Load up the kids, the wife and just go wherever the road leads you, that’s the dream, right? Reality is a Friday afternoon drive to Sutherland, a route which will take us further outside of cellphone reception than my children have ever been, which kind of makes the in-car Wi-Fi hotspot a bit pointless because it relies on LTE coverage. At least there’s an on-board DVD player to liven up the lull between YouTube binges. Our final destination is a lunch spot at the top of Ouberg Pass – the Northern Cape one – with a fine view of the Tankwa Karoo basin below. Fortunately it hasn’t rained in the last three days because I don’t think these low-profile road-biased tyres are up to the task on the slushy stuff.
The R354 off the N1 to Sutherland winds its way up the escarpment via Verlatenkloof. It’s a glorious drive with corners that can catch you by surprise if you’re not fully engaged with the serpentine asphalt. While this new Discovery is some 480 kg lighter than the model it replaces and is sculpted in a way that casts off the traditional block of flats aesthetic, it still weighs in over two tonnes. And you feel it. At speed you are restricted to “Normal” ride height on the air suspension and normal leans a bit in the corners. It could be worse, but for the now completely unibody aluminium construction.
Land Rover have been refining this V6 diesel for 13 years now and it shows. When interrogating the fuel consumption later I’ll find an astonishing average of just over 8,4 litres/100 km. But right now I can’t shake the feeling of familiarity. It is the same three-litre that’s in the base model Range Rover Sport, the one I always tell potential suitors not to buy and usher them towards the more sensible Disco. My wife loves a Range Rover Sport, so she’s happy that the armrests you see in James Corden’s earliest Carpool Karaoke segments makes an appearance in this lesser Rover.
Actually, there’s nothing less at all. You still get seating generous enough for six grown adults along with enough grunt to ferry my brood to our picnic venue some 40-odd kilometres off the main road to Sutherland. I’ve never been up here, so I get caught by surprise when the relentless teeth chattering over the corrugations gives way to an endless vista of the Karoo basin. My daughter quizzes me about the bicycle floor pump in the cargo area as we munch on cheese while perched on the faux split tailgate – don’t worry, it can take up to 300 kg. I mutter something about the soccer balls I brought for her and her brother while briefly contemplating dropping the tyres below the 3 bar they’ve been this entire time. I mean, surely the air suspension should make for better gravel traversing than the bone shaking we just endured?
The drive back to town is a leisurely one. Both children are awake and all our bellies are full. We also know where we’re going and have plenty of time to relax and recharge before the evening’s festivities. I realise that I hadn’t switched the Terrain Response system to the gravel and snow preset. It doesn’t matter though, there’s a new “Auto” mode which is on by default. That hands all the logistics of assigning the 182 kW and 500 N. m to the four wheels for optimal traction over to the on-board computers. A few speculative “dag ses” from proper offroaders at the top of Ouberg tells you everything you need to know about the Land Rover Discovery.
This car is a beast that can and will swallow a family and all their gear whole. That V6 diesel in a thing of beauty and the automatic 4×4 mode makes off-roading almost too simple. We reached our picnic spot on the Karoo highlands with very little effort on our part. Even the ice cream was still cold thanks to the very effective fridge compartment. It’s a transformative moment when you figure out what a car’s purpose is beyond the marketing. Discovery hasn’t missed a step since two generations ago, instead Land Rover polished this diamond to a brilliant shine. It’s a shame that a large number of these excellent motorcars will never get the slightest sniff of mountain air and will do school runs, captive in suburbia. At least the kids will have something to distract themselves. The dream isn’t dead if you can afford the appropriate motorcar or make the most with what you have.
Have you taken a look at part 2 of this series? Read all about Lindsey Schutters’ visit to the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), here.