Thanks to its unique blend of luxury, refinement and unstoppable off-road ability, the Land Rover Discovery
has won seven consecutive class victories at our New Car Awards. And it seems buyers like it, too: as our feature on Page 32 explains, Land Rover has been celebrating the car’s sales success over the last 23 years by driving the millionth Discovery from Birmingham to Beijing.
But a constant development process means today’s Discovery 4 is a world away from the MkI car that debuted in 1989. For starters, the chunky styling has evolved to give the 4x4 a distinctly classy image – especially in range-topping HSE trim, where the 19-inch alloys and silver grille look impressively upmarket.
Inside, the Land Rover blends rugged practicality with tasteful luxury. The chunky controls and high-class materials impress, while the lofty and comfortable driving position gives you a great view of the road.
Recent updates include the rotary gear selector found in the Range Rover Evoque and simplified controls for the excellent Terrain Response system. But the cabin still doesn’t have the opulence of the Cayenne’s or the smart simplicity of the M-Class’.
However, the Discovery is hard to fault for practicality, as it’s the only seven-seater here. What’s more, the two third-row seats are big enough for adults, while the middle row is made up of three individual seats, making this a far more spacious and versatile choice than the Mercedes or Porsche.
Moving or folding the seats is easy, and if you lower the rear two rows completely, you get a van-like 2,558 litres of storage space. Yet despite the car’s hefty exterior dimensions, the 543-litre boot capacity in five-seat mode isn’t a match for the M-Class or Cayenne.
There’s no escaping the car’s weight and size on the road, either. There’s more body roll through corners and the 2,583kg kerbweight makes itself felt under braking – although the all-disc set-up delivers strong stopping power. Still, with standard air suspension, the Discovery rides incredibly well and there’s plenty of grip on offer. And while the new variable-ratio steering rack doesn’t have the keen turn-in of the Porsche, it’s accurate, well weighted and a match for the Mercedes’.
On the move, refinement is first-rate and the Land Rover is an extremely accomplished long-distance cruiser. Take into account its mighty off-road ability, and few cars are as versatile as the Discovery. Plus, the new eight-speed automatic gearbox reduces its thirst for diesel considerably – although the car remains less efficient than its rivals here.
Still, the refined twin-turbocharged V6 diesel engine has been given a small power hike and its whopping 600Nm torque output helped the Land Rover stay close behind its lighter rivals in our performance tests.
It’s also worth noting that our HSE test model’s £51,220 price is offset by generous standard equipment and class-leading predicted residual values. The question is, does the Discovery still offer enough to hang on to its place at the top of the large SUV pile?
Chart position: 1WHY: The 2012 Discovery comes with a new eight-speed automatic gearbox, so it’s cleaner, faster and more efficient than before.