words - Chris Fincham
photos - Geoff Middleton
This British luxury off-roader remains one of the best tow tugs on the planet

- Versatile with plenty of options
Introduced as a budget version of the upmarket Range Rover in 1989, the Discovery has proved popular with a wide spectrum of buyers, from hard-core off-roaders who enjoy its go-anywhere ability to suburbanites who appreciate its family-hauling abilities and on-road manners.

Not to mention those who want something suitably stylish and capable of towing a sizable family boat, horse float or luxury caravan.

While retaining its impressive off-road abilities the Discovery has, over the years, become less utilitarian in appearance and more up-market in the level of appointments and creature comforts on offer.

On sale since 2009, the fourth-generation Discovery continues this trend. More an update than all-new version, it carried over the chassis, body and much of the suspension and interior of the Discovery 3, but benefitted from a number of detail changes to the suspension, steering, and brakes, plus the addition of Land Rover’s impressive Terrain Response off-road system.

In its current guise, the Discovery 4 kicks off at $68,900 for the entry-level TDV6 (tested here), powered by a 140kW/440Nm, 2.7-litre turbo diesel V6 engine. There’s also a grunty 3.0-litre bi-turbo diesel V6 option, offering 180kW/600Nm, priced from $83,800, and a 276kW/510Nm, 5.0-litre petrol V8 model from $129,400.

A six-speed automatic transmission, and full-time, dual-range 4x4 system comes standard, with adjustable, air-bag independent suspension fitted to most variants.

- A true seven seater with added luxury
An upgrade across the range in late 2011 saw the entry-level TDV6 Discovery gaining an eight-speaker multi-media system, including colour touchscreen, Bluetooth telephony and USB/iPod connectivity.

This added to an already impressive list of standard features, which include keyless start, halogen headlights, electric windows with one touch driver’s window, cruise control, folding mirrors, leather steering wheel, climate control with rear vents, 18-inch alloy wheels, and rear park distance control.

Boosting the base price by just over $20,000, our TDV6 Discovery test car came with a healthy swag of options, including Bournville (dark brown) metallic paint, seven-seat leather trim pack, console cooler box, privacy glass, electronic rear locking diff, surround camera, rear-seat entertainment system including wireless headphones, 11-speaker audio and 7in touchscreen display with off-road mapping.

Inside, the classy, upmarket ambience is enhanced by a matching brown/beige interior colour scheme including stitched leather on the dash. Also adding to the luxury feel was a big touchscreen display, complete with sophisticated trip computer and sat nav system, and crisp-sounding Harmon Kardon audio system.

Space and comfort is generously provided for all passengers in this family-sized wagon, with the extra headroom provided by the high-set roof ensuring you’ll never feel claustrophobic.

Fitted with the optional, twin folding third-row seats along with a proper second row middle seat, the Discovery is also one of few seven seat wagons that can comfortably accommodate seven adults for an extended trip, without causing leg cramping.

The driver is provided a commanding view of the road ahead too, partly thanks to a low bonnet and raised but comfortable seating position. While the uncluttered dash presentation and clear instruments contribute to the overall user-friendly layout.

Land Rover has made good use of available space for storage, with two gloveboxes up front, decent side door pockets and a useful storage bin in the rear load area, which can swallow a significant 1192 litres of cargo (in five-seat mode).

Accessed by a handy split tailgate, the beige-carpeted luggage compartment also includes a 12V socket and a full-size spare wheel is located in the undercarriage.

- Smooth and quiet with plenty of power
Arguably as effective off-road as any showroom 4x4, the Discovery 4 comes armed with impressive off-road kit including dual-range 4WD, centre diff lock, and ‘shift on the fly’ Terrain Response system that makes a mockery of everything from mud to soft sand.

Helping take it further into the bush is a 700mm wading depth, and ride height that can be jacked up to 310mm over rugged terrain.

But while unflappable off-road, this tall and bulky (2486kg) wagon also impresses with its impeccable on-road manners. On the freeway it’s whisper quiet, purring along in sixth gear at 100km/h at a relaxed 1600rpm, with just some wind noise from the bluff, upright windscreen.

Diesel engine clatter is well suppressed, but like the diesel Ford Territory which uses the same 2.7-litre V6 oiler, it’s a bit sluggish off the mark due to some turbo lag. There’s a decent shove from around 3000rpm though, helped along by the swift, smooth-shifting six-speed adaptive auto box.

The independent air suspension glides over a range of road surfaces without disturbing occupants. It also helps keeps the 2.5 tonne wagon in check around corners, although the body leans when pushed. Strong grip and decent steering feel add to the planted, on-road feel.

Another strongpoint is the list of standard safety features, which include an electronic parking brake, anti-skid braking, brake assist, stability control, Enhanced Understeer Control, roll stability system, and hill descent control. The airbags also extend all the way to the third row, protecting all passengers.

- Up to the task for serious towing
With a braked maximum towing capacity of 3500kg, we had no hesitation hooking up a 22ft 4in Chaparral Extreme boat and trailer, weighing around 2900kg, for this test.

The Discovery proved a good match for the hefty rig, offering steady progress without protest or over-revving. It remained stable at freeway speeds up to 95km/h, with only some minor sway detected due to a cross wind and minimal pitching.

While the Land Rover could keep up a steady cruise while towing, the 2.7-litre engine lacked sufficient grunt for strong acceleration or overtaking. If this is an issue then the 3.0-litre diesel with 160Nm extra torque could be a better option, although there’s the $15,000 premium and bigger fuel bills to contend with.

Driving solo, the Discovery averaged 10.6L/100km for a combination of freeway and city driving, increasing to 15.6L/100km while towing over a course which included some freeway cruising.

Thanks to the airbag suspension we noticed no rear suspension sag, which is a good thing as Land Rover doesn’t recommend use of a weight distribution hitch. The clever 4WD and traction control systems also ensured it was a fuss-free exercise running the boat up and down the ramp with the big Chaparral on the back.

The Discovery 4 also featured Trailer Stability Assist, a towing aid that detects trailer oscillations and intervenes using the brakes and by reducing engine torque. We didn’t get the chance to experience it in action, but it was nice to know it was there just in case.

Our test vehicle also came with a wiring adapter kit that plugs into the trailer socket to prevent ‘pulsing’ of any LED rear tail-lights.

- Understandably popular either on-road or off 
Land Rover’s marketing slogan for the Discovery 4 is “The world’s most awarded 4WD” and after a week of towing and touring, it’s easy to understand why it’s so highly regarded.

The consummate all-rounder, at home in the ‘burbs or in the bush, it’s also one of the most stable and confidence-inspiring tow vehicles I’ve had the pleasure of driving. And in entry-level TDV6 form at least, pretty good value for money.

Engine: 2.7-litre V6 turbo diesel
Max. power: 140kW at 4000rpm
Max. torque: 440Nm at 1900rpm
Transmission: six-speed auto
Length: 4838mm
Width: 2176mm
Height: 1837mm
Wheelbase: 2885mm
Ground clearance: 185-310mm (height adjustable)
Kerb mass: 2486kg
Fuel: 82.3lt
Towing cap. unbraked/braked: 750kg/3500kg
Tow ball mass maximum: 350kg
Fuel economy (claimed): 10.2L/100km
Price: $68,990 (MRRP)

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To comment on this article click here Published : Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Prices and specifications supplied are for the market in Australia only and were correct at time of first publication. boatsales.com.au makes no warranty as to the accuracy of specifications or prices. Please check with manufacturer or local dealer for current pricing and specifications.