As LRO’s resident modern(ish) Discovery driver I nab the facelifted 2014 model-year Discovery SDV6 HSE Luxury for the motorway slog from Cambridgeshire to Wetherby, thankful that its Chablis Gold (Nuclear Waste Green) paint is only on the outside. Its heated steering wheel and seats are worringly addictive (I’m happy just putting on a thicker jacket and gloves), but it is zero degrees outside…
Then Neil throws me the keys to the nine-speed Evoque Si4 Dynamic with Active Driveline. It’s a truly sensational-handling car, and almost as stiff as a Defender in Dynamic suspension mode. Neil doesn’t like it: ‘It’s not a Land Rover,’ he says. I’m soon driving it like I’ve stolen it towards Croft race circuit, although the turbo four-pot is too quiet and nine gear ratios are too many to encourage you to pick them yourself with the steering wheel paddles. I like it a lot, but I can see Neil’s point: it’s nothing like a traditional Land Rover, is it?
Although the Evoque, L405 Range Rover and Range Rover Sport will have racked up thousands of development miles on circuits like the Nurburgring in Germany, none of our test vehicles were specifically designed to go round tarmac racetracks all day. Which is why I reckon I’ve pulled a blinder by suggesting Croft – it’s got a loose-surfaced rallycross section. As a massive rallycross fan, I’m gagging to have a blast.
I end up in the diesel-electric L405 Range Rover Hybrid, which is perhaps the least racy Land Rover of all. Once I’ve waited for the gear selector to rise (which makes the Hybrid a rubbish getaway car), and stopped turning it on and off over and over again (it doesn’t make any noise when starting in electric mode), it whooshes onto the start/finish straight. It’s quick, but piling into the first couple of S-bends it feels like the tyres are going to peel off the 21-inch diamond-turned rims – either that or roll. Thanks to the electric motor, it doesn’t get twin-channel active roll control (it won’t work without the diesel running) and an L405 without that just feels like a boat in these situations.
We revert to the ‘safety’ of the rallycross track for some action photos, but while running side-by-side with Mark in the Defender he drops into a rut and for a split-second it looks like the Defender 110 is going to wipe-out the £98,000 Range Rover. But we’re going slow enough that a jerk right keeps aluminium off aluminium.
As the sun sets, the six Land Rovers look impressively caked in Croft muck, and after a quick wash of lights windows and plates I get my first stint in the Defender – en route to our overnight stop. It’s basic, firm, harder to get into, noisy, clunky, and everything you can’t stash away slides all over the floor. It’s nothing like the others, which is why we still love it so much. Already I can see how a few well-judged tweaks from the other vehicles here could make the Defender even better, without destroying its character.
My final ride of the day is the Freelander 2 SD4, a car that editor-in-chief JP gets out of cursing at every opportunity. I can’t see what the problem is. Yes, it feels a bit like a Daewoo, but I like the fact it’s got a proper transmission selector that you could use with your gloves on, it’s not too big, visibility is pretty good, and it’s quick enough for a night-time cross-country blat – if you can see where you’re going, the headlights are almost as bright as the standard Defender’s.
If there’s one thing our Yorkshire Dales greenlaning tests the next day highlight, it’s that confidence in the vehicle’s ability is vital. None of them struggle with the terrain, but only in the Defender do you feel truly at ease. With the others you worry about damaging a wheel, or worse, or getting a puncture (they don’t all have spares). Progress is slowest in the Evoque, which has dire visibility to hinder it too, but even that gets through without picking up any damage.
One more thing: if you’re going to put cameras around the vehicle to help spot obstacles, they need to be HD so you can actually see something other than blurry, wishy-washy, blobs of colour. And they need to be self-cleaning too – one speck of mud, water or snow on the lens and they’re useless.
At Parkwood 4x4’s off-road course, near Bradford, the biggest surprise is not with the performance of any of the Land Rovers. It’s the sight of assistant editor Mark Saville head-bopping, all four windows down, in the Discovery – not to AC/DC or Metallica, no. Will.i.Am and Miley Cyrus…
Read the full story in the May 2014 issue of LRO, on sale now – print and digital editions available