The numeral “4” in the Land Rover Discovery 4’s name doesn’t stand for four-wheel drive, as some may assume, but instead establishes this model of the Discovery as the fourth-generation in the genesis of this popular luxury off-roader. The Discovery began life in 1989-90, replaced by the second-gen SUV in 1998. The third Discovery was born in 2004, followed by the latest, the Discovery 4, in 2009. Shortly around the same time, JLR was firming up its plans for an India entry. We’ve finally gotten our hands on the Land Rover Discovery 4, to bring you this exclusive on-road and off-road test of what appears to be THE definition of what a sports utility vehicle should be. Read on to find out more.
Design & Engineering
First impressions on the Discovery aren’t exactly flattering. Not too many people like the straight lines and right angles, which abound on the Discovery 4. It’s a distinctive look no doubt, but one that belies the premium brand image and premium price (more on that later) of the Land Rover brand. Of course, god is in the details, and as you spend some time with the Discovery 4, you begin to appreciate the stepped roof, rear quarter glass and stylised egg-crate front grille. The stepped, two-part tail gate is another interesting design feature, and a very practical feature too. The tail gate doesn’t open like a door or a conventional hatch; instead, it is a clam shell design with one half hinged to the roof and the lower half hinged to the floor. This ensures you can access the rear in compact spaces, while also opening only half for loading and unloading small items. Very useful indeed.
But it isn’t so much what you see, but a lot of what you don’t, that makes the Discovery 4 such an interesting vehicle. It displays an engineering ingenuity which will delight the technocrat.
The Land Rover Discovery can be described as having a hybrid body-on-frame and monocoque construction. The body shell is a single unit, while the suspension, comprising of air springs and double wishbones at each corner, is suspended from separate sub frames. In theory, it should allow for good rigidity, required for on-road handling, and enough flexibility and wheel articulation for off-road use. Does it work in practise? Oh yes!
The Discovery 4 in India is available with a single engine option – the 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel, with 240 PS and 600 Nm, married to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Four-wheel drive is standard. The Land Rover Discovery 4 also comes fitted with Land Rover’s patented Terrain Response System, which allows the driver to select the best mode depending on the conditions simply by twirling a knob.
Interiors & Comfort
Step inside, and the Discovery 4’s cabin won’t awe you in any way. It is a simple and straightforward design. It’s all very well built, with top-notch materials, but it does feel a bit staid inside, especially when you consider that the same company is responsible for something like the Range Rover Evoque. Of course, no footballers’ wives were involved in the design of the Discovery 4. The layout is very logical, especially with the centre console, where you have the touch-screen audio and sat-nav (doesn’t work in India), the climate control system, Terrain Response controls and finally the gear lever. Thankfully, there isn’t a surfeit of small, fiddly buttons, which abound in German SUVs and cars, for example. The buttons and dials in the Disco are large, easy to grip, and wonderfully tactile to operate. Customers have the option of customising the interiors to their individual tastes, and Land Rover offers eight different leather or cloth options for the upholstery, plus three different finishes for the highlights, including metal, black lacquer and wood. There are 14 exterior paint shades offered too, in case you were wondering.
The Discovery in India is offered in three different variants, including SE without sunroof, SE with sunroof and HSE. We drove the SE variant, which came with a two-part sunroof for the front and middle rows.
The Discovery is sold as a 7 seater, and indeed it can accommodate seven people, but be forewarned that the third row of seats is not the most comfortable place for long journeys. The seats themselves are small, with thin padding and without any contouring for support.
Ergonomics for the driver’s seat are very good, and can accommodate people of varying stature. However, if you’re very short (less than 5 feet 2), this could be a difficult car to drive. The middle row is comfortable as well, with the right about of padding and support, which should make it very comfortable on long journeys.
Performance & Handling
Fire up the Land Rover Discovery and there is some torque rock when you first crank the engine, but thereafter it is amazingly refined. Noise, vibration and harshness are all very well controlled in the Discovery. The gear lever itself feels tall, and doesn’t shift through the gate with the kind of tautness you would expect, but this is about the only criticism one can level at the Discovery’s driving feel. The steering and brake response are both very good.
This Land Rover weighs over 2.5 tonnes (2,583 kg to be precise), but the engine’s 600 Nm of torque helps to cope with that. Don’t expect sportscar like acceleration or top speed, but the wallop of torque you get from as low as 1,300 rpm means that mid-range acceleration is very good, helping matters tremendously when you’re on the highway. Top speed is a respectable 180 km/h, and honestly, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a road in India where you could sustain such speed.
The weight of the Discovery allied to the kind of speeds it can get up to mean the brakes have to be really strong to rein in all that momentum. Huge ventilated disc brakes (360 mm front / 350 mm rear) help to haul the bulk of the Disco to a halt.
The competency level the Land Rover Discovery displays is very impressive. For a large and heavy SUV, there is no boating felt at speed, and neither does the suspension feel stiff and jar you as it might in some ‘sporty’ SUVs, like the BMX X6 for example. The steering is well weighted, although the steering wheel itself feels a little large, but you appreciate that on off-road conditions.
The question anyone considering a potential Land Rover purchase is always itching to ask: How is it off-road? In a word – splendid.
There’s no point rambling on about the state of roads in Kolkata. They’re disastrous, so the Discovery’s air suspension was the perfect foil.
It was how the Discovery behaved when we took it off-road, that was truly eye opening.
We sighted a grassy field en route to a quarry on the outskirts of Kolkata. Access was via a road used by the trucks which extracted the mined stone from the quarry. Be generous with the rain, and you have terrain which Land Rover engineers would relish as a test track.
With the Terrain Response System switched to the “Mud” setting, with low range engaged, we motored on. Yes, the Discovery would have been better off on proper off-road tyres, but even with the standard tyres, it pulled through easily. No drama, no fuss, just all very business-like.
The Discovery's height-adjustable suspension can raise the ride height by 125 mm from 185 mm to 310 mm.
When you buy as expensive a vehicle as a Land Rover Discovery, it can be safely assumed that you have the budget to keep it running. Thankfully, it sips diesel, which our country’s considerate government has subsidised for the poor rich. In city traffic, you can expect about 7 km/l, with the Discovery managing somewhat-respectable double figures at a steady highway cruise. With low range engaged for off-road conditions, this will obviously drop lower, and we’d anticipate an average of about 5 km/l. Land Rover themselves claim that the Discovery will manage 9.8 km/l for the combined driving cycle.
Safety is always a priority for luxury car-makers, and with Land Rover, it’s no different. By its very design, the Discovery is a safe vehicle to be travelling in. However, you wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of a friendly nudge from this beast. ABS, traction control, electronic stability programme (ESP) and airbags are all standard in the Discovery. Anything less wouldn’t be acceptable.
So, in the overall scheme of things, how does the Land Rover Discovery stack up? This will be a two-part verdict: as a luxury off-roader, it has no peer, even from within its own exalted family. Even as an everyday family car for a large (rich) family with children and pets, it is simply fantastic. But when you consider that it is not very pretty, and that it is rather expensive, your point of view may change. It may be shallow to say so, but a lot of luxury car buyers want their expensive rolling toys to look expensive, and that is an area where the Land Rover Discovery falls flat.
The cheapest Discovery SE without sunroof retails for Rs 79 lakh, on-the-road, while the top of the range HSE variant, with premium Harman/Kardon stereo will cost a cool Rs 91 lakh. Unfortunately for Land Rover, there are many more options to be had for that kind of money.