Tuesday 6 December 2016

Rover closer to top dog

Published 15/05/2010 | 05:00

This gives the F-word a new dimension. For example, the engine in this muscular four-wheel-drive Land Rover SUV is basically the same as the one that spirits and sprints the Jaguar XF and XJ luxury saloons.

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Isn't it extraordinary that a three-litre diesel engine can support the demands of pulling a trailer or traipsing across muddy/rocky hillsides -- and provide the smooth, fashionable impetus for a head-turning Jag?

The downstream mechanics in the new-generation Discovery 4 and the Jaguars completely change the character of the vehicles and their performance, of course, but it just goes to show the multiplicity of uses to which basic engine configurations are being put.

Apart from the clientele of both marques being sufficiently well off to buy these machines, the tasks asked of the respective vehicles are poles apart. Which is where the F-word comes in. It's called Flexibility.

In the Discovery the F-range is more varied than most, as this new version has to meet significant off-road as well as on-tarmac demands.

First off they gave it a real going over for everyday users. The new twin-turbo engine makes a huge difference, not just in power and low-rev grunt, but in quiet smoothness.

The cabin is now getting on for Range Rover status and the seats are much more comfortable. In other words, this has pulled up its socks to compete with the large SUV world.

It has, however, far more off-road ability than many of the more fashionable rivals. For instance, I could change the response to, and ability of, the vehicle to cope with a variety of conditions at the twirl of a dial.

I could have set it up for travelling on grass, gravel, snow, sand, crawling over rocks, through mud and ruts, slippery patches as well as for ordinary tarmac. As well as that, it had Hill Descent Control, which keeps it from 'running away' down steep slopes.

Now all this may sound to you like Land Rover has got it sussed mechanically. And they have, to a large extent. There is no denying the level of accomplishment. I thoroughly enjoyed driving it. But it would be remiss of me not to mention that previous incarnations were not always a shining example of reliability. As such this still has some way to go to unilaterally convince it has turned the corner as an overall package.

In addition, I suppose, it is not a great time for SUVs because of the price involved, our economic woes, our car taxation system and the concentration of purchases in the small-car area so I'm sure Land Rover is not anticipating a flood of sales.

All I can tell you now is that with the Discovery's new twin-turbo three-litre diesel (based on the old 2.7-litre) there is a big increase in pulling power and a reduction in fuel consumption, noise and body roll, so this does make a fresh case on its own merits. For most, that legendary off-road ability boils down to relatively simple tasks.

Families travel together (this has seven seats), so while the strong-man work of the vehicle underpins its relevance, it has to be complemented by the comfort of a saloon.

That is why they have gone about redefining the on-road dynamics. The new six-speed automatic transmission helped a lot too.

I was surprised at how well this drove and handled. I had just got out of a large executive saloon and expected a huge gap but there wasn't one. And this can move, believe me.

A lot of people are put off these big machines simply because they are so overwhelming.

Yet it was easy to drive, with a good feel to the steering and plenty of overtaking pep.

It is not as ubiquitously fashionable as the likes of the BMW X5, Mercedes M-Class or Volvo XC90 for example, nor is it as supremely agile off-road as the Toyota Land Cruiser, but, previous record aside, it has to be taken far more seriously now. It hasn't so much grown up as matured.

ecunningham@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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