Meet car number 1000. I can hardly believe it myself, but thanks to my German roots (and the company’s rigorous administration skills) our master spread-sheet alleges that this Land Rover Discovery Metropolitan is the 1000th car I’ve tested.
I’m fairly certain that this numeric celebration doesn’t matter to anyone else, nor does the fact that Car Number 1K was supposed to be a Honda; but someone dinged it. Instead, what’s way more important is that I can use the momentous number to illustrate how cars have advanced in the 14 years since I first started writing about them.
Actually, I can back-track much further than that. Like, much, much further. When I was born, my parents had a Series III Land Rover 109 Station Wagon; with the coveted “Safari roof” and less desirable diesel engine. When that motor finally let go up the steep climb out of Usakos, my Dad had it replaced with a 4.1 Chevy straight six he bought at Marais’ Motor Spares.
When I was a teenager, the old 109 Landy was swapped for Herbie Klein’s demo Defender 110 V8; with dual tanks, bull bar, branch cutters and a water tank. As my folks had no idea what to do with it, they swapped it for a brand-new, less safari-ready but jolly more powerful 3.9 carb V8 Defender 110. That custom factory job is still with them to this day.
My older brother wanted a Citi Golf CTi as his first car but, apparently, my Dad took one vigorous test-drive in the little pocket rocket and refused his request. Instead, my parents bought him an old Series IIA Landy plaas-bakkie, which my uncle was replacing with a new Defender 110 pick-up from East End. That car is also still around.
Legend has it that my older sibling was much displeased with his erstwhile farm vehicle, for it did not fit his rebellious goth phase. However, once his friends laid eyes on this rugged old pick-up, they delighted in all the naughty things they could get up to. My brother was appeased, plus he had the old “Garry” painted red in a final desperate act of rebellion.
Fast forward a few years and Garry (kind of) became my first car; albeit an automotive hand-me-down. By the time I retired him with my folks, that old boy had survived the Angolan Border War, strenuous farm labour, four matric years, countless parties and multiple crashes. In other words: he’s completely indestructible.
I’m sorry to have put you through all these family Land Rover anecdotes but I hope they concrete the foundations of my following arguments. The contemporary products from this legendary British 4×4 brand are extremely different from their ancestors; African bush children will lament this while modern motorist are surely celebrating the progress.
Where once you would find unassisted wanderlust steering, you now get power-assisted (and often adaptive) steering wheels laden with multi-function AND customisable buttons. Series Landies had bare metal dashboards with often wildly-inaccurate Jaeger instruments while the new Rovers… well, they have ipads in the dash and an HD cinema as a gauge cluster.
The old four-wheel drive systems convey much the same message: you had to yank stubborn levers, get out to twist hubs, then wrestle that aforementioned steering to direct the rigid axle beast in what was hopefully your intended direction. Nowadays? Most of them recognise what terrain they’re on and set up the air ride, transfer case and live cameras before you even realise it.
I’m obviously a fan of the old Landies but I’m also a creature built for comfort so – excepting over-complicated infotainment systems – the new stuff is also to my liking. I like the trendy designs of modern Rovers ever since the Disco III. I like their beautiful cabins and form-hugging seats which, as with everything else, are a far cry from the hostel benches in old LR’s.
Although it was recently updated, this fifth Discovery has a design which is hard to palate for most observers. My wife flies into a mini-frenzy every time we see the lopsided rear end of a gen-five Disco; now exasperated by the fact that I pointed out its pin-hole brake lights. What is the rest of the rear light clusters for?
No doubt these controversial shapes were made to distinguish this legendary Landy from an endless sea of competitors, while still giving a respectful nod to its ancestors. Especially when combined with its hefty proportions, confident facial features and these beautiful alloy wheels on our Metropolitan Edition test vehicle.
Included in the Metropolitan package are Matrix LED headlights, twin glass sunroofs, dark windows and rear lights, black roof, swoopy indicators, keyless entry and electric rear hatch, 22-inch alloys, mesh-type dash trim, power steering column, heated leather steering wheel, premium interior lighting and a small cooler box.
Hang on, I’m not done yet. Head-up display, 11.4-inch media system with remote control and Meridian surround sound speakers, wireless charging tray, phone signal booster, adaptive cruise control, lane assist, blind spot assist, active collision mitigation, heated rear seats, power third row seats and 20-way powered driver’s seat!
Power in this D300 model is provided by a 3-litre in-line 6-cylinder turbo-diesel engine pushing out up to 221kW at 4,000rpm or a very healthy 650Nm to intelligently drive all four wheels through a butter-smooth 8-speed automatic gearbox. Dry weight is around 2,100kg and the maximum towing capacity is a full 3.5 tonnes.
Need more figures? Here ya go. It’s 1.9m high, 2.2m wide and 4.95m long. The turning radius is 12.7m and ground clearance 280mm; thanks to air suspension. Depending on 7- or 5-seater configuration, the boot swallows 258 or 1230L, extendable to 2,500L if you flatten more furniture. Approach angle is 34° and departure 30° with a maximum wading depth of 900mm.
In plain English that means you’re looking at a fairly large and roomy SUV with rather impressive off-roading credentials; if the bush child inside you will allow scratches to this glistening grey metallic paint! The low-profile but high-price Pirelli Scorpion Zero 285/40R22 rubber might be another stumbling block for serious off-road enthusiasts.
So. If you intend crawling up boulder- and thorn-bush infested ravines, may I suggest an old Defender or Series? But if you, like the majority target market which Land Rover identified long ago, just want to pootle around town, go a bit off-road once a week but have the potential to really rough it once a year… this car will manage it all.
Pair your phone, keep the key in your pocket and this vehicle will welcome you into its safe, spacious and sumptuous cabin with smooth leather, fine stitching, big silver contrast elements, plenty of media and mobile device connectivity, plus enough driving information to keep you enthralled for hours.
One driver noted the car’s substantial weight and size which, in its defence, the new Discovery disguises extremely well with the potent drive train and clever adaptive suspension. As proof of this efficiency, Land Rover claims 0-100km/h in just 6.8 seconds, a top speed of 208km/h and average diesel use of 7.8L/100km from the 89L tank.
We also found loads of parking sensors and cameras, which are absolutely essential in today’s crowded urban environments. Which brings me back to those old Land Rovers I so lovingly mentioned at the start of this review: by today’s standards, they are hopelessly difficult to drive in modern traffic. Scary, even.
Their strengths lie out in the rugged terrain of Africa and I hope their fans will forgive me for the following conclusion. Thanks to its incredible new off-road technology, Land Rover’s current Discovery will keep up with most old 4×4’s, possibly beating them in scenarios which include speed, power or high-tech accuracy.
Yet, as a compromise for the fragility (or price) of its modern trimmings, it can also deliver sporty performance, hatchback consumption and limousine luxury on tar roads. Prices start around two million Dollars and include a 5-year/100,000km warranty with a matching maintenance plan.