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Land Rover Discovery 2005 review

You can enjoy driving it almost anywhere, from the smoothest freeways to the toughest off-road tracks, even if most Discovery owners will never give it a sterner challenge than the after-school pick-up.

If you can live with the Judge Dredd styling work, it is good value and can be delivered with a relatively efficient turbo-diesel V6 engine.

So why are we saying "could be" and not "should be" or "is" about the Discovery's ranking? We are not really sure ourselves, because the Disco 3 ticks most of the boxes.

But our test car came with a fault. We have had problems in the past with Land Rover vehicles, and we cannot believe a Discovery would match a Mitsubishi or a Nissan or – yes – a Toyota four-wheel-drive over the long run.

There are some things we cannot measure during a week-long test (even though we covered more than 1000km during our time with the Discovery), so we hold back from a gushing endorsement of the vehicle.

Land Rover designed the latest Discovery to be a premium four-wheel-drive, and it has done a good job. It helps that it is the first all-new vehicle to emerge from Land Rover since Ford bought the company from BMW. This injected enough cash and commitment to do the job properly.

You can see it in everything from the six-speed automatic gearbox, to more space in the cabin and a V6 turbo-diesel engine that was also developed for use by Jaguar.

Matthew Taylor, the Land Rover chief who once served as marketing boss at Ford Australia in Broadmeadows, has described the Discovery as "a vehicle of great conviction that points the way forward for the company".

It is the anchor for the company's operations in Australia, with 191 Discovery sales in August and 1349 since the start of the year, according to Vfacts.

But it is significant that Discovery sales are actually down against 2004, 1387 to 1349, which points to supply problems or slow acceptance of the newcomer.

Or, perhaps, it reflects questions from potential owners, who are still buying Japanese or the BMW X5.

The Discovery drops into a sales segment called "Medium SUV" in Australia, where the runaway class leader is the Ford Territory with 14,975, followed by the Toyota Prado with 10,520 sales to the end of August.

The BMW X5, which competes on class even if it is not in the same class, has 1997.

The Discovery has a lot to like from the big, chunky body to a choice of five or seven seats, three engines – V6, V6 turbo-diesel and V8 – a top-class four-wheel-drive and suspension package, and prices that run from $56,650 to $91,650 for the V8 HSE model.

On The Road

We jumped into the Discovery after a week with a Grand Cherokee from Jeep, which gave us an instant benchmark. And a win for the Discovery.

It was much quieter and more refined on the road, had the advantage of the turbo-diesel V6, and was unstoppable in the bush.

We love the ride, which ironed out any surface and still gave good grip through bitumen corners without the usual tippy feeling that comes with other Land Rover products. It shows considerable commitment to customers who won't be regulars off the road, without compromising the essential grip for tough going.

Our test machine was a basic 2.7 TD V6 S automatic, which meant it was nowhere near as impressive as the Jeep in the cabin.

It had all the equipment you expect for $65,000, but the quality was down and that is a problem when you compare it with the Japanese vehicles in its class.

It is down to the stuff like the seat fabrics, and the look and feel of the plastics and switches, as well as an overall dashboard design that looks like something from Fisher Price. It is different, but we didn't like it.

There is plenty of space in the cabin. The seats are good, but not great. We were surprised by the quietness of a vehicle that is pushing a lot of wind at highway speeds.

The performance was good, with the combination of turbo-diesel torque – 440Nm is more than Land Rover's V8 – and the six-speed automatic transmission. It also returned 10.8 litres/100km at the pumps, went for more than 700km without a refill and had more than enough hit for easy overtaking, despite a body mass in the 2.5-tonne class.

The gearbox was particularly welcome, with a touch-change manual and a well-chosen set of ratios with a smooth shift.

One problem was an electrical fault that denied access to the low-range gears. It didn't matter on the go, because it still conquered our benchmark hill climb with no trouble. Land Rover blamed a pre-production control unit.

And we also had a couple of experiences when the car's hill descent system, which is a great way to tackle downhill runs without using your feet on the pedals, kicked in on flat ground at more than 80km/h.

The biggest problem for the Discovery is its competition. The medium four-wheel-drive class has more than a dozen rivals and there are plenty of people who will compare it with all-paw contenders with Audi, BMW, Honda, Jeep and Mercedes badges.

What they will find is a vehicle that is absolutely brilliant as an off-roader, and impressive for runabout work, and a reasonable price and with reasonable equipment.

But we still have some doubts.

Pricing Guides

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Range and Specs

(base) 4.0L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $6,380 – 8,910 2005 Land Rover Discovery 2005 (base) Pricing and Specs
HSE 2.5L, Diesel, 4 SP AUTO $10,780 – 14,740 2005 Land Rover Discovery 2005 HSE Pricing and Specs
S (4x4) 4.0L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $7,150 – 10,010 2005 Land Rover Discovery 2005 S (4x4) Pricing and Specs
SE (4x4) 4.0L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $9,130 – 12,870 2005 Land Rover Discovery 2005 SE (4x4) Pricing and Specs