Disco Fever : Land Rover Discovery 5 TdV6 Driven [review]

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Land Rover’s cult Discovery returns in a fifth iteration to offer its inimitable blend of all-road, all-weather performance and seven-seat utility

UTAH, USA — At first glance, Landie purists may find it hard to appreciate the Discovery 5’s ‘sleek’ styling, especially when compared to the iconic ‘set-square’ lines of its cult predecessors – after all, Discovery fans can be quite a passionate and vocal bunch. However, if you’ve only jumped onto the Land Rover brandwagon with something like the Discovery Sport (formerly known as the Freelander), the Discovery 5 will boast familiar enough cues, because it adopts aesthetic elements of its smaller sibling, particularly around the rear quarter C-pillar of the car.

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Squint when you’re following directly behind the 5 and you can just about make out the square-cut, ‘tall-boy’ profile so beloved of the series, but that’s also where you notice the new ‘5’ no longer has a split-opening tailgate like its forebears, but more on that later.

Like so many other marques today, Land Rover recognises it can’t build niche cars for the otaku petrolheads. The same singular focus that turns the purists on turns-off the fair-weather fans, who ironically enough are enamoured of the perceived lifestyle cachet in owning such a vehicle in the first place.

As a litmus test, we showed some photos of the Disco 5 to folks shopping for a car in this segment, specifically the ones we knew didn’t like the square-block looks of the earlier Discos. No surprise then we received many thumbs-ups for the 5’s new looks, with quite a few cooing over its party-trick: the optional one-touch Intelligent Seat Fold system that was standard on our test-cars in Utah, which lets the driver deploy the second- and third-row seats in fourteen seconds erm, flat…

After living with the ‘4’ for the better part of 4 years, and carrying seven on most outings, manually flipping and tumbling the seats has quickly become second nature, so we weren’t initially sure how to react to the 5’s all-electric seats fantastic, especially from the perspective of owners who take their cars out into the rough regularly, since the last thing you want is to have a system glitch when you’re touring the great outdoors.

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Happily enough, we’ve discovered this system is optional, so off-road warriors can heave a sigh of relief. So too can the CCA-moms/dads who will probably spec it in, since configuring the second/third rows to accommodate your kids’ mates and their assortment of muddy gear has never been easier. Best of all, a smartphone app lets you set up seating/load lugging even before you step into the car, so the lovely ladies don’t have to worry about broken nails or looking hot and flustered after a rough-and-tumble romp in the rear, toggling the seats that is!

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For those who could never look beyond the boxy looks of the earlier Discos, we’ll have you know that the Jack of all Trades is a full-sized seven-seater, and we’re talking individually foldable seats, with Swiss Army Knife levels of contortionist tricks and cubby-holes up its sleeves that will put many MPVs to shame.

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In this fifth iteration, the second-row seats can slide and seatbacks tilt for even greater passenger comfort (of both the second- and the third-row occupants), so third-row occupants no longer have to conform to certain dimensions…

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It’s not that these aren’t qualities for the Disco to be proud of and shout about (because you hear so little about it), but its biggest ability is how it stamps off-road trails into submission with seven on-board in comfort. The party stops for the average MPV once the tarmac does, but the Disco is just getting into its groove (as well as mud, ruts, shifting sand, bedrocks and even snow – the only thing missing from our drive was a river crossing, which would have been cool to highlight its newfound 900mm wading depth, 200mm deeper than the 4).

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An assortment of posh-roaders do offer seven (albeit mostly 5+2) seating, but start to flounder the moment the going gets rough; having said that though, a well-marked gravel trail seems to satisfy many brands’ interpretation of the term ‘off-road’... To the jaded, it may look like the 5 has sold-out with its posh-looks and top-totty premium appointments but that’s exactly what Land Rover sought to address at the international media drive in South Utah.

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We may not have been carrying a full-load of seven occupants, but we did manage to inflict goodly amounts of use-and-abuse on it in the off-road bits, especially since Land Rover isn’t afraid to let you dance with the Disco – the brand doesn’t just tell you about what the car can do in a snazzy slide presentation, it actually makes you go out and try it.

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We’ve been in big cars that seem to have precious little storage space, but the Disco 5 is an exception. It’s not just about the predictable compartments (and the 5 has up to 44.9-litres of cabin stowage space), because there’s a clever 1.4-litre cubby hole that is concealed behind the climate control panel to keep valuables like wallets, jewellery or phones out of sight when you’ve popped out for a quick toilet-break at the services.

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There’s also an additional layer to the central armrest storage that’s good for 6.2-litres and will accommodate up to four tablets devices. In fact, the Land Rover team made it a point to stash snacks and drinks in the hidden bins, if only to make sure we had a scooby snack reward for uncovering each secret!

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Maybe it was to draw our attention from the missing split-opening tailgate, because a single-piece one has taken its place, which we’re told provides more shelter from the elements when raised – this is true, but the 4’s gave great cover too. Moreover, the single-piece tailgate meant Land Rover could create more space behind the third-row seats (258-litres to be exact in seven-seater mode; this could be expanded to 2406-litres with second- and third-rows folded flat), because it no longer had to accommodate the hinges of the 4’s lower split-tailgate.

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A new powered inner tailgate can be deployed to play the role of sitting ledge for coffee breaks, uniform changes or whatever-have-yous, and it will happily accommodate up to 300kg in weight. Of course, we will miss (or rather, our photographer will when he’s doing car-to-car moving shots from the back) having the security of a solid piece of metal to stop you from falling out, but the 5’s inner tailgate will probably fulfill the needs of 95 per cent of its owners.

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With the 5, we discover that it’s all about easing newcomers to the model into Land Rover ownership, in terms of physical access as well as on-/off-road motoring – that’s not to say the 4 was a difficult child, but the 5 just makes everything so much easier. For instance, the Discovery 5 will drop its ride height 40mm every time the car is parked to facilitate ingress/egress.

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Off-road, the latest Terrain Response 2 can cope with all types of terrain while the brand’s All-Terrain Progress Control (ATPC) lets you set a comfortable crawl speed so the driver need only concentrate on steering, especially when working out a path through a series of obstacles, charting a path through the slippery shifting sandscape, or scrabbling its way up bedrock, as we had the opportunity to savour.

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The 5 feels decidedly light on its feet compared to the Disco 4 SDV6, thanks to its aluminium architecture (its lightweight monocoque body is made up of 85 per cent aluminium), which helps the latest Discovery save some 480kg over its predecessor to tip the scales at under 2.3-tonnes. The shifts from the 8spd are smooth and well-slurred, so you’ll make brisk and comfortable progress on-tarmac and dirt-path alike, especially as you surf the wave of the turbodiesel V6’s 600Nm of torque.

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Grinchy owners of older Discos like ourselves will likely take some time to warm up to the 5, especially since there’s some smugness involved with the anti-fashion, form-follows-function chic of the earlier models. However, Land Rover has been shrewd in demonstrating the depth of the new model’s off-road prowess and on-road manners (and we reckon this has paid off well), so in spite of its polarising styling, Disco Fever could very well be catching...

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Land Rover Discovery 5 TdV6
Engine: 2993cc, V6, turbodiesel
Power/rpm: 254bhp/3750rpm
Torque/rpm: 600Nm/1750-2250rpm
Transmission: 8spd ZF auto
0-100km/h: 8.1secs
Top speed: 209km/h (electronically limited)
Fuel consumption: 7.2l/100km
CO2: 189g/km

This feature first appeared in Top Gear Singapore #61 (April 2017) 

David Khoo
Author: David Khoo
David is a big petrolhead who has been dabbling in the car trade since 2001 and currently oversees Top Gear Singapore. His stories often take an eclectic slant from the predictable, and he's able to craft a compelling read that lets you see the cars (often old!) in a new light.