Caravan Times test drives the Towcar of the Year: Land Rover Discovery 4

Holly Tribe takes the award winning Land Rover Discovery 4 for a test drive

By Holly Tribe

The trophy cabinet at Land Rover HQ must be looking healthy these days. In recent times the Land Rover Discovery has dominated its class at caravan towcar awards, and this year walked away with the top prize: Britain’s Best Towcar 2010. The Disco (as it is affectionately known) has regularly impressed due to an untold number of gizmos which make the towing and off-roading experience safer.

But despite this I was concerned as I stood waiting to test drive the award winner at the Land Rover Experience. I’m used to driving an archaic campervan, with only the most rudimentary controls (a column shift and leaky sunroof). I was wondering how I’d cope trying to decide which settings were correct, which dials to turn. Is it really sensible to rely on camera playback beamed to the driver from the dashboard when reversing? Would the urge to check my blind spot overwhelm me?

As I sat in the driver’s seat with the nose pointed skywards and the bonnet rising steeply in front of me, I could just make out a ribbon of grey cloud through the top corner of the windscreen. Suddenly the answers to my questions became very clear. Without these ‘gadgets’, I couldn’t imagine feeling as safe and secure as I did at that moment.

Urban jungle

At the Canary Wharf MotorExpo 2010, Land Rover recreated their off-road experience around the steel buildings of the London financial district. The course incorporated a 200 meter silicone strip watered down to simulate icy conditions, followed by the steepest of ramps to elevate you high above the streets.

Next up, a rock simulator where the driver must crawl over small asymmetric ramps, at times using only two wheels in contact with the road. A sharp bank would then pitch the car sideways at an angle before the final challenge, an up-and-over on a typically steep ramp. Sound easy enough?

Starting with the icy conditions, my Land Rover instructor Derek Moore turned off the driver aids so I could experience normal braking on ice. Picking up speed to around 25mph and then applying the brakes with some force, the wheels locked and we skidded about five metres.

Now Derek switched to the Terrain Response system for loose gravel and ice and I accelerated again. The braking response felt much more solid and efficient, making the Discovery’s line stay truer with zero snaking.

Another clever addition to the braking system which benefits caravan towers is the new Trailer Stability Assist. It detects sway movements that occur when the trailer snakes at speeds over 50mph, and counters this by applying brakes symmetrically then asymmetrically – slowing the vehicle and smoothing it out.

Up in the air

While up on the ramp with the bonnet pointing towards the sky Derek took me through the screen at the heart of the Discovery. From the dash mounted touch-screen you have an almost 360° view of the car from five external cameras. One below each wing mirror, two in the front bumper and a fifth widescreen camera mounted in the rear: perfect for parking or hitching up a caravan. Using the Hitch and Reverse system via the viewing panel, trajectory lines are over-laid on live footage from the rear camera projecting the paths of the vehicle and trailer to get an accurate line when reversing. You can further enhance precision, with the option to input trailer details onto the Disco’s computer, including trailer type, length and number of axles.

Once you’ve unhitched the caravan, the Discovery 4 is an incredibly capable off road vehicle. The pre-set programmes deliver greater control for sand, gravel, snow, rocks, mud and ruts and an impressive hill descent assist. The next in our simulated challenges was to try was a staggered undulation; two steep ramps, the right hand side set five metres back from the left. Even with two wheels off the road, the Disco feels balanced and steady, and there’s never any question its two and a half tonnes will get the better of the traction control.

Fear is not an optional extra

As with the previous Discovery there are seven seats, with all five rear seats independently fitted and collapsible, offering great flexibility for storage/passenger combinations. The interior is nothing short of luxurious with room for the family, the dog, a couple of bikes, an awning, food for an army. I won’t go on, suffice to say, it is very spacious.

Controlling a two and a half tonne vehicle with a caravan in tow can be pretty difficult on slippery and rough conditions. There’s no doubt that using a towcar with reactive automatic settings has its advantages. And if I (a total novice with no off-road experience) can master the controls after just 20 minutes, it would seem Land Rover are on to a winner.

So, if you’re looking for a high-end, well-equipped off-road vehicle set up with exceptional towing capabilities, then your search is over.