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As the brackish water laps gently at the base of the windscreen and a foot-long brown trout nuzzles at my undercarriage, I’m struggling to equate the obvious ability of this application with anything I’d possibly need on my usual drive to work. Point taken, the new Discovery 4 can do adventury, manly things like no other. You can drive up a river, bounce quite happily along the black barrows of jungle-infested Belize or potter along a Saharan dune with no more specialist equipment than a pair of clean underpants - and all by twiddling a knob marked ‘Terrain Response’. But somehow it always seems to me to be a bit of a pre-emptive excuse for being rubbish at doing the normal stuff. Off-road overkill that hopes to obfuscate on-road crapness.
“It handles like a dead pig being rolled down a hill.”
“Yes. But look at the axle articulation! You’d need that if you were stuck in a ditch in Belize!”
“I live in Peterborough.”
And so, it is with trepidation that I point the nose of the new improved Disco out of the river and onto the road. And realise that you really can have an acceptable compromise between off-road mountain goatiness and on-road subtlety. Underneath, the Disco has new suspension bits, improved, more direct steering, a more intelligent traction control system and bigger brakes. Roll centres have been lowered, anti-roll bars beefed up, extensive maths expended on the geometry of the suspension. This is still a big car, there’s no getting away from the fact, but the Disco suddenly has, if not agility, then predictability. It goes where you point it reliably, rather than heifering about drunkenly - making it better in every direction that you can readily assess. It also has better body control than before, which adds to the overall effect, and as a result it feels smaller, even though it certainly isn’t.
Of course, there’s been a flurry of refreshment throughout the Land Rover range in the past few months, with the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport garnering most of the attention with mid-life upgrades that should see them through a good few years yet. But the Discovery has turned out to be the best of all of them. Of course it’s had all the usual visual upgrades necessary to make you want a new one: smoothed-out bumpers, new head and tail-lights, a new horizontal grille that makes it look a little less aggressive from the front, body-coloured wheelarches - even the de rigueur twinkly LED Christmas lights that seem to have sprouted on everything in the past few months. But the real improvements are underneath and inside, where they really count.
From the driver’s seat, you immediately appreciate an interior that’s still useable, but eminently more comprehensible. Fewer switches, more style. Add in the versatility of seven proper seats and a fair-to-middling social impact and you’ve got a rounded package. A package that’s topped off by a new engine that transforms the performance. The new Disco gets the brilliant 3.0 straight-six diesel that recently popped up in the Jaguar XF. It’s called, if you’re being peculiarly specific, the AJ-V6D Gen III S, but reshuffled for more load-luggery and subsequently designated - rather more prosaically - the LR-TDV6.
It gets a pair of sequential turbos that produce 241bhp and 442lb ft of torque - and all of that from a lowly 2,000rpm - with 83 per cent of maximum torque available from idle. It might not be cool to quote a raft of facts, but here they are: the new motor produces 29 per cent more power than the old 2.7, 36 per cent more torque, is nine per cent cleaner and has just under 10 per cent better fuel economy. As new engines go, this is a worthwhile transplant.
It might not be desperately quick at 0-62mph in 9.6 seconds, but the way it responds is leagues ahead of the old car, feeling punchier and cleaner through the entire rev-range. There are plenty of efficiency tweaks too - the hefty torque allows a quicker lock-up of the ZF auto, meaning that the car doesn’t have to constantly run through the gloop of a hydraulic torque converter and brings more mpg and less CO2. There’s a system called IPS (Intelligent Power System) that only uses the alternator when it is most efficient and even the aircon now has a clutch, so if it’s not being used, it disengages from the drivetrain, again better for efficiency. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the Discovery 4 is the most desirable car in the Land Rover range.
Quite a big statement in the face of the Range Rover, still strident in the face of the refreshed RR Sport and even the Defender. But the Disco 4 has become a stand-out statement in a world where versatility is key. Think of a situation in which you’re likely to find yourself with the average family, and the Disco 4 covers the bases. And it helps that it looks good and can turn up to a posh party without making you look like you couldn’t afford a Range Rover, even if you can pick up a Disco 4 GS for £35k. The off-road bit? It helps. But the new Discovery 4 can justify its existence without the muddy boots. And these days, that’s saying a great deal.