By Andrew St.Pierre White
Posted: 26 Jun 2012 10:58 AM PDT
For decades, the three titans of the mid-range, luxury 4x4 off-road wagon market have beed the Land Rover Discovery, Mitsubishi Pajero and Toyota Prado. There are others in the segment, namely the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Hyundai Terracan, but they have not been fierce contenders, mainly because they aren’t very good. Some may suggest that vehicles like the Audi Q7 and BMW X5 should also mentioned, but they aren’t off roaders. They are just SUVs with four-wheel drive. There is a huge difference.
At first the Prado lead on-road, while the Discovery lead off-road. Then when the Discovery-2 was launched, it plummeted to the worst off-road, and it stayed worst on it. It’s fall from grace was due solely to some stupid person in the development team deciding to remove the centre diff lock and to force the vehicle to rely solely on its mostly pathetic traction-control for all its grip. The result was a vehicle that had pitifully poor traction off road. At this stage the Prado lead both off road and on it, the Pajero remaining steadfastly the middle runner.
Enter Discovery-3. When it arrived, so did its brand new traction control, which happily, worked. And it worked superbly. And with it, ride height control. It shot straight back to the leader in the off-road stakes, and amazingly, easily matched the Prado on-road. Mitsubishi, it seemed, had lost interest in its Pajero and did almost nothing. It fell to worst off road and worst on it - where it remains today. But the big question now is, how does the Prado stack up against the Discovery-4. It too has traction control, and the VX model has a lockable rear differential. Both vehicles have clever electronics and both are brilliant long-distance cruisers. Is there a winner? Yes I think there is, but it depends what you are looking for.
If you want long distance comfort and a diesel, the Discovery wins hands down. No contest. The Prado diesel is a lame horse by comparison. But the petrol model is a different story. The Toyota still doesn’t perform as well, performance and towing wise as the Discovery, but it’s great. Overall comfort, the VX Prado and the Discovery-4 are a tie. As vehicles to live with, day-by-day, I prefer the Discovery, for a few reasons. It’s very light and airy interior is a much more pleasant place to be, compared to the comparatively dark and gloomy Prado. Ride quality to, and the Disco is a bit better, but not much. On corrugations and a rough track, again, the Disco wins by a nose. But the Discovery’s split tailgate is, for me, a deal clincher. A drop-down tailgate is something that very few vehicles have, because it’s more expensive to make two doors and than one. The Range Rover has it, as does the Land Cruiser-200. But the Pajero, Prado and even the Range Rover Evoque, do not. I have lived with both, and it’s something that makes living with a station-wagon such a huge pleasure.
As an overland vehicle, the Discovery has only two downfalls, which are not shared by the Prado. The wheel size of 19” cannot be reduced to fit more practical tyres and, the ride height automatically drops to its ‘normal’ setting at only 55-kph, low enough to be very annoying at times. Are these two deal breakers? Maybe. As for the electronics; the Prado VX has just as much, so the two tie. However the Prado TX does not. Its suspension is old fashioned springs (not air-springs) and the chassis is the same as the old one, which means a good ride on most surfaces, very good off-road, you can modify it with smaller wheel rims and even give the clearance a bit of a lift. But alas, the D4D engine. It’s just too flat for that vehicle. Sure, you can live with it, but unfortunately for me, I’ve been driving in a diesel Discovery-4 these past few months, and I can confidently say, it’s even better that the V8 petrol version, for many reasons, not just economy.
So there it is. Soon, the Pajero, with its dated styling, even more dated engine and old fashioned ergonomics, is being left so far behind, I wander what will replace it?
As the shooting for my TV series comes to a close, the time to hand the Discovery back looms. Of the Prados, Pajeros, Jeeps, Porsche, Subarus, Land Cruisers, Fortuners, Hiluxes, Mahindras, Patrols, Fords and the rest, I can count on one hand the test vehicles that I’ve been truly disappointed to give back. Discovery-4 is near the top of that short list. What’s at the top? Porsche Cayenne, if you must know.