Is a four-cylinder engine a big enough heart for the historically do-anything Land Rover Discovery? Paul Maric finds out…
This may be a generalisation, but in a brief survey of 10 people, I found that everybody knows somebody that owns, or has owned, a Land Rover Discovery.
So it’s with little surprise that Land Rover’s punt to depart from the original design and reintroduce a four-cylinder engine could be met with skepticism.
I was keen to see whether a four-cylinder Discovery had the chops for off-roading, towing and daily duties. So we saddled up in the 2018 Land Rover Discovery SD4 SE to do some city driving, a bit of off-roading, and finally some towing with a giant caravan.
The new Discovery range kicks off from $66,450 (plus on-road costs) and goes all the way through to $116,800 (plus on-road costs).
The vehicle we are testing here is priced from $85,950 (plus on-road costs), which is within cooee of the Toyota LandCruiser Prado Kakadu – one of the prime vehicles Land Rover is hoping to steal sales from.
‘Priced from’ is something you’ll hear often from the Jaguar/Land Rover stables. This car is a prime example – while the list price is a little over $85,000, the as-tested price is an eye-watering $122,530 (plus on-road costs).
There’s a big portion of the optional equipment list that you could probably live without, such as the $4000 paint job, or the $4200 sunroof, but some of this gear really should be standard, such as the $1850 keyless entry or the $1140 power tailgate.
One of the positives, though, is that you can buy this car with nothing, or you can specify it to include everything you need. It’s entirely up to the owner.
The exterior design has divided opinion. Some don’t mind it, while others find it unattractive. It’s mainly the rear everybody is talking about, but in person it’s not a bad-looking rig. The LED head- and tail-lights look awesome (can anybody else see a bit of Robocop in the tail-light? Or is that just me?) and give the car a real presence on the road.
Land Rover’s iconic Discovery kink can be seen around the rear of the roof line, a feature originally designed to cater for extra head room in the rear. The Discovery has always been synonymous as an SUV that comfortably seats seven adults.
Inside the cabin it’s still very much a Discovery. Sitting in the driver’s seat is like being transplanted from your favourite lounge chair at home and straight into the car. All the touch points are soft and there’s even a retractable armrest for the driver and front passenger.
The optional head-up display is clear, while the analogue gauges in this car look a bit cheap compared to the optional 12.3-inch screen that can sit in the place of the dials.
From MY18, Land Rover will fit the Discovery with a 10.0-inch InControl TouchPro infotainment system, the one in our car is the older 8.0-inch unit. It’s not as quick or responsive as the bigger 10.0-inch screen and feels a bit out of place in a premium SUV like this.
It also misses out on Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Instead, you need to use a Land Rover application for the functionality to work as intended. Our car was optioned with InControl Secure, Protect and Apps, all of which team up to provide remote connectivity to the car, but at a cost of $2690 for the full package.
The rest of the interior feels high quality and premium. There’s a durable soft-touch material on the dashboard, while the central storage is huge. There are USB and 12V outlets strewn throughout the cabin, with the ability to get up to nine USB ports and six 12V outlets. There are even two fitted under a cubby lid in the third row.
Leg and head room in the first row are excellent. Even with the sunroof fitted to our car, there was plenty of room above and around front-row occupants. It’s the same story in the second row.
Even with the driver’s seat quite far back, there’s plenty of knee, toe and head room. You can easily fit three adults side by side with the row sliding back and forth on a rail in a 40/20/40 split-folding configuration. The centre portion folds down with two cupholders also.
If you’re planning on carrying kids, there are five ISOFIX points in total. One for the front passenger’s seat, two for the outboard seats in the second row and two for the seats in the third row.
Accessing the third row is pretty easy. Both sides of the second row fold forward and slide to allow access to the third row. It’s a bit of a squeeze to get through the narrow gap for a full-sized adult, but once in place the space is cavernous with plenty of storage.
I was easily able to fit in the third row with head and shoulder room, along with toe room under the second row.
Part of the contention behind the engine is the perceived size of the car. Land Rover trimmed around 400kg from the body of the new Discovery in comparison to the old one by using an aluminium monocoque.
While you wouldn’t dream of fitting a four-cylinder to the old Discovery, which weighed around 2500kg, the new one tips the scales at not much over 2000kg.
The SD4 uses a 2.0-litre twin-turbocharged diesel that produces 177kW of power and 500Nm of torque. It’ll move from 0–100km/h in 8.3 seconds and consume 6.4 litres of fuel per 100km. Mated to the engine is an eight-speed automatic gearbox and quite a complex four-wheel-drive system.
In and around town, this engine is excellent. It provides peak torque from just 1500rpm and the gearbox makes the torque readily accessible at all times. It’s not hard to lean on the throttle and leverage the surge at any speed.
The steering is weighted perfectly and offers a variable ratio to make jobs like parking easy, while offering a tight ratio at highway speeds for precise inputs.
Suspension comes in the form of height-adjustable air suspension with passive dampers. It makes the ride around town quite smooth, even as you load the car up with passengers.
The height adjustability allows a further breadth of ride height, with 283mm of ground clearance available in its highest setting.
As you head off the beaten track, you’re going to want to get involved with the four-wheel-drive equipment. The specs are pretty damn impressive.
We’re talking about 900mm of wading depth, the aforementioned 283mm of ground clearance, 34-degree approach angle, 27.5-degree departure angle, 30-degree breakover angle, a low-range gearbox and 3500kg braked towing capacity.
Fitted to our car was the optional Capability Plus Pack ($3200), which includes a rear differential lock, Terrain Response 2 and All Terrain Progress Control.
Terrain Response is Land Rover’s computer-controlled off-road system. It can intelligently manage traction and throttle response, along with active centre and rear differential locking to provide optimum traction.
Our test track at the Australian Automotive Research Centre (AARC) offers a variety of off-road courses and bush terrain to test vehicles to their limits.
It had rained earlier in the week, so the surface had a muddy substrate that quickly filled the ruts. Whereas we crawled up terrain in the Toyota Prado when we were here last in the height of summer, it proved to be a more challenging environment this time.
The four-wheel-drive display actively shows the driver what the four-wheel-drive system is doing, and it’s awesome to watch the centre and rear differentials actively locking and unlocking to provide the traction required.
Over a set of sharp rocks, the Terrain Response Rock mode dulled throttle activity so the car wouldn’t surge over rocks. We also had a chance to test the 500mm suspension articulation over an offset mogul course. This is again where a rear differential lock allows the car to walk out of a situation where it’s seesawing on diagonal axles.
The normal wading bath we use is around 650mm deep and the Discovery walked through there without any issues. We wanted to step it up a notch, so we hit a wading bath built for military vehicles with an adjustable depth up to 2400mm.
We set it to exactly 900mm to see whether the Discovery would pass the wading test. The entry is 17 degrees steep, but it’s the ascent at the other end that had me concerned – a steep and slippery 27-degree climb.
As we dipped the nose in and started driving through the pool, you could hear water lapping around the doors – 900mm is deep… Seriously deep. It’s at this point most cars need snorkels (a device most serious off-roaders will fit to these cars anyway), but it’s good to see the Discovery doesn’t need one.
The other end was tricky – with the car in low-range, we clambered up the 27-degree climb without slipping a wheel. There was just enough clearance while breaking over to not touch the undercarriage.
We were pretty impressed with how easily the Discovery waded through the bath without hesitation. It all appeared fine, but later on we could hear water still swirling about somewhere in the doors and we had a bit of dampness on the carpet.
This is likely to come down to poor sealing around the doors, or us slightly exceeding 900mm as we entered and exited the wading pool before the car settles to the flat position.
The Discovery is, and always has been, impressive off-road. Our short adventure through the AARC grounds proved that it still has the goods when asked to perform.
Towing with a four-cylinder was my primary concern with this level of the Discovery range. To really test it out, we used a twin-axle caravan that came in at just under 3500kg.
When accelerating from a standing start, there was enough power available to move the caravan up to cruising speed. We tried a series of full-throttle overtakes from 40km/h, 60km/h and 80km/h. In each instance, the Discovery struggled a bit with such a big load on the rear.
It doesn’t feel as breathless as something like a Toyota Prado, but you needed to stay stuck into the throttle to confidently keep the package moving.
It’s not unexpected – the four-cylinder engine is being asked to move around 2000kg of car and 3500kg of caravan. The caravan is adding almost 200 per cent to the engine’s original workload.
But, drop to a smaller 1600kg camper or caravan and the story changes. It feels much more confident and you won’t get that feeling of being left stranded on the wrong side of the road. As a side note, it’s part of the reason we’re surprised so many people tow such big caravans with less powerful dual-cab utes.
Our opinion is that if you’re driving around Australia with a big 3000kg-plus caravan, you’ll want to look at the TD6. But, if you’re occasionally towing or regularly towing a smaller caravan, the engine is well-suited to the task.
One of our absolute favourite features is Advanced Tow Assist. This $830 feature works in unison with the 360-degree camera to take the stress out of parking with a trailer.
After programming the dimensions of the trailer and attaching a locating sticker on to the trailer, you’re able to reverse-park something like this giant twin-axle caravan using the Terrain Response knob.
To test it out, we set up our Nissan Navara as a car parked on the street and then used the Tow Assist feature to parallel-park the caravan behind it.
In just one attempt, we were able to perfectly slot the caravan in behind the Navara and execute a perfect parallel park. This technology will be immensely handy if you’re dropping a boat into the water or trying to slot a caravan into a bay at the caravan park. Sure, everybody should know how to reverse and park, but this makes it a precision effort.
Another great feature is the Activity Key (a $940 option). It’s a rubber band that sits on your wrist and allows you to leave your car key in the car while you’re out swimming, for example. It can withstand temperatures of over 70 degrees Celsius and sub-zero.
It also disables the key left in the car so nobody can come along and try to start the car. When you return from your outdoor adventure, you simply tap the ‘D’ on the back of the car and it unlocks.
One of the modern Land Rover myths is servicing costs. While Land Rovers of yesteryear could be expensive to service, this new Ingenium diesel engine only needs servicing every two years, with a five-year pre-paid service plan costing just $1500.
This is in comparison to something like the Toyota Prado, which needs servicing every six months at a cost of $240. Over a five-year period, it’ll set you back $2400 to service.
The new Land Rover Discovery SD4 SE has impressed us. It’s a big SUV with enough room for seven adults and an interior that feels a cut above the rest in terms of fit and finish.
Land Rover’s new four-cylinder engine works really well around the city and on country roads, but can struggle with a big caravan like the one we tested. If you’re not towing something that size often, it’s not an issue.
We were surprised with how quickly the Discovery can get very expensive. Sure, you don’t need to tick every option box known to man, but the cost can skyrocket pretty quickly.
Either way, you can build this car to the way you like it, and know that if you ever do want to go away with your cohort of kids and family, it will literally go anywhere and be big enough to grow with your family.
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