3-litre, V6 turbocharged diesel
258 PS at 3,750rpm
600Nm between 1,750rpm and 2,250rpm
[dropcap size=small]A[/dropcap] blue-blooded Singaporean friend of mine – let’s call him MK – maintains a Discovery 3 in his modest garage for the sole purpose of driving up to the family estate in Johor. There, he would splash the 4×4 around in the mud in search of fallen durians. I have often said to MK that this has to be the South-east Asian version of the quintessential British landed gentry pursuit of locomoting from London townhouse to Scottish country home to indulge in a little fox hunting. Another pal runs a low-mileage Discovery 4, which he primarily uses to ferry his retrievers between his Katong bungalow and the Singapore Botanic Gardens for their weekly romp around the park.
Since the very first “Disco” rolled off the assembly line in 1989, the model has been Land Rover’s workhorse and an old-money favourite. It is far more comfortable than the battle-proven Defender, while being almost as dependable – outside of climbing Himalayan foothills, at least. Yet, it is considerably less flashy than its German rivals, which came later, flashy being a quality associated with the nouveau riche and quite anathema to the aristocracy.
Today, these class lines are increasingly blurred, and the recently launched fifth-generation Discovery has widened its appeal to rich families with a bent for wanderlust (or fancying themselves having one; most SUVs go from factory to scrapyard, having never left the solid familiarity of tarmac). Take, for instance, the third-row seats, which now come as standard for the Singapore market. Designed to provide enough headroom for all but the fifth percentile-tallest European adults, they are not dinky affairs for midgets either.
To keep the children occupied during those extended sojourns, the interior has been kitted out with more tech connectivity than an iMac Pro. Depending on how you configure your Discovery, up to six charging points, nine USB sockets and a cellular Wi-Fi hotspot may be proffered. Numerous cubbies can store all those iPads and iPhones when you reach your destination. If your offspring belongs to the rare, disconnected category who would rather look out of the window, they will benefit from “stadium seating” – a step-up for each subsequent row of seats for a better view. “Are we there yet?” is a question you are unlikely to hear in this car.
The gadgetry continues to be exceedingly cutting-edge for the driver. Centrally controlled by a quad-core processor, from which Ethernet cabling branches out, the car accepts instructions the 21st-century way – via smartphone. Say you are queueing at the supermarket checkout. You may remotely fold the seats to make way for the week’s grocery run and blast the air con to cool the cabin if you are parked in the sun. Once you get to the car, another tap of the button lets air out and lowers its suspension to aid egress.
I was not able to try these further functions during the road test, but the Discovery purportedly automates terrain adaptation, whether the topography consists of sand, snow or river. The last one is noteworthy: It can handle water just over half the 1.9m height of the car, handy for Singapore’s occasionally ponded roads. And, unless your day job is container truck driver, it also assists you with the complicated task of articulated reversing – for example, backing out of a tight space while towing a boat. No other car can make the untrained look so talented.
Driving dynamics are top-notch. Land Rover has ditched the Discovery 4’s body-on-frame construction, basing the new model on an aluminium unibody platform shared among part of the product family, adding rigidity and shedding 480kg of mass. Whereas you would need guts of steel to chuck the wobbly previous iteration around corners, this one feels surefooted enough that you will be lulled into thinking you are driving a large car rather than a truck.
And certainly this vehicle is not meant to be driven slowly. The turbocharged V6 diesel engine, carried over from the old model, feels much peppier now, thanks to the overall weight loss. There is a satisfying 600Nm of torque quite early in the rev range, which makes the car appear to accelerate more rapidly than the specs suggest, whether it is in our city’s start-stop traffic or cruising in high gear along our expressways. But having said that, at the top end, the car does run out of puff a bit.
Another sea change is visual: The new Discovery has lost the long-time slab-edged aesthetic that followed its utilitarian function, in favour of a more rounded, streamlined look. This development means that the design is less purposeful and some styling cues seem only to irk. In particular, the quirky, vestigial off set licence plate, which used to be necessary in older models to accommodate the tailgate-mounted spare wheel. That backup part is now hidden under the car. A third-party accessory has already been created to centralise the plate. Personally, while I mourn the loss of the industrial look, I do like the new one as well, just not as much.
Thankfully, there is little to nit-pick about the interior, which has been upgraded to top-of-the-line Range Rover standards, with upmarket switchgear and materials, except that now you may feel a little reluctant to step into it with soiled boots. Which begs the question: has the Discovery lost its Swiss Army Knife reputation in the transition to a luxury model? I am not sure whether durians or dogs would benefit much from all the improvements, but what I do know is this: With both rows two and three folded down, 2,400-plus litres of cargo space avails itself. That is a lot of room for Mao Shan Wang – just be sure to line the fine carpeted floor with newspapers first.
Wearnes Automotive, 45 Leng Kee Road. www.landrover.com.sg