Land Rover Discovery 5: A New Era

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Now that the crossover SUV is the definitive ‘go to’ car these days, it puts the 4x4s of old in a bit of a grey area as the new seven seater mummy buses roll off the showroom floor in their thousands each month. Brands like Land Rover have a rich history of building the very best of capable offroaders, built to go above and beyond. But does this ‘tried and tested’ method of engineering capability mean Land Rover is still a contender in the modern automotive landscape?

The British marque covers three pillars of off road motoring; Luxury, Leisure & Utility. Luxury is represented by their premium Range Rover arm, and Utility is represented by the ever-functional Land Rover Defender. Where the Range Rover is a high-riding limo for the aristocrats of country England, the Defender was the do-it-all farmers workhorse, military troop vehicle or part time submarine for the mud-obsessed swamp people.

The Discovery slots right in the middle of these two, thus the Leisurely title. It pulls luxury influence from the Range Rover but also has the credentials to conquer the world's harshest terrain if called upon. Since its inception in 1989 and throughout its four previous generations, the Disco has been the perfect balance between farm tractor and limo, capturing the plucky spirit of Land Rover perfectly.

With that in mind, the all new fifth generation has a mighty pair of gumboots to fill, so let’s start with the luxury side of things, does the new D5 tick all the boxes here? Well beauty is in the eye of the beholder and Gerry McGovern, lead designer of the new D5, has tried to pen the new-gen vehicle to be a more rounded, modern take on the classic silhouette.

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Traditionally, Land Rover has been stubborn in sticking to the boxy aesthetic. The new D5 is a sleeker take on the seven seater tourer. Where the front is a handsome contemporary design echoing its Range Rover cousins, the rear attempts to pay tribute to Discovery generations before, but doesn't quite stick the landing.

But you don't buy a Disco to stare at, you buy it to do a bit of everything. Cross a desert, ferry children to school, tow a caravan or tackle a bush track as the crow flies. Whatever the purpose, you as a driver will spend a considerable amount of time in it. And joy of joys, climbing into the monolith, the D5 truly is a lovely place to be.

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The fit and finish of the interior feels refined and as if it has been designed by someone who has a real family; with real children and real labradors. There are still hard plastics and waterproof surfaces in the cabin, but it manages to feel functional and hard wearing. The layout of the cabin isn’t fussy or overcomplicated, there is elegance in simplicity and the D5 achieves this through practical and hard wearing design.

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Underneath the seven-seater frock lies the skeleton of the Range Rover Sport, and is immediately noticeable once on the road. The drive is supple and smooth through the suspension tuning and manages to pull off the trick of not behaving like a big seven seater should. By no means is it a VW Golf around corners, but it is a far departure from the Land Rovers of old that had warning stickers on the review mirrors, reminding the driver that there is a medium to high chance of rolling onto its roof when turning. The D5 feels much tighter and planted on the road, or indeed off it.

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This SD4 SE model powered by an Ingenium twin-turbocharged 2.0L four cylinder diesel, the Discovery never felt underpowered or sluggish. Modern diesels have come along way and they way the engine behaves is hardly like the 200tdi that once cursed the D1. Paired with the world's most favourite gearbox; the ZF 8 speed, the Discovery 5 captures the drive of the perfect 4x4 tourer with smooth changes and enough power to gust you along without feeling like a heavy WWII tank.

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With a perfect high-riding commanding driving position and all the gadgets and gizmos available through the infotainment system, it is very easy to settle into a long drive behind the wheel. Nothing is over complicated or fussy. It is simple, elegant and easy to manage.

Satisfied that the D5 was every part a long trip tourer and pulled enough on-road DNA & luxuries from its Range Rover sibling, it was onto the more challenging criteria; the off road capability. No Land Rover is approved for manufacturing unless it can wade through rivers, launch up a dune, or tow a load up a slippery incline. Every Land Rover has to go Above & Beyond.

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As you can see this car is completely stock, there are no knobbly mud tyres, or 4” lift kits, nor did I have access to a winch, Maxtrax or any tools for recovery. The only thing at my disposal was the Terrain Response System. The TRS is basically a computer that adapts the throttle, suspension, traction control, braking and different electronic differentials. There are a number of different settings to choose from depending what you’re about to tackle, and I can say with confidence, you can feel each individual one working in its own way.

Heading out to Chittering Valley which is home to a range of tracks crossing sandpits, river crossings, rocky terrain and steep slippery inclines, I had the opportunity to test every single one of them and put each setting through its paces. Being a classic Land Rover enthusiast that enjoys the mechanical clonk of engaging low range, I was sceptical of the TRS’ ability to overcome the tracks ahead.

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But with every challenge I threw at the D5 by either purposefully trying get the car to slip or get bogged, the stock tyres would refuse to break traction. Even invoking the D5 to balance on opposite wheels once the articulation of the air suspension exceeded its limits, the D5 continued to ford on. Whether driving in fine soft sand, crossing rivers or ascending steep inclines, the D5 showed no sign of stopping. It really is one of the most capable vehicles you can buy from a showroom today.

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I have no doubt that a 4” lifted Wrangler with 35” tractor tyres and vape enthusiast called Shano behind the wheel could climb over a small cliff or cross a dam better than the Discovery could, but the D5 has the ability to carry seven occupants in luxury too. And with the air-con keeping my fevered brow at a healthy 19*c and the suspension soaking all of the valleys potholes and small canyons, it made off-roading seem effortless.

While I prefer the old timey ways of off roading, I would not be caught dead driving my 1982 Range Rover to Albany, let alone the shops. Not only is it vastly uncomfortable with its modified suspension and zero carpet, not to mention the V8 drinks like a pig in a drought. The D5 on the other hand makes you feel as if you could travel to the Pilbara, through it, and back in one sitting, it feels effortless and endlessly competent.

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In a world of SUV saturation, the Discovery 5 sticks out prominently as an extremely capable off road tourer. If you are after a car to modify with big tyres and ARB catalogue, this isn’t the car for you - it’s simply not needed. If you are after a comfortable, refined tourer that can tackle a whole host of terrains without modification then this car is perfect.

There are things I don’t like about the D5, for example, the front bumper design houses covers two ginormous radiators under the headlights, meaning if you did want to fit a bull bar, the options available look like the mutant lovechild of a snowplow and a scaffolding tower have been rammed through the chassis. And I do wish that the wheel arches were just a bit bigger to fit some better All Terrain tyres, which I feel would also do favours to the proportions of the design. But those things aside, it does not detract from a truly remarkable piece of engineering and a refined drive.

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These small things aside do not distract from the impressive engineering that Land Rover has achieved. In a world where the best selling car is a crossover SUV, there is absolutely zero chance a Touareg or a Kluger could endure the off road punishment that the Discovery 5 simply glides over. It is the perfect mix of capability on & offroad wrapped up in a package of refinement and British charm. Its no wonder the Royal family have a fleet of Royal Blue SD6 HSE’s over a Rolls Royce or Bentley. Land Rover were the original offroaders and still hold the mantle.


Thanks to Barbagallo Land Rover for the road test, if you’re interested and want to know more about the Discovery range or this particular set up be sure to contact Barbagallo today.