Hardware: Land Rover Discovery

The reasons why you might buy a vehicle such as this will determine your reaction to the new Land Rover Discovery. If you like Land Rovers for the pure agricultural joy of large gears controlled by recalcitrint levers and brute power overcoming mass, then the new model might be a disappointment. We say "new" because this model is only weeks old.

As the man in the shop said, "It looks like a Discovery but almost everything is different -- suspension, engines, gearbox, interior looks ..."

What's been created is a sort of junior Range Rover, and if you look at the front and think the lights remind you of the Range Rover, that's because they're exactly the same component. The general body shape remains the same as before but underneath, a lot of electronics have gone in. The transfer gearbox and lever have gone and are replaced by a rotary switch which selects different kinds of terrain. Styling details on the body lean more towards Range Rover than the Defender -- and the Defender is where you should go if you want or need the old levers and general feel of stripped back functionalism.

So, let's go for a spin. The engine choices are a 4394cc gas fueled V8 or a 2720cc Diesel. We took the diesel to see what a top of the line modern diesel was like, and also because we knew the V8 from quite a bit of experience of blasting around strange countries. The V8 drinks a fair bit of fuel. If you're really pressing on, and there is great joy in hurling such a thing around the roads, you can watch the guage go down ... maybe 9 or 10 mpg? Maybe less.

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Getting in, the first thing you notice is that the instrument display has got a more smooth city look to it. The whole dash has been cleaned up and rounded. In the center is a display for the GPS as well as a menu system for various other controls. An optioned up Discovery has full leather seats just like the old model, and they are comfy as well as providing some support. The old one had a handy option of little platforms to help get in but this one didn't have them fitted so it would be an effort to get in for a short person and a wee tug for someone of average height.

Starting the engine is the first clue to the new diesels -- no knk-knk- knk-knk-knk noise accompanied by wisps of jet black smoke; nothing at all in fact, just a murmur from the front.

In the back the seats have been folded flat and there's a large area available for dogs, luggage, and pieces of furniture you might find along the way. When they're in the up position, there's seating for seven.

Seeing as how our test is taking place in the middle of one of the biggest cities on the planet, there aren't many sticky fields or river beds to test out, but there is Hyde Park so we head out for several laps of the region.

Mayfair is where we started, and some would say the spiritual home of the Range Rover. Others would say 90210 is. Whichever; the Discovery has a sleeker, more sophisticated look now that doesn't look out of place here even if the detailing doesn't shout quality in the way that more expensive vehicles do.

In city traffic the acceleration is quite adequate, helped along by the good torque characteristics of a diesel, and even with a bit of space and a bit of a prod, it goes along very well but runs out of breath quite soon. The V8 is much better in that way, but you pay the price. Driving this in town reminds you of why so many mothers ferry their kids around in big 4WD's -- very good vision and a feeling of safety.

On our way around the park we see the forlorn, fenced-in memorial to Princess Diana. It's looks forlorn today partly because it's a cold November day with a leaden sky and leaves scrurrying about the ground, and partly because ambulance chasing lawyers, parents who can't discipline kids, and people who are too gutless to take the consequences of their own actions are handing control of a few western societies to a new breed of fascist. This fenced-off, guarded, memorial is trivial example number 6,312,204,666.

Whooshing our way around the park and surrounding city roads we do get some feeling of freedom. Big or even medium-sized 4WD's are like that. You could head for some far away place, over fields and hills, and through shallow water and just ... go. And keep going. While we can't attest to it, this model is supposed to be at least as good as the old Discovery for serious off-road work and the old model was very talented that way.

Just rolling along you could mistake this for the old model. The suspension is not rock hard so there's a gentle sort of floating over bumps where the mass of the vehicle just overcomes the springing. It's not unpleasant and a lot of people would prefer that characteristic to a harder setting. Where you can really tell the difference between old and new, is when you turn the steering wheel. In the old model there was a kind of a lurching motion as you turned followed by a lack of feel through the steering that could be quite unnerving on quick turns, especially when you were getting used to the vehicle. In this car there is no lurch and no dead spot. It just turns. That's the new suspension at work.

All in all this is an effective vehicle that is comfortable, and in optioned-up form has a touch of class as well. The diesel option (which I'm pretty sure is available for the Range Rover as well) gives a little added feel of social responsibility along with higher torque at lower revs than the V8 (440Nm at 1,900rpm as opposed to 425Nm at 4,000rpm) so it is practical as well, especially off-road. Having one and never taking it of-road would be a little like being a phoney.

Thanks to Stratstone of Mayfair and Dominic Lake.

And coming up in the next issue: It has 4WD, does nearly 200mph, and doesn't like to go offroad. What is it? Find out in late January!

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