380 MILES TO GET THE FULL LOWDOWN...
Off we go
When a 2012 Discovery 4 arrived at LRO to be subjected to our punishing Real World Test (RWT) route, I was keen to volunteer my services as test pilot for the day-long run to the Pennines and back.
Inside, there’s an aura of luxury quite unlike any Discovery before. To think that this Disco 4 shares its ancestry with the early two-door Classic is almost unbelievable. This thing even has leather on the dashboard, for heaven’s sake.
It’s 4:30am as I leave to collect senior editor, Mark Saville, who’s riding shotgun to guide me along the route of what will be my first RWT. It’s bitterly cold outside, so the three-stage heated leather seats are a real boon, as is the heated steering wheel (an opulent touch that has trickled down from the Range Rover) that has warmed up impressively within seconds.
There’s no need to turn the lights or windscreen wipers on: the automatic setting on both controls has already taken care of that for me. All that’s left for me to do is to sort out the audio entertainment. There’s a bewildering choice: as well as the usual FM and AM stations, there’s a digital (DAB) tuner, which means a greater choice of stations and pristine sound quality.
I could even listen to the telly if I really wanted to, although the display is, as always with in-car TVs, disabled when the vehicle is moving. In the end, I decide to connect my phone’s music player.
Even that calls for choices to be made. Do I use my cable and connect via one of the two USB ports in the central cubby box-cum-fridge or, do I connect wirelessly via Bluetooth and stream the music that way? I want to connect to the Disco’s hands-free phone via Bluetooth anyway, so I play the sounds that way and get on my way to Mark’s house.
Our Discovery is the top-of-the-range HSE but, even so, just about every option has been fitted – including the incredible Harman Kardon audio system that outputs through 17 speakers. I make the most of being a lone occupant and turn it up loud. It’s superb.
But the best thing about the 2012 Discovery 4 has got to be the eight-speed automatic gearbox, complete with fancy rotary dial gear selector. It gives the impression of an airier, more modern cockpit and it’s fun to use.
With Mark on board we stop at Bloody Oaks services, just outside Stamford on the A1, to fill up. The trip computer functions are reset and we head north. On the A1, the Discovery doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. It gets to eighth gear quickly; and when I flick on cruise control at 70mph, the engine is barely turning 1500rpm. The instant fuel economy on a flat section of road even reads out upper-40s mpg figures.
With the motor so deep inside its comfort zone, it’s hushed inside; and when it comes to overtaking a lorry or other slow-moving vehicle it drifts past effortlessly. If it feels the need to knock down a gear when you put your foot down, you don’t even notice the shift. Accelerating swiftly away from a standstill is also a jerk-free operation, whether in full auto or using the semi-manual-override CommandShift’s steering-wheel-mounted paddles.
The D4 is just as composed on cross-country A-roads and, as we leave the A1 and head towards Knaresborough the scenery becomes that bit more interesting – and so do the roads. It’s been snowing overnight in Yorkshire and, as we wend our way out of the small town of Pateley Bridge, the hills ahead show their covering of powder. The roads are icy and we pass a number of gritting lorries, as well as an abandoned Peugeot and a Ford Ka that has ended up in a ditch.
The Discovery doesn’t really notice the icy conditions. Having stopped to make my first snowball of winter, I got my first chance to test the traction control when pulling away. The light on the dash illuminates to tell me it’s working as we move off effortlessly – then I slam on the brakes to see how well the vehicle stops.
We might as well not have been on snow and ice for the way it performed and I continue along the dales roads, quietly confident in the Disco’s ability.
Sweeping past the old 1980s Emmerdale set in Arncliffe, the snow is considerably deeper and many cars clearly haven’t ventured out. Through Kettlewell, we’re met by bemused looks from residents sweeping the snow from their drives. ‘Surely they’re not going up there,’ they must be thinking as we turn left and head up a steep, undriven lane towards Coverdale.
Handling in challenging conditions?
For a second I wonder if it’s wise, but that’s soon dismissed as I begin to play with the Terrain Response settings. I dial in Grass/Gravel/Snow and lift the suspension to off-road height. I then turn to the dash display and select ‘4x4i’ from extra features. This presents me with a layout of the Discovery’s drivetrain, shows where the front wheels are facing and what mode the Terrain Response and suspension are set to. As I drive up the steep hill the display shows me that both the centre and rear differentials have locked up to give me maximum grip. The traction control is buzzing and the wheels are doing their best to try and spin, but the computers are having none of it. The Disco just grips and keeps moving. Soon, I’ve conquered the ascent, and I’m almost surprised.
When we stop to admire the view, I get out… and immediately sink to my shins in snow. It’s about a foot deep but, in places where the wind has drifted the snow, it’s at least three feet.
There’s no way of knowing where the road is in front of the Discovery, so slowly does it, getting out every now and then just to have a poke around. It’s a gentle descent and, with Hill Descent Control keeping everything calm and under control, there’s no cause for concern.
The further we descend, the shallower the snow gets. A farmer gives us an admiring wave from his Ford Ranger pick-up. He obviously hasn’t been up there, and if I didn’t have Terrain Response and the locking diffs, I don’t think I would have tried it, either. The first byway on the Real World Test route is Stalling Busk – only a JCB has bothered to tackle the start today. I stop to select Grass/Gravel/Snow again and lift the suspension. The lane starts off well – the snow’s not too deep and progress is steady.
At the highest part, however, it’s not so good. Drifts have created deep snow and my confidence in the Disco gets the better of me. I park on top of a mound of snow with all four wheels spinning. There’s no way the clever electronic aids are going to get me out of this one, so Mark and I get digging. We’re soon moving again, but it’s back down the way we came – better to play it safe in these conditions.
Back on the B-roads, we decide to bypass the second greenlane and make for Bradford via Settle and Skipton. The roads are drier here and the temperature display suggests its now a balmy 5ºC outside, so I can enjoy the roads at a slightly quicker pace.
Despite not being set up like a Range Rover Sport, the Discovery handles well. It wallows a bit, but it’s still composed and never gives me any cause for panic. Considering the vehicle weighs near enough 2.5 tonnes and that it’s not built for speed, performance from the smooth 3.0-litre SDV6 is more than respectable.
Bradford is heaving with rush-hour traffic as we arrive. The Discovery doesn’t look out of place in the city, and I wonder how many other vehicles have been tackling three-foot snowdrifts just hours before? Not many people will use this Discovery for the tasks that the original Disco was used for in the ’90s, and that’s quite sad.
The Discovery 4 is a fantastic Land Rover that is well worthy of that green oval. It tackled the tough, snowy conditions every bit as well as the way it negotiated the trek from Bradford to Ferrybridge power station and back to Stamford down the A1.
Our day is nearly over and, as we pull back in to Bloody Oaks services, it seems like a long time ago that we were last here. The Discovery swallows 66 litres to fill it back up to the same level as we left, which equates to 25.1mpg for the day.
That’s not bad, really, especially when you consider the long, slow low-range roads we had to tackle during the course of a challenging day that cemented the Discovery 4’s reputation as the Land Rover For All Seasons.
What's the point?
LRO’s Real World Test gives an independent, ‘real world’ fuel economy figure based on a varied and enjoyable 380-mile route, rather than sitting on a dyno.
It’s a big drive to do in one day, so we get up early and start by brimming the fuel tank at a garage on the A1 in Lincolnshire.
By doing the same at the end, it’s easy to get a precise ‘combined mpg’ figure – meaning a blend of motorways, fast A-roads, country roads, a couple of long greenlanes and a rush-hour city crawl. And, we find out more along the way!
Our test route
Bloody Oaks services, Stamford > A1 north Knaresborough > Arncliffe > Kettlewell > Middleham > Bainbridge > Stalling Busk (byway) > Hubberholme > Cam High Road (byway) > Wensleydale Creamery, Hawes > Settle > Silsden > Bradford > M62 east > Ferrybridge > A1 south > Bloody Oaks services, Stamford