With the year closing in on its end, I was thinking of having a short break and being an enthusiast any holiday isn't complete if you haven't driven through it. With Christmas granting us an extended weekend, I now only had to turn my thoughts of a short retreat into a plan. The recipe was simple, a good route under 1,000 km, a less explored destination with room for off-roading and an SUV that is capable enough to overcome tough terrains yet be comfortable and be fun to drive. The choice was fairly simple for me and I zeroed in on the Land Rover Discovery 5. A couple of calls and emails later, I was told the British SUV was confirmed for the dates I had requested. Now that left me with a lesser known destination to search so with some help from Google, I was able to finalise that. Shoghi crossed my mind but that was now a sprawling place for resorts. Hence, finally, after a lot of searching, I firmed up on Anji, a small village near Shoghi. While I did read a lot about the beauty and tranquillity of the place, there were mentions of challenging roads as well. Perfect! With all my requirements fulfilled it was time to go packing.
Why the Land Rover Discovery?
The most important question for all car enthusiasts reading this piece. Well, the new Discovery 5 has been one of the toughest models for Land Rover to work on. The recent rush by people to buy SUVs left Land Rover in a fix. They always made SUVs that were tough and could go where many 4WD SUVs too couldn't. However, that design seems to be passe as people are lining up for SUVs that look more like cars and their brochures at times have four-wheel drive and high ground clearance only mentioned as key off road capability tools. One can't blame them since most of them don't intend to go off-road, like never, ever.
Then there was the design, which for the new Discovery was nothing like its predecessors. Gone was the boxy look, making way for a much sleeker face inspired from Range Rover. I personally think it's a step in the right direction as boxy SUVs don't exactly gel well with the idea of modern and comfortable SUVs. This is also because Land Rover designers have ensured the Discovery doesn't have a confused identity and looks like a proper SUV. The signature glass panel behind the C-pillar and the two-step roof have been retained although with some modifications. These lend the side of the SUV with an unmistakable Discovery look. Move back to the rear and the problem of a left-skewed design hasn't been rectified yet. Yes, it's another signature Discovery design element but I personally found it be off-place on an otherwise good-looking modern SUV. But, as they say, 'beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder'. So if you do find any beauty at the rear of the Discovery, you effectively don't have anything to complain about the design!
Also, filling up shoes of its predecessor was an arduously difficult task for the Land Rover Discovery 5. It had to retain the off-road capability the Discovery has been known for more than 30 years now, all while wearing a Tuxedo. Now balancing these requirements is easy for a crossover or faux SUVs as they only need to pose throughout their lives. The tough part for Land Rover was how to deliver a poser without sacrificing the long-known off-road DNA. With all these questions and memories of driving the Discovery 4 a few years back, I knew it had to be the Land Rover Discovery 5 only for this travelogue. Just when I firmed up everything, I was informed the Discovery was available with a 3.0 litre Supercharged petrol engine developing 335 hp and 450 Nm of torque between 3,500 to 5,000 rpm. I couldn't resist the opportunity of driving a Supercharged petrol SUV on a mix of road conditions even if it burnt a hole in my wallet.
The travel, finally!
With all things set, we set out for Chandigarh from Dwarka in New Delhi at around 6 am. There wasn't much fog/ smog fortunately at that hour so visibility was fine and by 7 am we were on NH1, having turned left towards Karnal by-pass road. For the next few kilometres, the road was bumpy and it was here that I noticed a strange thing about the new Discovery. Every time it would go over an undulation, it wouldn't settle back quickly. It took more than usual time to get sorted and that seemed to be a problem with the damping. However, as the road got better and the speedometer needle began to go up, things improved and the high-speed ride quality turned out to be really, really nice.
With a good stretch of road and less traffic, it was the perfect time to open up the taps of the 3 litre Supercharged engine. After all, about 340 hp and 450 Nm of torque between 3,500 to 5,000 rpm are numbers too good to resist. This is the same engine that powers the Jaguar F-Type V6 so you would expect the next few lines to be littered with phrases such as 'ludicrously quick', 'pop and crackle', 'sweet exhaust sound' and the likes. Well, you couldn't be more wrong because the F-Type V6 weighs 1,755 kg but the Discovery tends to have a much larger impact on the weighing scale at over 2,200 kg. That is after it underwent a weight-loss surgery of over 400 kg.
As a result of the heavy weight, the Discovery needs some time to get going and it's only after about 2,300 rpm that it pulls away cleanly. Thereon, the velocity party begins and it's hard to believe how a vehicle weighing well over two tonnes can accelerate from 0-100 km in with such urgency. The eight-speed automatic gearbox complements the engine well and isn't hesitant to drop a couple of gears if you're in a hurry. There are paddles too if you want to take over the gearbox from the computer. The best part is that unlike many stupid gearboxes in the market, this one lets you hold onto a gear when shifting manually, precisely the point of having the option to shift manually. The only disappointing part is that even around 6,500 rpm, the sound from the powertrain isn't what one would expect from a Supercharged engine. True, this is an SUV and it's much heavier but considering how impressively it drives, it would've been brilliant to have an exhaust that could have delivered a mad cacophony.
The All-black theme on the inside of the Discovery is not a continuation of the rough-and-tumble exterior Land Rovers are known for. The signature JLR rotary selector though, that adorns the centre console could have probably been done away with for something a little more modern that suits a top-of-the-line Discovery like this one. What interesting is that while the all-black theme should make the interiors looks busy and crowded, it has been tactfully accented with wood insert and brushed aluminium and a panoramic sunroof that stretches all the way to the back to keep it looking spacious. One of my favourite things about this discovery are the front seats which are plush and comfortable, all in all even if you spend the entire day driving through undulating terrain you’re unlikely to feel even the slightest amount of strain. The 10-inch touchscreen infotainment system is great and easy to use, and you could even get two headrest mounted touch screens as optional extras although, that said, the rear seats are a bit low so taller occupants might have to sit with their knees pointing upwards and less support for under thighs. The third row can easily accommodate two adults, making it a proper seven-seat SUV.
Mountain roads and a two-tonne plus large SUV
Anyone with a basic understanding of Physics would agree that an SUV that is almost five metres long, about two metres tall and a mass heavier than light trucks would have a terrible time going around corners. Well, most of you already expect a contradictory sentence next explaining how good the Discovery actually was through the curves and you aren't wrong but you don't have any idea how good it actually turned out to be! Although the Discovery shouldn't have performed well on curvy roads, it embraced the corners like a drop of dew embraces the tip of a blade, hard to believe but real. With electronically-adjustable height, I chose the lowest setting for lesser roll and started going through turns uphill. As the turns got sharper, my confidence in the Discovery got stronger. Despite the vehicle's size, the visibility out of the Discovery is excellent and helps negotiate tight gaps with ease. The only problem is rear visibility but parking won't be an issue as there are cameras all around including a 360-degree view.
Through fast corners, body-roll was present and sharp corners really aren't to the Discovery's liking for obvious dimensional reasons. However, grip from the tyres was good and confidence-inspiring. The good thing around these tight corners with sharp inclines was that it couldn't catch the powertrain unaware as the gearbox had the right gear on offer almost every time when driving in Sports mode. Overall, the Discovery managed to brush aside every doubt I had regarding its on-road performance and handling. That said, is the new Discovery the best SUV to drive in its segment? Well, if that was the question in your mind, the answer to that is no. That is because the Audi Q7 and the BMW X5 are better performers on the road. The Discovery is possibly a bit better than the remaining SUVs in its segment, putting it somewhere in the middle of the segment, which is a respectable place to be in.
Off-road Capability: And the tables turn!
Once off the main road to Shimla, I had to take a really sharp left U-turn heading down into the valley. Within metres, it was clear that this was going to be a combination of broken surface, really steep inclines and fearfully narrow sections at times. Less than a kilometre into this road, I was driving on a completely broken surface with a cloud of dust behind me, despite going at just about 40 kmph. Around 2 km into this road, I came across a very narrow blind curve. Hoping to not encounter any oncoming traffic I went past this turn to realise that the journey hereon would be on such narrow roads only.
At times the road was just a few inches wider than the Discovery and that surely isn't a comforting situation to be in when you've got a vertical drop into the valley below staring at you from the side all the time. The speedometer soon settled into the mid-20s as the turns grew blinder and sharper. About 3 km into the stretch, I had something in my sight that I was praying not to see, a truck carrying construction material. The width of the road in no way could allow both vehicles to cross each other without the trucker scraping his vehicle's side or me falling into the valley. Knowing the former won't happen and wanting the latter to not happen, I had no option but to reverse. It is here the cameras on the Land Rover Discovery came in really handy. Cameras on all sides mean you can individually select the outer view of any of the four wheels. The clear top view made it a breeze to reverse the SUV to a point where the truck could pass. The same feature came in handy later during some off-road excursions as one can make out clearly what's under each wheel.
Things then became quite easy as I developed immense trust in the Discovery's capabilities in such terrain. Close to the resort I had booked, I saw a tight and rutted path sloping steeply into the valley. Brilliant! This is all I needed to spice up things and I put the Hill Descent Control on and set a speed of 12 kmph. All I had to do then was to sit back and just manage the steering as the computer managed the braking on each wheel to ensure the tyres don't lock up and induce a slide for the vehicle. Not only is that the last thing you want to experience when going down a steep incline, there's a higher chance of it happening if brakes are operated by a driver who isn't particularly great off-road, like me. The speed of descent can be lowered or increased using the buttons on the steering wheel, allowing you to adapt to changing angles of inclines when going off-road. Soon, at about 3 pm, I was at the hotel, translating into about 9 hours of travel time. Fairly long but mainly because of the detours I 'd taken to get some photos.
Add to it a comfortable cabin, great connectivity, fun-to-drive engine and the Discovery suddenly starts to sound as possibly the best buy in the segment. Well, that is precisely the point where it hands over the advantage back to the competition as it isn't priced competitively. For whatever import and taxation reasons that might exist, the end-consumer looks at the final amount s/he needs to pay and the value being offered in return.The Discovery petrol range starts at Rs 71.38 lakh, ex-showroom, Delhi and tops out at Rs 88.56 lakh. The diesel range starts at more than Rs 10 lakh higher at Rs 82.21 lakh with a ceiling of Rs 1.07 crore. The competition offers better performance on-road, which is where most SUVs spend their time and are priced lower as well.
So why and who should buy the new Discovery? Well if you are someone who prefers or at least desires to go off-road but aren't to good at it, nothing works better than the Land Rover Discovery. It can make an amateur look like an experienced off-road driver because that's how good it is. This, however, is a small lot of the total buying population. What about the ones who hardly drive their SUVs off-road throughout the vehicle's life?
Well, for those who drive an SUV for 100 % on-road use are anyway buying the wrong vehicle. They should have bought a sedan instead and enjoyed the much better ride quality and better handling characteristics. Now that they're stuck with the wrong vehicle for their needs, why not buy something with an iconic past, not just to be proud of but to talk of at cafes and pubs. At least you'll have the pride of owning something that's pretty much the best in its segment when it comes to off-roading. In addition, you won't get lost in the ever-growing sea of German SUVs. The Land Rover Discovery looks unlike any of its competitors and stands out in a pleasant way, except for that rear of course.
At the end of the drive, I was a bit sad to return the Discovery 5 as it had established a bond with me, unlike any other SUV in this segment. True, it isn't the best in terms of on-road performance or convenience equipment and isn't priced competitively as well. However, it has something that British machines have had for a long time and ze Germans haven't despite making technically better vehicles. The keyword here is 'character', which the Discovery is flowing with despite its flaws. It is the character that separates great machines from the good ones and makes them desirable, just like the new Land Rover Discovery 5 is despite its shortcomings.