to support 300kg and can be raised or lowered using the air suspension if desired.

Aluminium monocoque architecture is new to the Disco (it already underpins the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport luxury models) which previously employed a heavy steel monocoque on a separate ladder chassis. The new aluminium platform contributes to weight savings of up to 480kg on some variants. A significant contributor to that weight loss is the new ĎIngeniumí four-cylinder diesel engine, the first four-pot in a Disco since 1998.

Land Rover has also made the dual-range transfer case an option across the range, further shedding weight for anyone choosing a new Discovery for on-road and lightoff- road use only.

The 2.0-litre Ingenium engine is available in two states of tune Ė the low-spec TD4 version makes 132kW and 430Nm, while the high-spec SD4 puts out a handy 177kW and 500Nm. Itís distinctly a diesel from the outside, but this is not so obvious from the cabin where the ambience is quiet and the note refined.

The fours do a fine job hauling the big wagon when itís lightly laden, though even the SD4 will work hard when seven-up.

Depending on your intended usage, this might make the familiar ĎLioní V6 diesel the pick.

In this 3.0-litre iteration it uses a pair of sequential turbochargers to produce 190kW and 600Nm, which will certainly make it your donk if you plan on testing the Discoveryís 3500kg towing capacity for any distance.

There will be no petrol engine offered to the Australian market and all three diesels are backed by an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission.

For most buyers it will be the versatility, functionality and quality features of the Discovery that will draw them rather than mountain goat off-road ability.

The slick, if more conformist styling shouldnít hurt sales either.

The more efficient Ingenium engines without low-range capability will be sufficient for their needs.

For those who do want to head off the beaten track and into the bush, Land Rover hasnít forgotten its roots. The Discovery has height-adjustable air suspension which, raised to its maximum, gives 283mm of ground clearance and class-leading wading depth of 900mm. Low-range gearing, an optional locking rear differential and the acclaimed, improved Terrain Response system combine to maintain Discoveryís off-road prowess, and now occupants can enjoy the great outdoors in a greater level of comfort.

The birth of a conventionally styled, lighter, more refined Discovery with greater efficiency amounts to Land Rover offering more buyers what they want from their SUV. Proper off-road ability, meanwhile, becomes an opt-in position rather than the default, for those who need it, or just like to know itís there.

Off-road ability becomes an opt-in position rather than the default

PLUS & MINUS

Loses its iconic aesthetic; entry-level fours work hard when loaded Massive weight loss; comfort and refinement gains; efficient fours

COPY THAT

Land Rover introduced its Terrain Response system on the Discovery 3 back in 2004 and it has since been copied by the likes of Toyota, Jeep, Ford and others. Terrain Response optimises vehicle systems such as traction control, electronic stability control, ABS, throttle response, differential locks and transmission shifting to best suit the terrain. Terrain Response 2, with an added Automatic mode, is optional on Discovery.

OR TRY THESE...

Audi Q7 TDI quattro $104,855

Just under a grand dearer than the seven-seat Disco HSE but a force to be reckoned with in terms of performance, quality, refinement and seating comfort. Needs air suspension to be truly plush, but in that guise, itís superb.

Mercedes GLS 350d $117,950

A bigger bus than the new Disco but itís where you need to look for a proper Benz seven-seat wagon.

Despite updates, ageing interior fails alongside the stunning Audi and Land Rover, but the GLS definitely has street presence.