As I'm writing this review in early December, I’d like to make a prediction – the new Land Rover Defender should win the New Zealand Car of The Year title.
But the Discovery is as good as it gets in an SUV, with great performance and predictable handling and off-road capability. So when JLR New Zealand introduced a new Pioneer version we put our hands up for a closer look.
Externally, the Pioneer doesn’t look much different from its much pricier cousins, still using the underpinnings of the Range Rover, including 4WD and long-travel air suspension, mounted to the monocoque, aluminium-based floor pan.
Inside, there’s plenty of room for up to seven adults, and with the second- and third-row seats lowered there’s a cavernous 2500L of space available, and 45 litres more in numerous storage boxes, door pockets and cubbyholes.
The driveline starts with the maker’s silky-smooth, 3L V6 twin-turbo diesel that pumps out 190kW at 3750rpm and 600Nm torque between 2250 and 1750rpm.
The 8-speed transmission remains the same as in the rest of the range, as does the dynamic stability control, cornering brake control, electronically assisted power steering and electronic air suspension.
Off-road it has electronic traction control, front axle open differential, gradient acceleration control, hill descent, off-road ABS and the industry-leading terrain response control offering set-ups for all types of surfaces.
So what’s different, given that the Pioneer is about $15k cheaper than the entry-spec SE variant? That puts the Pioneer into the price bracket of a high-spec Toyota Prado.
A move from leather-clad to cloth seats is easy to live with, as are fixed heated door mirrors. The removal of internal ambient lighting and externally a switch to halogen from LED headlights is no great shakes; neither are the tweaks to internal trim such as a standard rear-view mirror and the loss of a 12v socket; this is still a great SUV.
Out on the road, the smooth, quiet power makes cross-country travel composed and relaxed, as seen during a fast hustle across the Kopu-Hikuai road at the bottom of the Coromandel Peninsula. A front-seat passenger remarked how ‘planted the Discovery felt, with little or no indication of any body-roll. Pushing hard, this driver felt always in control, and the several driver aids and traction controls kept the vehicle in check on Coromandel’s poor road surfaces and adverse cambers.
What’s not to like? Not an awful lot. Older drivers shy of too much technology might find the simpler layout refreshing, compared to many vehicles that continue packing too much in. The cloth seats trim might not be to everyone’s taste but can always be uprated to leather if the buyer wishes.
One thing’s for sure, this revised Discovery will get rural types taking a closer look, so expect to see more of this British icon on a rural road near you soon.