What's the best multi-purpose vehicle on sale today? You'll struggle to find a better one than the Land Rover Discovery - an amazing jack of all trades, if ever we've seen one. It can go almost anywhere. It can carry seven full-sized adults in absolute comfort. It's family friendly, loves motorway journeys and, in diesel spec, is even vaguely sensible.
Yes, ok, so it weighs a frankly astonishing 2.7 tonnes (even Volkswagen’s V10-engined Touareg only tips the scales at 2602kg) and the tide is turning against lumbering, big SUVs. But is this fair? We thought it was time to reappraise the Discovery and its ilk.
It's hardly new. Why are you only driving the Land Rover Discovery now?CAR Online launched in summer 2006, which means we missed out on the Disco’s original launch. With new engines and other tweaks coming next year it seems the right time to revisit a vehicle that is a true favourite in the CAR office. (We're planning to plug some of the gaps in our first drives over the coming months, so look out for more retrospective first drives.)
Based on the same sturdy underpinnings as the Range Rover Sport, the Discovery offers a more traditional take on the Land Rover experience than the new-age flashiness of its brother. It's still vast, though, with plenty of space for seven.
Surely the Land Rover Discovery is too big for British roads?
The Disco certainly feels better suited to US roads than our more congested European streets. At 4835mm long and 2009mm wide it's actually shorter than an Audi Q7 (5086mm) but wider (1983mm), and only slightly smaller than its big brother the Range Rover. The height also means you’re always instinctively ducking when going into multi-storey car parks.
But the Discovery never feels too intimidating to drive. Of course, the Disco feels big but the chunky, angular styling means you always know where the extremities are. The styling of an X5 might disguise its size, but it also hides where the bumpers are. Driving the Discovery around town is like driving an enormous Smart car.
So you know where the edges are, but surely it still handles like a 2.7-tonne 4x4?Of course. Unlike a BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne, or even the Range Rover Sport, the Discovery isn’t meant for hot hatch baiting. Negotiate a roundabout with any vigour and it rolls, especially as the lack of any weight through the wheel means you take a few stabs at getting your line through a corner right. But relax and drive it like it’s a 2.7-tonne 4x4 and you’ll be amazed at what it can do.
The Discovery grips and hangs on gamely although you’re always aware of the huge masses at play. At least its heft crushes all bumps in the road. The thick sidewalls of the 19-inch tyres (dwarfed by the car’s height) soak up almost everything else. Only the biggest undulations can leave the Discovery floating along.
How does the engine cope with all that weight?Surprisingly well. The same 2.7-litre V6 finds work in the Jaguar XF, which we criticised for feeling slow. Take away one turbocharger and add 947kg and it was never going to be fast. But the Disco's bigger turbo means more low down torque. Compared to the Jag’s 207bhp and 320bhp it has 188bhp and 324lb ft at a low 1900rpm.
The Discovery is sprightly enough coming out of junctions, and goes well up to about 45mph. But at higher speeds, it accelerates with all the vigour of an old double-decker bus. Overtaking is a real worry, and you can feel the engine working hard against 2718kg and a frontal area the size of a small house.
Just make sure you plan ahead - whether it’s to overtake or brake. If you suddenly need to stop, the anchors will bring the Discovery to a halt, but they feel overwhelmed by all that weight.
So all this size and weight must count for something?Space and go-anywhere ability. We didn’t get the chance to take the Discovery off-road, but we have before. CAR's own Mark Walton took one to Timbuktu. Some people may use its mud-plugging abilities, most won’t. But traversing a muddy, rut-ridden car park is a doddle.
If you need to go further into the rough stuff, a twirl of the Terrain Response dial will adjust the electronics to suit the surface. The added bonus for us Tarmac-users is that the Discovery was built for tougher stuff than the school run. The rear washer jet for instance actually sprays the entire rear window, and the wipers are big enough to clean the whole thing so you can clean it properly.
Just how much space is there in the Discovery?
Enough to carry seven blokes who are each over six foot. The raised floor means there’s no transmission tunnel intrusion for the middle-row passengers, and the Discovery is wide enough for three to sit comfortably abreast. In the very back anyone under six foot will be absolutely fine. Insist on putting a 6ft 6in bloke back there and the worst he’ll suffer will be knees pressed against seats. No other car offers as much room for seven people. And the seats are such a doddle to fold that we never even looked at the instruction manual.
Is the interior as good as a Range Rover’s?
No. The wood and leather don’t feel as expensive. The quality doesn’t feel as good, and there were a few rattles in our test car. Our top-spec HSE model costs a steep £44,535, but you still get things like hollow plastic door handles that creak when you rest your knee against them.
You do however get four heated seats, leather everywhere, audio controls for all three rows, climate control, and electric this, that and the other. And if you insist, a six-speed manual is a no-cost option.
But the interior is a wonderful place to sit. High above the rest of the world, with a great view out, on wonderfully comfy seats. You feel completely invulnerable, invincible, and it’s a great feeling.
Won’t somebody please think of the children?
Let's face facts. In this eco-conscious, eco-friendly world the Discovery isn’t the cleanest or greenest car around. It might come with a diesel engine, and Land Rover might charge you £115 to offset the CO2 from your first 45,000 miles of motoring but those are mere sops. In our time with the Discovery it averaged 26mpg over 800 miles at an average speed of 37.6mph. The official claim is 27.7mpg, but it’s still no wonder Greenpeace is against 4x4s.
And while LR is making great things about its CO2 offset, you have to pay £450 extra for a diesel particulate filter. Don’t worry though, there are some new 5.0-litre V8 petrol models on the way to help out… Land Rover's green technologies can't come soon enough.
If don’t mind being occasionally cast as the harbinger of death then the Discovery is one of the most versatile cars in the world. For a family of five a Ford S-Max is a better drive and kinder to the environment. But if you want something that feels truly premium, can carry seven full-size individuals anywhere, and makes you feel like you’re literally on top of the world when you’re behind the wheel, then the Discovery is the car to have.