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Land Rover Discovery 3 2.7 TDV6 HSE

Click to view picture galleryWith the world on the brink of
  meltdown, what you need in a car
  is a hero. Roll forward Land Rover
  Discovery 3
the worlds most
  decorated SUV. It
s tougher than a
  seasoned trooper — and will cosset
  and protect you through good
  times and bad...

SMART LOOKS, REFINEMENT, A FLEXIBLE INTERIOR (as functional as any MPV) and permanent four-wheel drive. So far we could be describing, say, an executive Audi or Volvo model. But add 'world class off-road capability' and 'great British icon' to the description and it's clear that we're not reviewing an executive saloon or estate at all. Far from it, in fact. We're talking about one of Land Rover's finest the Discovery 3.

The latest Discovery 3 can, quite literally, go almost anywhere on the planet, from the most treacherous wilderness to the most barren desert. In fact, the general consensus is that, off-road, nothing will beat a Discovery 3. All the more amazing then that, from all of the jungles in all the world, these off-roaders are so very much at home in the urban jungle.

Fortuitous too, given that's where most of them spend their entire lives. Land Rover has made it easy choosing between petrol and diesel power by offering just one — the 2.7 TDV6 turbodiesel. The TDV6 tested here is the range-topping diesel, the HSE automatic, which costs £45,000 — Discovery 3 prices start at £27,420 — and which comes as standard with a six-speed adaptive automatic transmission.

While that may sound a lot of money, it does come with an undeniably desirable image more than good enough to satisfy badge snobs, a luxurious cabin, seven-seats and a wealth of state-of-the-art 4x4 technology.

Walk up to a Discovery 3 and, yes, it's 'geometric'. It's also a clean, almost minimalist piece of deceptively clever modern design. This is what we should be putting in our galleries. The upside of the Discovery's genuine product design is that on the inside you get maximum roominess. The other valuable, and much-valued, benefit is the raised 'command' seating positions. Wide opening big doors ensure easy access to all three rows of seats — and for the record, it's a true seven-seater. The rearmost row really will accommodate adults in reasonable comfort for real-life journeys.

You can configure the seats in a variety of ways to suit just about any use, including — usefully! — one in which the central seat in the middle row turns into a table. At the back there's a practical two-piece asymmetric tailgate that guarantees fuss-free access to the large load area. The drop down lower tailgate will support the weight of two adults and makes a fine viewing platform. Alternatively, it can be used as a seat with the raised upper section providing cover.

And for those times when you need all that space for cargo you can fold away the middle and third row seats to create a simply vast — and perfectly flat — cargo area and load floor. Best of all, both rear rows fold neatly — and incredibly easily — down into the floor. Another useful feature is the ability, at the flick of a switch, to lower the ride height by 50mm for easier loading/access (to clear tricky obstacles, the same switch can also raise the ride height by 125mm).

Previous generation Discovery customers should be aware that the Discovery 3 is vastly superior to the model it superseded. For a start, its on-road manners are remarkably good. Despite its weight (a hefty 2,718kgs), it corners with minimal roll and body control is reassuring. The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering proved to be precise and, equally important, consistent through bends and corners.

Contributing to the Discovery 3's commendable composure and high-speed stability on tarmac is the standard-fit 'four-corner' air suspension that provides a constant, level ride height irrespective of the number of passengers or the load distribution. Furthermore, it's designed not to compromise extreme axle articulation that, in conjunction with the long-travel, all-independent suspension, is a key element in the Discovery's renowned (and genuinely astounding) off-road capability.

Even after just a short acquaintance it's obvious that the Discovery 3 is an easy car to drive — sedately or briskly; on road or off. Ride quality is good; notably so at motorway speeds. At the risk of stating the obvious, the Discovery has not been designed as a B-road master-blaster: if that's what you want — but you don't wish to relinquish the world-beating off-road capability — then you may be better off sitting (admittedly equally comfortably) behind the wheel of another desirable Land Rover: the Range Rover Sport (£36,300 to £63,700).

When it comes to going off the beaten track — the more extreme the better! — then the Discovery comes with its very own on-board off-road driving expert: 'Terrain Response'. At the turn of a dial, TR makes use of sixty years' of Land Rover 4x4 expertise and state-of-the-art technology to optimise driveability and comfort as well as maximising traction.

All the driver need do is select, via a chunky rotary switch on the centre console, any one of five automated terrain settings: a general driving programme (cruising on tarmac); one for slippery conditions (driving over grass, gravel or snow); and three special off-road modes — namely mud and ruts, sand, and rock crawl. Terrain Response then automatically selects the most appropriate settings for the vehicle's advanced electronic controls and traction aids. Functions governed by Terrain Response include ride height, engine torque response, Hill Descent Control (which limits downhill speed), Electronic Traction Control, transmission and differential settings. That's it. Sorted. Amazing!

Factor in excellent (and adjustable) ground clearance and a low-range gearbox and it's obvious why — whether you need to climb boulder-strewn hills or ford streams that reach the top of your tyres (700mm: believe us, that's deep) — the Disco 3 is a 'natural' off-road. The whole thing works brilliantly and from the driver's seat the Discovery 3 feels as unstoppable as the Batmobile in Batman Returns. At other times, three adjacent switches allow the driver to manually adjust the ride height, choose high or low ratios and call up Hill Descent Control.

The 2.7-litre turbodiesel V6 develops 190bhp, which might not sound that much, given the Discovery's near-three-tonne weight. But the important figure here is torque — and the TDV6 has that aplenty: a whopping 325lb ft of the stuff at a low 1,900rpm. As it happens, the turbodiesel unit is something of a peach, with strong performance in the lower ranges, and amazingly good refinement. Even under load it feels and sounds smooth — at tick-over an unknowing passenger could easily believe there's a petrol engine under the clamshell bonnet.

With that much weight to push around, the official fuel consumption figures are not as bad as you might guess: 21.6, 27.2 and 33.2mpg respectively for Urban, Combined and Extra-Urban. However, we did record a rather good test average of 27.7mpg. Top speed is 112mph and 0-62mph acceleration takes 11.7 seconds.

What also comes with the territory is comfort. Climb into the cabin and the heavy doors close with a reassuring 'thunk' that is indicative of the general sense of solidity that can be felt both when the vehicle is stationary and when it's clambering over the worst off-road terrain imaginable. The first thing you notice, wherever you sit, is the room. There's lots of it; for legs, heads and shoulders, helped by the stepped roof that allows for 'stadium' seating (the second row is set higher than the first and the third is higher than the second). All occupants enjoy great views out.

Thoughtful features worthy of special mention include the touch-screen SatNav with its first class 3D visuals; driver-set auto-dipping of either one or both door mirrors for easier reversing; well-sited horn 'bars' on the nicely grippy, deep-grained leather rim of the multifunction steering wheel; personalised memory recall (for door mirrors, steering wheel and seat position for three different drivers) as well as the easy-exit function that simultaneously lowers and draws back the drivers' seat from the wheel when the ignition key is removed.

You'll also appreciate the automatically releasing electric park brake (as you drive away); central locking that locks itself as you drive off; the air vent under the steering column that's as welcome in the summer as it is in the winter; the engineered feel of just about every switch and control; and auto one-shot operation of the front tilt 'n' slide sunroof. All of which help make it a very easy car to live with day in, day out.

As already mentioned, there are seven seats that do seat seven adults — even the rearmost pair (in a number of so-called seven-seaters these turn out to be nothing more than perches suitable for small children) will honestly provide full-sized adults relative comfort not just on short hops but also for longer journeys.

A comfortable driving position takes seconds to find, thanks to multi-adjustable powered seats and a steering wheel that adjusts generously (and electrically) for both reach and rake. The dash is methodically laid out, key controls are at your fingertips and it's all smartly finished with straight grained walnut fascia end caps and real wood trim to the centre stack uprights. Voice control is standard, as is an auto dimming rear view mirror.

Both the driver and front passenger enjoy folding centre armrests and, as you'd rightly expect at this price, the comfortable seats are upholstered in leather and are heated — including the outer second row seats, which is a boon during the winter months and a great help to bad backs at any time. They are also electrically-operated (8-way) and have power lumbar support.

Equipment levels are comprehensive: everything from 19-inch 6-spoke alloy wheels, cruise control and automatic dual-zone climate control air conditioning through to a DVD-based SatNav (with voice control and TV) that that allows you to find your way after the roads run out. Also fitted is a vehicle information system with a driver interface display supporting the Terrain Response system that can display visual representations of wheel articulation, traction control and steering angle.

Furthermore, there is Bi-Xenon adaptive front lights that swivel with the direction of travel (brilliant!), drive away auto-locking, electric windows, powerfold, heated and electrically adjustable door mirrors and an electric park brake. As well as room for seven, there are also more than enough cubbies to squirrel away seven people's oddments.

Other goodies include a front sunroof and a massive fixed Alpine Roof (with sunblind) that provides light and sunshine to the second and third row passengers, a highly effective chilled cooler box (if almost froze a near-melted chocolate bar in about ten minutes!), front and rear Park Distance Control and, of course, the smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission that, with a flick of the selector lever to the left, provides easy manual shifting (and a Sport mode) whenever the driver wishes it.

Safety and security is well covered, too: in addition to the Discovery's tough Integrated Body-frame there's all-terrain ABS with all round ventilated disc brakes (the brakes, incidentally, are first-rate), Electronic Brake Assist for extra brake pressure in an emergency and Electronic Traction Control which helps maintain optimum grip. Dynamic Stability Control and Active Roll Mitigation work with the braking system and are designed to correct cornering over- or understeer and help maintain stability at all times. The front seats have both front and side airbags with each seat row having its own curtain airbags.

In range-topping HSE spec the Discovery 3 feels luxurious enough to justify its £45,000 price tag. And while sitting in the Discovery is manifestly relaxing, so too is driving — thanks to a fluent automatic transmission and lots of torque from low down the rev range.

Once you're rolling, progress is smooth and while it's undoubtedly one of the most advanced off-roaders on the market, around town the TDV6 keeps the big 4x4 flexible and unruffled. Combined with the ride comfort (it laughs in the face of speed bumps) from the air suspension and the first-rate visibility, it makes manoeuvring through heavy traffic completely hassle-free.

Cruising motorways is something else it does surprisingly well: wind and road noise are very well suppressed, making the Discovery a decent long-distance traveller too. Overall the Discovery 3 is an exceedingly well-judged marriage of executive refinement and the best off-road capabilities. Not only does it feel as though it's built to last, but it is without doubt the most user-friendly and accommodating seven-seater we've driven. And if you'd like a second opinion… actually, how about 96 'second opinions'? Because that's how many international awards the Discovery 3 has won to date, making it the world's most decorated SUV. And, for what it's worth, it gets MotorBar's vote, too. —

Land Rover Discovery 3 2.7 TDV6 HSE
| £45,000
Maximum speed: 112mph | 0-62mph: 11.7 seconds
Overall test MPG: 27.7mpg | Power: 190bhp | Torque: 325lb ft
CO2 270g/km | VED Band G £400 | Insurance group 14