First Drive: Land Rover Discovery 5 prototype

First Drive: Land Rover Discovery 5 prototype

“One obstacle at a time,” I repeat to myself as ominous dark clouds hover increasingly closer to the horizon.

But the winter chill and the imminent threat of rain don’t detract from the beauty of the rolling hills and fast-flowing fjords outside the quaint town of Dunkeld in the Scottish midlands. Somehow the trees — despite being stripped of their foliage by the first frosts of winter — add a mystique to the surroundings. And as a local quite rightly reminded us: “You don’t come to Scotland for the weather!”

In fact, these are perfect conditions, considering that we had travelled all the way to this village to test the new Land Rover Discovery 5 prototype, a vehicle with a history and heritage that has endeared itself to so many for its ability to adapt to various terrains.

Land Rover Discovery 5

While still officially referred to as a prototype — complete with camouflage decals — this fifth-generation Disco is, for all intents and purposes, the finished product and will go into production in Solihull, England, as early as next month. The vehicle can be expected in South Africa in mid-2017.

Yep, one challenge at a time I reassure myself, as I corkscrew the vehicle down an impossibly steep, rocky ridge at the Atholl Estates, a sprawling 5800ha farm that has a number of 4×4 routes offering an assortment of challenges.

While not perhaps having the tough-as-teak off-road credentials of the Defender, or the sophistication of the Range Rover, this new Discovery manages to get closer to both of its siblings when it comes to its abilities.

Land Rover Discovery 5

The engine lineup is consistent with what we have at the moment: a 3.0-litre TD6 diesel automatic (now tuned for 190kW and 600Nm) and a 3.0-litre Si6 petrol automatic (250kW and 450Nm) — and the choice of five trim levels — S, SE, HSE, HSE Luxury and the rather interesting First Edition, of which only 2400 will be produced.

A 2.0-litre diesel derivative will be part of the roll-out in Europe early next year, but can only be expected in South Africa in mid-2018.

All engines are fitted with an eight-speed auto box.

The exterior of the vehicle houses a number of new features. It is, a company representative said, the result of close co-operation between the designers and engineers — but, more importantly, listening to customers’ requests.

Land Rover Discovery 5

New, attractive, lights, both front and rear; a revised boot and aerodynamic rear spoiler; plus anything from 18-22-inch rims are just a few of the elements contributing to the car’s more premium, rounded appearance.

But it is not completely out with the old and in with the new, because the distinctive stepped roof of the previous four generations remains in the Disco 5.

The result is a look that is sure to attract a wider and more diverse driver profile.

A significant shift has been made in the materials used in building the vehicle. Around 85% of the shell is now made of aluminium, which means the car has shed an impressive 480kg when compared with its predecessor. It’s a saving that results in lower fuel consumption and lower CO emissions.

Land Rover Discovery 5

The sophistication and number of features available in the cabin will depend on which model you choose, but Land Rover is now following the example of many of the German manufacturers in offering customers add-on packages.

South African motorists will have the choice of five or seven seats (all heated). The slightly longer wheelbase (38mm) has resulted in a roomier interior — particularly for those in the third row of seats, where legroom is extremely generous.

The seats can also be stored: all you have to do is issue commands via the 10-inch hi-resolution touchscreen, a smartphone or controls on the doors. Fold the seats flat and you have a whopping 2500lof load space.

Trim options include anything from the soft tones of brushed aluminium to charcoal oak veneer. There are five interior colour combinations.

Land Rover Discovery 5

Also helping take care of passenger comfort are up to nine USB ports, an array of storage areas, six charging ports and a Wi-Fi hotspot with up to eight connections.

There is also an auto rear tailgate with a rear fold-down panel capable of supporting 300kg.

After a morning spent getting down and dirty, I realised that, as high-end as this vehicle is, the Discovery 5 is a truly accomplished off-roader. Whether wading through water (up to 900mm deep) or making light work of rugged terrain, it is a true warrior, despite its pretty face. Ground clearance of 283mm and technology such as automatic Terrain Response — which assesses the conditions and adjusts the vehicle’s mechanisms accordingly — make even a 4×4 novice look capable.

New Discovery Prototype Td6_090

Without a doubt the Discovery has come a long way since its introduction 27 years ago: the 250 global awards it has won during that time are testament to its capabilities.

Three years were dedicated to the development of the latest generation, yet the car remains true to its roots while meeting new needs.

The fact that 12000-plus customers have already placed orders for a vehicle never driven by a member of the public, is proof that the Land Rover badge continues to shine. – Bruce Fraser