Comfortable on road and incredibly capable off it, the Land Rover Discovery 4 offers the best of both worlds, writes Nikhil Bhatia

The Discovery 4 is essentially a facelifted version of the Discovery 3 that was launched in 2004. What that means is you get an SUV that looks rugged from just about every angle. There are no soft lines here and, in fact, the wheel arches are the only curvy bits on the body. It’s almost as if a ruler and pencil were the only tools available to the designers. That said, the Discovery’s upright stance, bluff nose, stepped roof and that kink in the rear windscreen work exceedingly well to make it stand out.

Speaking of which, the Discovery is also unique in its use of what Land Rover terms an ‘Integrated Body Frame’, where the engine bay and passenger compartment are built as a monocoque, which is mated to a ladder chassis holding the gearbox and suspension.

While this set-up offers the on-road attributes of a monocoque and the strength of a ladder chassis off-road, it comes with a significant weight penalty — the Discovery weighs in at 2583kg. All that weight is supported by double wishbones and air spheres at all four corners that can be adjusted to vary ride height by as much as 75mm. In true Land Rover fashion, you get lots of gadgetry for your off-road exploits. There’s permanent four-wheel drive, a two-speed transfer box, lockable differentials and Land Rover’s Terrain Response System. The Discovery also comes with gradient acceleration control software that helps smoothen out power delivery when the vehicle enters a steep gradient. That and the Discovery’s 36-degree approach and 30-degree departure angles lend it the mountain-climbing abilities of Tenzing Norgay. Its maximum wading depth of 700mm will also be helpful in river crossings and monsoons alike.

The Discovery’s high-set cabin requires quite some effort to enter, even with the suspension on its lowest ‘Access’ setting. The optional footboard would come in handy for most customers. The Discovery, on the inside, is amazingly capable at blocking outside noise. It’s also the solidity with which everything is put together that makes this cabin a really special place to be. The dashboard may look a bit old school, but the tasteful smattering of wood and brushed aluminium does give it a certain richness. It comes with plenty of smart details too. The chunky knobs for the audio system, climate control and Terrain Response System are designed to be easy to use even with off-road gloves. You’ll also like the touchscreen’s intuitive layout, the convenient positioning of the power window switches on the window sill and the ample number of storage spaces throughout the cabin. However, we’d say the large speedo and tacho dials look a tad boring.

No complaints about front seat comfort, though. The wide range of adjustment for the driver’s seat makes it really easy to find the perfect driving position. Middle-row passengers also have it quite good. There’s ample room to seat three in comfort, the seats are nicely contoured and, though not adjustable, the backrest is set at a nice angle. In fact, the high seating and large windows with their low sills (a Land Rover trademark) give an excellent view, irrespective of where you may be seated in the cabin. An interesting detail is the split tail gate, whose lower portion is built to take the weight of two people and can be used as a picnic table too.

On the equipment front, the Discovery comes very well specced. The top-spec HSE version we tested gets three sunroofs, a brilliant-sounding Harmon Kardon audio system, adaptive xenon headlights, a reversing camera, powered front seats, a cooled box under the front centre storage bay and a Bluetooth telephone function. Dual front airbags and side airbags for all three rows are part of the safety package.

The Discovery for India comes with a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 engine that uses twin sequential turbochargers to help it deliver 241bhp and 61.2kgm. It’s the same engine as in the Jaguar XF S diesel we tested earlier, but with suitable changes to make it more off-road friendly. The oil sump is deeper and the oil-scavenge system for the turbos has been modified to prevent the accumulation of oil over steep ascents and descents too. The belt drive, alternator, starter motor, air-con compressor and power steering pump also get waterproofing.

We know this engine is refined in the Jaguar and it retains that trait on the Discovery too. It’s all but quiet at idle and, even on the move, there’s little engine noise to break the calm within the cabin. Land Rover has limited the Discovery’s top speed to 180kph. It takes 8.98 seconds to 100kph and the in-gear timings also reveal impressive pace for city and highway overtaking. What’s also nice is that the build-up of power is linear and there’s a constant, sustained thrust when you do weigh down heavily on the throttle pedal.

It’s also here that you’ll like the six-speed ZF automatic gearbox for its responsiveness and fairly quick downshifts. It’s not as fast as modern twin-clutch units, but it more than gets the job done. The gearbox is tuned to extract maximum economy, so part-throttle application keeps the engine in a higher gear which, with the tall fifth and sixth gears, makes the Discovery quite a relaxed cruiser. For additional control, you can operate the gearbox in tip-tronic mode, where the electronics only intervene to upshift if you rev the engine upto 4600rpm. .

The Discovery’s ride quality is good. Its air suspension and 255/55 R19 tyres flatten potholes of all sizes. The suspension is also remarkably quiet. It’s only small, sharp irregularities that catch the Discovery off-guard and send a shimmy through the body.

Within the city, the large Discovery is surprisingly manageable. The steering feels well-weighted, the turning circle isn’t all that bad, and the fact that you can see the extremities of the squared-out bonnet helps you place the large SUV in tight spots.

The Discovery feels at home in the rough. Its massive clearance, excellent wheel articulation and clever off-road software allow you to take the Discovery to places beyond what you’d think possible. It genuinely lives up to its name as a tool for charting new courses.

Fuel economy may not influence buying decisions at this end of the car market, but even then the Discovery doesn’t do too badly in this aspect. We got 6.5kpl in city driving while the tall fifth and sixth gears helped this 2.5-tonne SUV deliver a decent 9.5kpl out on the highway. Its 82-litre fuel tank gives it a long average range of 650km.

The Discovery is really impressive on road and off it. But what could work against the Discovery in top-spec HSE guise is its Rs. 83.72-lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) price tag. Also currently, Land Rover’s service support is restricted to larger towns. But then buying a Land Rover never was much about practical thinking. It’s an emotional buy and the Discovery has the ability to make you feel special.