Land Rover has given a safety boost to its Discovery and Range Rover models which now meet crash-test standards applied to cars. Twin airbags have been made available across the range, and other safety features have been added including side-intrusion beams, a high-mounted rear stop light, and a bonded windscreen.
Land Rover has revised its V8i engine and dramatically overhauled the direct-injection turbo-diesel (Tdi) unit, adding significant refinement and reducing noise and fuel consumption. Two new models have been added to the Discovery - a $65,000 flagship model known as the ES and an auto version of the 5-door Tdi - while the Vogue Plus model has been dropped from the Range Rover line-up.
But there are few visual clues that much has changed apart from new front grilles, bigger headlamps and bolder Land Rover badges. Interior changes are more noticeable, especially the heavily revised dash.
Added features and upgrades more than account for price increases - between $730 and $1000 on Discovery and $3000 for Range Rover. Three years ago, a 3-door Discovery with a 3.5-litre engine cost $44,995; today, the 3-door Discovery with the 3.9-litre engine and a host of improvements starts at just $43,960.
Land Rover's new five-door ES model is a luxury Discovery aimed at the new Mitsubishi Pajero Exceed and Jackaroo Monterey - although it is cheaper than either of these models. Standard features in the ES are leather upholstery, twin airbags, alloy wheels, remote central locking with an alarm, bigger tyres, anti-skid brakes, remote CD player and twin electric sunroofs.
Land Rover is the world's first manufacturer to offer twin airbags as standard equipment in dedicated 4WDs. The dual bags are fitted to the Range Rover SE and LSE and the Discovery ES, and optional in all other Discovery models at $2700.
Adding airbags to a vehicle with such a rigid chassis is difficult, and Land Rover has overcome the problems by engineering collapsible "crash cans" into the front of the vehicles. These steel structures collapse progressively in a crash, enabling the triggering mechanisms for the airbags to distinguish between a minor and a life-threatening accident.
The 3.9-litre petrol V8 now has one belt instead of three driving the ancilliaries and a cover has been placed over the engine to suppress noise. Power and torque are unchanged at 134kW/4750rpm and 304Nm/2600rpm. Land Rover's 2.5-litre four-cylinder direct-injection turbo-diesel engine has more than 200 new parts with changes to the cylinder head, fuel injectors, pistons, conrods, turbocharger, exhaust manifold, water pump and alternator.
Fuel consumption is improved but power and torque remain at 83kW/4000rpm and 265Nm/1800rpm. Thankfully, the manual gearbox on Discovery has been changed to a lighter unit that has reverse opposite fifth gear rather than being dangerously placed next to first gear.
Inside, Discovery and Range Rover have new dashes which are basically identical one-piece units that are assembled and wired before being installed. Heating and ventilation has been improved with BMW-style individual temperature controls for driver and front passenger.
The air-conditioner finally has the ability to offer flow-through air, and the unit has been moved to allow a glovebox on the passenger side. Anti-roll bars have been made standard across the Discovery range to improve on-road manners with only a marginal effect on the speed at which the wheels react to camber changes.
Most of the enhancements have been made with an eye to the American consumer and legal requirements, and Australian buyers stand to benefit.