Land Rover Discovery: Disco rocks it
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Utah's extreme landscape is ideal for pushing this latest Land Rover SUV to its limits
Land Rover's large SUV, the Discovery, has had a reputation in the past for being too big for everyday use. You could even say it was infamous for getting stuck under carpark height barriers. (Solution: let down the tyres and creep under.)
But come generation five, all is forgiven. The Discovery (better known as the Disco) is now as stylish at its posh family member, Ranger Rover, while having as much off-road capability as the Defender (RIP).
Land Rover has just had its global media launch for the latest Discovery in Utah, US, with the seven-seater being touted as the "ultimate family SUV".
Yup, gone are the days of generation one and two (the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s) Discovery where it was brawn over comfort. Instead, the company is responding to the global market where 40 per cent of new vehicle sales are SUVs.
There are 20,000 pre-orders in the UK before the Discovery goes into dealerships there next week, New Zealanders will get theirs by June.
The range starts at $114,900 for the turbo diesel SE model, $126,900 for the HSE diesel, while the HSE Luxury diesel will be priced from $136,900.
Our models will get powered tailgate, 8in infotainment screen and 19in alloys in the SE models, and 10in infotainment screen plus 20in alloys in the HSE and HSE Luxury.
Land Rover NZ will have a petrol Si6 for sale but says the volume product will be the entry level SE diesel.
The first thing you notice about the new Discovery is its looks. Yes, there is the family resemblance to the Discovery Sport but the Disco is a larger, more imposing vehicle than its smaller sibling.
It has lost the square shape and bulky rear, instead the C-Pillar is body-coloured and angled giving a more sporty look, while the rear acknowledges the Disco's split window and spare-wheel positioning with a strange placement of the rear number plate (above).
Inside the Discovery is pure Range Rover, with leather aplenty, seven seats that all fit adults (I tested the third row and had plenty of leg and head room), plus the snazzy feature of being able to change the seating arrangement via your smartphone, from buttons at the rear, or from the infotainment screen.
There are 21 seating arrangements available. The seats move in tangent so if the front passenger seat is too far back to allow a second row seat to move, it is automatically shifted. That stops any squabbling with your kids to move the seat so their sister's legs are squashed!
The cabin has plenty stowage options. You can fit and store four iPads in the centre console and, when the infotainment system is opened, it has a small storage area for valuables.
There are up to nine USB ports available across all three rows - so the kids needn't worry about their electronic gear going flat.
The boot has a bench, or drop-down table, that can take 300kg of weight. It's handy for loading gear or sitting on while watching your kids' sports -- but it is also a hindrance. Once lowered it was hard to access the depth of the boot, especially if you're short.
The Disco is nearly 5m long, 2073mm wide, 1846mm high with a kerb weight of 2298kg. It has lost 480kg over the generation four due to the use of aluminium architecture.
It has the clever addition of auto access height, so the SUV lowers to make entry easy, plus command driving position that allows you to raise (or lower) the vehicle.
The suspension includes an independent system using double-wishbone layout at the front, and a multi-link system with integral link in the rear.
The Discovery engine line-up includes diesel and petrol engines from JLR's line-up, including the Td6 diesel, Sd4 diesel, TdV6 diesel and Si6 petrol.
All engines are paired with the company's ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox, with steering wheel paddles.
On the gutsy side, it has a wading depth of 900mm and ground clearance of 283mm, plus towing capacity of 3500kg.
The Disco's terrain response 2 automatically monitors the driving conditions and can cope with different surfaces: general driving, grass, gravel and snow, mud and ruts, sand, and rock crawl.
At the Utah launch this week, those last two options came into play.
Landing at St George airport, Utah, our first vehicle was the 3-litre, Si6, V6 petrol, producing 450Nm of torque.
Heading into the Zion National Park and up deep-snow-covered mountains of up to 1860m, before dropping into Kanab (the inspiration for the Cars movie setting of Radiator Springs) and then the long, straight desert roads towards our accommodation in Canyon Point, we first had to navigate kilometres of sand tracks and dry river beds before the nail-biting rock climb.
Dialling in low range, which determines the ratio and lock to assist with slow assent or descent, I had to drive (very slowly) along a cliff that had a steep drop (as my passenger attested to), towards a log ramp, where I had to position the Disco for its spurt up the rock face.
Of course, there were Land Rover's driving instructors indicating speed and direction in every manoeuvre but it was only the thought of a strong G&T at the hotel over the rock face that kept me from losing my nerve.
Day two saw us in the 3-litre TDV6 diesel with the HSE Luxury package. This vehicle has to be the star of the line-up, thanks to an engine as quiet as a petrol one but with the addition of low-end power and 600Nm of torque.
Our first task was a rock climb using All-Terrain Progress Control (ATPC), a type of cruise control for off-roading. You set the speed (tip: low), and just steer as the Disco inches up the rock face.
This exercise, along with the rock climb the day before, shows the Discovery to its extreme. This is exactly what a car launch should do -- prove the maximum a vehicle can do, even though in real life the most off-road a Disco will do is heading to a boat ramp.
But the point is that it can do it, and it does it extremely well.
The day's drive took in more open-road driving up into the mountains, this time tipping 2133m, but it was an off-route excursion that showed the Discovery's everyday ability.
The test cars had air suspension so the ride was comfortable on and off road. While the Disco is a big vehicle, it coped well going through tight corners on the open road, with little body roll.
Our guide book mentioned the ghost town of Pahreah/Paria that had been turned into a movie set and was the location for films such as The Outlaw Josey Wales and Sergeants 3.
A 30-minute detour from Kanab, then a 15-minute exertion on slippery clay saw us arrive at the ghost town and famous set ... that had burned down in 2006. Tip to Kanab tourism association, best put a sign at the start of the clay trail stating that, I'll even donate a few bucks for the new board.