Few cars have managed to stand the test of time as well as the Land Rover Discovery
. The Auto Express favourite shot to the top of the large SUV class when it arrived in 2004 and has stayed there ever since.
There’s no denying this car’s legendary abilities when the going gets tough – but it’s now been tweaked to improve its on-road manners and efficiency.
From the outside, it’s difficult to tell the latest model from the previous car, but in our opinion that’s no bad thing. The slab-sided design, bluff front end and asymmetric tailgate all give it a stylish and imposing presence, and the 19-inch multispoke alloys of our car are now standard on the top-spec HSE model.
The opulent cabin has been mildly revised, too. A Jaguar-style rotary gear selector has replaced the old lever, and the Terrain Response system has simplified controls. Better electronics for the sat-nav and audio systems and chrome on the indicator stalks complete the changes.
The chunky controls and high-class materials mean the Discovery 4 seamlessly blends rugged practicality with sumptuous luxury, but it lags behind the BMW in some areas. The monochrome trip computer screen between the dials looks dated, is hard to read and doesn’t have the wow factor of the X5’s optional (£1,015) head-up display.
Such gadgets seem redundant on the Land Rover, though, as few cars offer such a feel-good factor from behind the wheel. It provides excellent all-round visibility, which comes in handy when you’re trying to manoeuvre the big 4x4 through tight gaps.
The Discovery’s dimensions do make parking an issue, and you may find yourself spending time searching for a space big enough to accommodate it.
Our test car featured a helping hand in the form of the optional Vision Assist pack (£1,000), which features four exterior cameras to help place the car more easily. The seven standard seats are all big enough for adults, and moving or folding them is easy. If you lower the two rear rows completely, you get a van-like 2,558 litres of storage space.
The 2012 model has an all-new eight-speed automatic, and the rotary selector looks smart and makes the console look less cluttered. The extra ratios are meant to improve fuel efficiency and emissions, but they also help to make the Land Rover more refined than ever. However, it’s not as responsive as the X5’s transmission. Shifts are occasionally delayed when you flick one of the wheel-mounted paddles, and there are times when you can feel the car hunting for the right gear. It’s very smooth, though, and when driven gently, the changes are almost imperceptible.
The twin-turbo V6 diesel engine under the bonnet has been given a small power hike. It now produces 253bhp and an enormous 600Nm of torque. It’s strong, flexible and amazingly quiet – the gentle six-cylinder rumble is barely audible from inside the cabin. Emissions have taken a tumble from 244g/km to 230g/km, so the new version is a little greener than before.
Yet that figure still leaves it two tax brackets above the BMW, and the X5’s 30.4mpg on-test economy figure easily beat the Discovery’s 22.2mpg.
The changes haven’t made a huge dent in its efficiency, then, but is the Land Rover any better to drive than before? A new variable-ratio steering rack has been fitted, and it does a remarkable job of improving the car’s poise. There’s not much resistance when you turn the wheel, but the steering is precise and becomes weightier as your speed increases.
There’s more body roll than with the X5 in corners, but plenty of grip. It’s still no match for the BMW as a driver’s car, but the Land Rover’s a decent all-rounder.
You feel its extra weight under heavy braking, where the nose dives sharply, but the pay-off is an incredibly supple ride, which makes the Discovery 4 great over long distances. Throw in the patented Terrain Response system – much better than any of the off-road electronic support you get in the X5 – and the Discovery 4 is still one of the most versatile vehicles money can buy.
Chart position: 1WHY: Latest Discovery features a new eight-speed automatic gearbox, so it’s cleaner, faster and more efficient than before.