There is one major problem with all full-size 4x4s, warns Iain P W Robertson, and it lies in the transition from King’s Road, Chelsea, to Kingussie, in the Scottish Highlands, not in the car but in the driver’s comprehension of it.

landrover-discovery01When the provocative term ‘Chelsea Tractor’ was coined in the mid-1980s, it was at a time when former GTi and sportscar owners were being outlawed by the insurance firms. Coinciding with their growing family needs for larger vehicles, the SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle, an American descript) was born and the market went into overdrive, a position from which it has seldom turned back in the past thirty years.

In terms of sheer economics, the 4×4 makes absolutely no sense at all, especially if it spends more than 95% of its time on tarmac roads (however potholed they might be), the balance squandered on traversing the rose-beds at Sainsbury’s, or the grassy banks outside Evangeline’s, or Sebastian’s, preparatory school. The fact remains that, with all four wheels being driven, it equates to at least twice the wear and tear that exists for a 2WD car.

landrover-discovery02The old excuse about ‘providing the little lady with a view over hedgerows’, or ‘above shorter motorcars’, might possess a degree of imperiousness, let alone sexism, to it but it does not hold water, when some quite rudimentary machinery exists in the lower orders of the SUV class that makes do with just front wheel drive and a decent traction control system (the other purported reason for countless ’yummy-mummies’ to be provided with monstrous 4x4s).

Trust me, I am not being anti-4×4. I realise that vehicles in that classification have applications that will more than meet the needs of foresters, farmers, field-workers and land-owners, let alone the off-the-beaten-track adventurer, who might be a genuine sportsperson, or a closet ‘Let’s-Off-Road!’ reflective tank-top-and-wellies-wearer.

landrover-discovery03While SUVs have proven to be immensely successful profit-earners for the motor industry, they can empty a wallet quicker than a bouffonted Perez Hilton, or that stick-insect, ditsy sister of his. It is little wonder that Land Rover engaged the services of Posh Spice, the sometime ‘singist’ and oft-time husband to the former footballing, silly-voiced, underpant-showing David Beckman (I know it’s not his name…), as its worldwide brand ambassador.

landrover-discovery04In terms of vacuousness, while I shall grant you that I might not be able to reinvent myself enough times to be considered as ‘a valued contribution to life’, Posh and her ilk are purported to be the ‘role models’ of a generation (or two). Now, which generation might that be? It surely ain’t mine, as the prospect of driving an Evoque with a tiger shark hide (shagreen) covered steering wheel, or a diamond-encrusted butt-plug gear-knob is about as appealing as a disembowelling ceremony at a disgraced Japanese politician’s arse-kicking party.

Unless you actually need 4×4, forget it. Your funds will be much better spent in other fast-depreciating asset areas. I cannot but marvel at the way that agriculturally-biased transport has transmuted into a super-luxury ‘must have’. I used to own a Range Rover (NAS 509R) back in the late-1970s. I bought it for reasons of fashion (limited as it was) and its sheer competence off-road. It featured plastic seats, rubber floor mats and a wash-clean interior, perfect for my hobby of rallying.

landrover-discovery05The latest Land Rover Discovery, a vehicle for which I hold the utmost respect and which was always a poor relation to the more upper-crust Rangie, is no longer the same people-moving (seven-seat) and indefatigable off-roader it once used to be (even though it will still do both) and, as my test example highlights, it tips the financial scales at a whopping £62,880, which includes £3,430’s worth of accessories. It kind of makes you wonder about whether, or not (more likely the latter), you might be prepared to tackle the off-road bits at all and put the expensive paintwork and body panels at risk of damage.

While this large estate car might retain around 62% of its new value after three years, to make it one of the stars of the residuals table, it is still a large sum of cash to lose, even if company money funded its initial purchase. Therefore, as desirable as a Disco might be, it will become a ‘plaything’ of the rich and famous, until its third birthday onwards, by which time the more impecunious of us might be prepared to give one field room, even though the running costs will remain in the realms of the nouveau riche.

landrover-discovery06Its Official Combined fuel return is 35.3mpg, which is not as tragic as it might seem, when you bear in mind that Disco, at two-and-a-half-tonnes, weighs only marginally less than the Statue of Liberty, although even that magnificent lady cannot tow 3,500kgs, like it can. In a good mix of driving conditions that included around town, on motorways and cross-country routes, as well as selecting low gear for some off-road foraying, I believe that my figure of 33.5mpg is pretty fair.

The test car also drove through Land Rover’s latest 8-speed automatic transmission (with manual paddle-shifters), which worked efficiently and smoothly in all circumstances. I should highlight that this monster truck, with its ‘old-fashioned’ but preferable separate ladder chassis, can hike up its skirts and blast from 0-60mph in just 8.8 seconds, which is mighty impressive for a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel that develops a moderate 252bhp. Fortunately, before the unwary become too carried away with its GTi-like verve, its top speed is electronically limited to 112mph, to keep the political grannies happy.

Unlike even its progenitors, this Discovery, in DSE Lux trim, takes bends with the agility of a cornered polecat. Thanks to near-active air suspension, body-roll is minimal, even axle dive under harsh acceleration, or hard braking, is kept under tight control, while the ride quality is that of a magic carpet. Probably as a result of having 20-inch alloys and ultra-low profile tyres fitted, there was some squirm could be felt through the steering that translated into mild wander at higher speeds. landrover-discovery07However, as that is the only criticism I can proffer, you can take it for granted that I love the Disco.

If passenger carrying is a necessity, the extra fold-away rear seats can carry adults, as well as children. Otherwise, the Disco’s boot is humungous and well-carpeted. The leather trim of the test car, complete with leather atop the dashboard, is a bit over-the-top for an off-roader but, as that is the way the market has shifted, I suppose it fits with some stated needs. Yet, taller drivers will complain about lack of rearward seat adjustment, while the steering wheel is probably a touch over-endowed with switches and too large in diameter.

Finally, what’s not to love about its ingenious on-board TV equipment. The driver can watch the latest digital channels, as long as the car is not moving, at which time he can only hear them (or not, if rear seat occupants use the supplied headsets and watch their headrest-located, individual screens). On the other hand, the front passenger can see everything. This device is genuinely clever. However, an array of outside cameras also means that you can make good use of the terrain, without ever having to get your Barbours damp, or mucky. The Disco remains the king of off-roaders.

Conclusion: If you really must own a 4×4, then the Land Rover Discovery is THE only worthwhile example of the breed. It provides levels of competence that far outweigh the vast majority of its users’ demands, or capabilities. Its on-road behaviour is exemplary and it makes all of its purported rivals look sick. However, there is a hefty price to pay, if you want to play with the county set.

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).