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First drive: Land Rover Discovery 3 – on sale now

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It’s What Car?’s car of the year and has won a boot-load of awards, but AM was left feeling a little disappointed with the third-generation Land Rover Discovery 3.

Not, we hasten to add, by its off-road performance. This car has every trick up its sleeve, as we found out when taking it around Land Rover’s own off-road course at Gaydon.

New is Terrain Response, an excellent system which configures the most appropriate setting for transmission, suspension and traction depending on landscape. Drivers select the terrain setting via a rotary switch on the centre console – it’s idiot proof. Long-travel independent suspension allows extreme wheel articulation to handle ruts and rocks with ease, while four-corner cross-linked air suspension improves the ride.

Off-road, the Discovery remains best in class. The disappointment came on-road. We were expecting X5 levels of performance – Land Rover says the air suspension provides “class-leading car-like ride and handling” – but the Discovery was soft and wallowy. In fact, the cab roll felt worse than its predecessor and did not inspire confidence at speed.

Neither did the brakes.

The powerful Jaguar-based V8 engine (uprated from 4.2- to 4.4-litre, fuel efficiency, 18.8mpg) is rapid off the mark, but the spongy brakes dampen the fun factor. They just aren’t sharp enough for such a heavy vehicle.

This is unlikely to affect sales (around 10,000 for 2005; 1,000 of which will be V8s, the rest the V6 diesel), but dealers would be advised not to overplay the Discovery’s on-road abilities.

Likes include the flat folding seats, which opens up ample boot space, the chunky controls, the imposing Range Rover-styled face and the build quality.

Discovery buyers will split into two groups: those who need an off-road vehicle, and those who buy on badge. It doesn’t compete with the X5 on-road, but it remains the market leader off tarmac.

Strengths: Off-road hero, new Terrain Response
Weaknesses: Cab roll and spongy brakes
Opportunity: Keeping the Land Rover everyone’s ‘must have’ 4x4
Threat: New, trendier efforts from premium brand manufacturers
The USP: Excellent off-road handling and capability
Price: £48,495
Engine: 4.4-litre V8 petrol, 300bhp, 315lb ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Performance: Top speed: 121mph; 0-62mph: 9.3secs
Efficiency: 8.8mpg fuel comb; 354g/km CO2
CAP 3yr/30k: £19,600 (41%)
Servicing: 15,000 miles/one-year
Rivals: BMW X5, Volvo XC90, Mercedes ML, Volkswagen Touareg

Also driven: Land Rover Discovery 4 HSE 3.0 SDV6

In the wake of Evoque’s sales conquests it could be overlooked that Land Rover has long been selling superb premium vehicles.

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