By Trevor Lamenya for AutoVault
The SUV market is growing at an exponential rate; car makers predict by 2025 SUV sales will account for close to 70% of total vehicle sales. To that effect majority of automakers are now shifting focus to this market and are continuously jostling for the lucrative piece of the SUV pie.
Flashback September 2016 at the Paris International Motor Show, Land Rover unveiled its most practical SUV yet, the new Discovery. Why not the Discovery 5? I wondered? I finally got a chance to answer these questions when I got an invite to sample Land Rover’s latest offering deep in the heartlands of Limpopo, South Africa.
The Discovery was a pioneer of the ‘practical SUV’ in the late 80’s and has grown from strength to strength, wading off competition from Japanese rivals like the Mitsubishi Pajero and Toyota Land Cruiser with relative ease. However with the dawn of the new century, competition grew tenfold and non-SUV players like Mercedes and BMW began a proper SUV onslaught. Land Rover had to react and the results were astonishing. The Discovery 3 and 4 offered exhilarating on-tar performance and still bundu-bashed like a proper Land Rover. The big question is will the new Discovery set another benchmark for the rest of the SUV pack?
The Discovery is the most practical Land Rover to date and is firmly positioned at the pinnacle of the Land Rover family, bearing the Gerry McGovern design trademark. My brief hop from Nairobi to Johannesburg brought me to the start point of this epic adventure with the Discovery. At first glance it bears resemblance with its smaller brother, the Discovery Sport. Parked flush in single file, one can tell indeed its part of the Land Rover family with the floating roof and clamshell bonnet design.
It looks brawny as compared to the initial renderings released by Land Rover. Gone is the boxy timeless design theme and in comes the smoother and more rounded surfaces. One aspect that i found controversial is the rear third and tail gate design. It resembles a popular Japanese entry level SUV but that said, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it may grow on me with time.
With a drag coefficient of 0.34, it’s eight per cent more aerodynamic than its predecessor, courtesy of its raked windscreen angle and Discovery Sport styled sloping roof line. The radical shift by Land Rover to employ an all-aluminum body and chassis structure has made the Discovery 420kg lighter than its predecessor.
Inside, the exquisite airy cabin has been re-designed and shares its look and appeal with its cousin, the Range Rover Sport, The new 10-inch multi-information display screen steals the thunder from everything in sight and now a sports a thick rim, three spoke steering wheel with satellite buttons for easier access to vital controls. Land Rover couldn’t resisted the urge to adopt the rising telescopic transmission selector knob.
The Discovery’s cabin quality is first-rate. It looks good, everything is laid out in a logical fashion, and while it lacks Audi’s or BMW’S fancy digital instruments, the 10-inch touch-screen infotainment system is slick and clear. There’s space for seven full-size adults to sit comfortably, too (something which can’t be said for many seven-seat SUVs) or a huge boot, while there’s so much storage on board that you could easily lose most of your possessions in minutes. There’s also a dazzling array of tech on board HSE Luxury trim – easily as much as you’d expect from the Range Rover – and neat touches like a smartphone-controlled electric folding mechanism for both rows of rear seats
It was time to head out to our Limpopo adventure, about 350KM from Pretoria. The route comprised of a mix of tar and murram surfaces, specifically designed to show off the all new Discovery’s breadth of capabilities. The convoy snaked out of the hustle and bustle of Pretoria into the open country via the N2 highway which provided an ample opportunity to flex the various engine derivatives of the Discovery.
The benefits of a lightweight, stiff chassis are enhanced by a choice of capable motors that will power the Discovery. Land Rover will only offer two engines for sub-Sahara Africa, mainly the responsive 250kW/450Nm V6 supercharged petrol and the sublimely balanced 190kW/600Nm three-litre SDV6 diesel.
On tarmac the Disco is aluxury cruiser as it is quiet and gets along its business of hauling you and your family with relative ease. The ZF 8- Speed gearbox allows you to exploit the full potential of both engine derivatives yet also enhances increased fuel efficiency. If you feel the need to get on briskly, select the sport setting on the gear selector and immediately the Discovery changes to an accomplished sports car. On Sports Mode the throttle response is sharp, gearshifts are faster and the suspension beefs up to reduce body role in conjunction with the steering wheel.
RIDE AND HANDLING
Land Rover used The Range Rover Sport’s chassis as the base for the Discovery. Designed to offer a much sportier ride than its predecessor. The air-supported suspension is a feat of engineering as it’s fully built of aluminum, thus allows variable wheel articulation. Upfront double wishbones are designed to offer the vehicle a sports car-like feel while the multilink suspension set up is on active duty together with active sway bars to keep the back end neat and tidy when executing sharp bends and crests.
For those who want to take the Discovery to the extreme outdoors, this new generation will come with a sophisticated transmission that contains a two-speed 50/50 biased transfer case with low-range, ideal for the most demanding off-road conditions and 100 per cent diff-locking capability.
250 Kilometres of tar driving brought us to an off-road diversion where the Train Response system came alive. This advanced transmission system contains a two-speed 50/50 biased transfer case with low-range, ideal for the most demanding off-road conditions and 100 per cent diff-locking capability.
Land Rover also paired the All Surface Pro control system that allows easy take off on slippery surfaces plus an intelligent 4×4 mode that constantly monitors and controls traction in all surfaces. The Discovery managed to conquer rocks, ruts and muddy surface on this route with ease.
Land Rover did not shy away from technology, generously using it to enhance the vehicle’s overall capability and drivability. The functionality of this car goes beyond driving technology and taps in to other lifestyle points as well. For instance, the app enables the Range Rover Sport to be a high-speed Wi-Fi hot spot for use by passengers in the cabin. Land Rover added an electrical system that retracts the rear seats at the touch of a button or programmed by a special Land Rover App that allows you to customize the seat layout on your phone. You can also programme the car to start and warm the cabin in the morning using this app as well. For those who love extreme outdoors you can lock and unlock the Disco using a waterproof activation wearable key. The Disco has a retractable towing hook system that also allows you to hitch a trailer without help, using a sophisticated array of sensors.
Our long journey finally ended at dusk when we arrived at our campsite surrounded by the Bela-Bela mountain range. The convoy had the opportunity to interact with Land Rover’s good will ambassador Mr. Kingsley Holgate, who shared his tales of visiting all the African countries, distributing malaria prevention nets, reading glasses and clean water filters by the camp fire. It was also time to discuss the real questions i.e. running cost, maintenance and warranties.
- It will be available in the Kenyan market in the fourth quarter of 2017
- Comes with a 5 year/150/000 KM Land Rover Care warranty honored across Africa
- Complementary 5 year/100,000 service package to give you peace of mind
- Financing options available
In my opinion the Discovery is a capable vehicle that displays the best of both worlds i.e. work and play. Overall design is good but its inherent strength is in the capable engines, powertrain and versatility of the cabin with emphasis on the use of technology to make the Discovery experience worth it. Rivals like Mercedes, BMW and Volvo churning equally competitive alternatives, it boils down to the value addition Land Rover offers for the Discovery.