Nick recently wrote a piece about a trip he took through three countries, most of which was off-road, in heavy duty 4×4 vehicles like the Land Rover Defender and Toyota Fortuner. These are the “preferred” vehicles for such an activity. And having tested the Defender I can vouch for its ability when the going gets tough.
Thing is though, these vehicles are for the kind of person who wished he lived a life separate from civilisation, in a place where tar had not yet been discovered, nor comfort or luxury of any sort.
I’m from a slightly different school of thought as I enjoy comfort and leisure, and civilisation in general. However this does not exclude me from having the fleeting desire to venture into the bush on the odd occasion. Since this blend of desires requires a vehicle that is usable in everyday life, the Defender and Fortuner are excluded (even if there are a few mentals who use the Fortuner everyday).
So in steps the Land Rover Discovery 4 – in my opinion the real, and only, way to do off road adventuring. You see while the Defender (and Fortuner) is crude and somewhat simplistic in its approach, the Disco couldn’t be more the opposite.
The 4×4 system isn’t controlled by a silly second gear lever, but rather a highly intelligent electronic system, with five terrain settings ranging from tar roads through to mud, gravel, grass, snow, and rocks. Hill decent isn’t controlled by ones right foot, but rather an electronic system that requires no user intervention at all. Ride height too can be altered at the push of a button, making the Disco hunker down on the road to be more slippery through the air, while still offering a boulder hopping option (and a 700mm wade depth).
And since I hadn’t spent R720,000 on this particular Discovery, I figured I would test all the gadgets and tricks – despite there being no snow in a 300km radius.
If I’m honest, my initial thoughts on the 4×4 system were that the “Terrain Response” dial wasn’t actually attached to anything, merely something ponsy rich blokes could show off to their mates. Well I was made to eat those thoughts. There is an actual physical change in the sensation felt through the steering when moving from one setting to the next. Who knows what goes on down in the depths of the suspension and onboard computer systems but almost instantly more grip becomes available.
This is best displayed through the “Sand Launch Control”. This system is not only brilliant, but a life saver if you’re alone out in the sticks. It helps limit wheel spin and prevents the vehicle digging itself into a hole on soft surfaces. I’ve been in a number of situations where I’ve had to dig trenches and lay down tracks to get myself out of exactly this situation…a thing of the past if you own a Discovery. These Land Rover blokes are mighty clever.
Their intelligence shines through once more on the road. The Disco is blindingly comfortable on tarmac, thanks to the four-corner self levelling suspension which provides brilliant vehicle dynamics for a two and a half ton monster. You don’t drive this car; you merely waft from A to B in seamless comfort. I’ve driven few vehicles that are as refined as the Disco. Road noise, well it’s just nonexistent. All that is audible is the occasional purr from the big Jag V8. What more could one ask?
Speaking of the engine, I must admit it does have its downfalls. A five litre 276 kw V8 will never be economical. Strap on a two and a half ton iron girder with the aerodynamic characteristics of an American and you’re in for one massive fuel bill and many a visit to the local filling station. I’ll admit this isn’t ideal for off-roading. But there is a turbo-diesel V6 model which is probably just as refined and may well leave a slightly shorter trek when you inevitably run out of juice.
Coupled with its competence off road and sheer brilliance on the road, being inside the Discovery is what I imagine first class might be like with Emirates. I half expected a nice looking air hostess to pop out the glove box with a glass of Champaign and a pearly white smile.
What I find fascinating is that both the Disco and Defender emanate from the same manufacturer somewhere in the Midlands of the United Kingdom – a place which, let’s be honest, isn’t well known for its technological advancement. They have been rather clever though in producing two vehicles, arguably equal off road, yet so different in nature and character that they attract customers from opposite ends of the spectrum. Land Rover has put the ball in your court.
Bottom line is that if I were looking for an adventure, I’d want to experience it in the Discovery 4.
Price: R 720,000
Engine: 5 litre V8
Power: 276 kW
Torque: 510 Nm
Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 7.9
Top speed (km/h): 195
Fuel consumption (l/100km): 15 (claimed)
Photo Credit: Quickpic