4X4 of the Year touring

Role playing

All this year's finalists will make a pleasant vehicle for touring both the wilder areas of Australia and the city backstreets, some just do it better.

Under this criterion we take a look at how a vehicle fulfils its design brief. Basically, what loads and how many people it can carry, and its performance over Australia’s wide range of road conditions.

Of course, it’s during this stage of the testing that we have a lot of fun; barrelling down straight stretches of blacktop; throwing the vehicles through twisty sections of dirt road or punting them along white sandy beaches with the blue Pacific curling long lines of foam towards the sand. Hell, it’s tough being on the 4X4OTY team!

It’s even better when you’re in a vehicle so well balanced, so stable and so responsive as the Discovery 4 and the Range Rover Sport. There may be some black magic under the bonnet and impressive new technology, but when everything comes together like it does in these two vehicles, it is way beyond expectations. But I like the Disco better than the Sport – it is just such a confidence-inspiring vehicle.

However, I’ve got to ’fess up that I started this testing with a biased attitude against the two Pommie vehicles &#151 I didn’t want to see either one take out our top award again. But my attitude changed &#151 though we’ll wait and see how all the judges’ scores add up. Now, back to the criterion...

That TDV6 engine installed in the Discovery and Sport punches out 180kW and 600Nm of torque, which puts them way in front of both Prados (127kW/410Nm) and the Pajero (147kW/441Nm). Not only that, you can feel it whether you’re on the freeway or climbing a sand dune from a standing start. The performance is resolute and commanding.

When it comes to payload and the amount of gear you can carry, the upmarket Prado Kakadu, with all its fruit and frills, makes for a poor choice. The Kakadu’s 450kg or so claimed rating puts it a long way behind the GXL version that has a payload around 750kg (both are rather vaguely listed in the press kits).

And the Kakadu’s air-sprung rear/coil-sprung front suspension combination lets it down as far as most testers are concerned, no matter what the load. All prefer the more balanced feel and better load-carrying ability of the coil-sprung GXL Prado.

The Pajero’s payload is rated at 699kg, and while its ride quality is pretty good, it’s not as awe-inspiring as either the Rangie or Disco.

The turbo-diesel Range Rover Sport rates a 640kg load capacity. The SE Disco can carry just a little more at 657kg. With all-round air suspension, that weight makes little difference to something like ride heights, and it’s the Rangie’s sportier, slightly firmer suspension that means the Discovery just wins out in this regard. This was highlighted over the second-class bitumen and dirt roads of our test course.

The Disco, too, has a cavernous interior &#151 far, far greater than any wagon on the Aussie market. When it comes to accommodating seven people it’s much better than any vehicle on this test &#151 and carries them in a darn sight more comfort. And I bet you always thought the Disco was a mid-size wagon, didn’t you? I know I did.

As it lacks a third row, the Rangie is purely a five-seat wagon, and most people stuck in the Pajero’s third row would wish they weren’t. Both Prado variants are only a little better with, once again, the GXL’s cloth seats preferred over the leather-bound Kakadu. Funny how luxury doesn’t always equate to comfort.

It’s the Disco and the Rangie racing for the line in the towing stakes. Both score a braked rating of 3500kg. Their air suspension, torquey and responsive engines, great brakes and unique, all-new tow hitch will do a better job than the Pajero (3000kg) or the more-limited Prado (2500kg).

After a week of all-day driving over a wide range of roads and tough, off-road conditions everybody rated the two Land Rovers the best at doing the job.

Some of the judges were vying for the Rangie as the top achiever, while I slipped the Discovery 4 into that spot with a rarely given five-out-of-five and an excellent mark. You’ll never know how much internal angst that’s caused...


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