You'd be hard pushed to spot the new LR4 from its predecessor from a distance. It gets a bit easier up close, but at first glance the new model hardly seems like a revelation. So is it just another facelift for the venerable little sister to the Range Rover or a drastically different car to take on the world's middleweight off-roaders? The only way to find out with a brand like Land Rover is to try it both on road and off road.
But before we get onto the LR4 a little history lesson is in order. The "Disco", as it's commonly known among Land Rover aficionados, has been around for decades. It was launched back in 1989 and immediately hit the headlines for its edgy design and great off-road ability. Despite gaining a reputation for mechanical maladies and problems with rust in wetter countries, the car became a cult classic, with "green laners" and desert warriors alike catching on to the Discovery's go-anywhere chassis and engine.
The car proved its worth even further when Land Rover sponsored the Camel Trophy adventure challenge. The safari-prepared cars, complete with bright "sandglow" yellow paintwork, tackled some of the world's toughest roads, and survived. The company went on to sponsor the event until 1998, using every car in its range for the toughest of endurance adventures. But despite Land Rover pulling out of the Trophy, the brand had already latched onto the adventure tag and launched its very own version, called the G4 Challenge, with a bright orange Discovery special edition. The famous Disco, in whichever guise, was by now a household name.
When Land Rover decided to relaunch the Discovery in 2004, they took the odd decision to call it the LR3 in some markets, while maintaining the Discovery badge in others. Whatever they called it, the LR3 was a major leap forward from the ageing original. A more modern design, clever folding third-row seats and fantastic off-road ability kept the core essence of the Discovery, while opening up the car to a whole new range of potential buyers. It still maintained the popular stadium seating arrangement and was purpose built to be tough enough for the key adventure market. Most would never do more than the school run, but the capability was there.
This brings us neatly to the end of last year and launch of the LR4. Yet another new name (although many markets still use the Discovery name) for a car that at first glance seems smoother and cleaner. But what else is different? The LR4 gains new bumpers and a smart two-bar grille, as well as some serious bling in the lighting department, with both the front and rear getting LED lights as standard. The mirrors, handles and exterior trim items have been painted body colour to tidy everything up and the car sits in 19-inch rims as standard, with an option for some very anti-off road 20-inch wheels.
Mechanically, pretty much everything is different, with new suspension and running gear upgrades from the Range Rover Sport. Despite the old model's excellent off-road capability, the LR4 is even better. Dunes are dispatched with ease and the car feels stable and at home with the ground moving underneath its feet. Under the hood of the V8 model is a monumental 5.0L engine producing 385hp. Despite the weight of the car it accelerates from a standing start at a startling pace. Even at well over the legal motorway limit speeds, the LR4 seems to be hardly trying.
The biggest change is inside, where the company has obviously spent most of its efforts. The whole interior has been redesigned, with a new fascia and centre console. Drivers now get a TFT screen rather than traditional dials, as well as the now widespread push button start. Even the seats have been redesigned for further comfort and all occupants get some rather funky mood lighting. As you'd expect, the Land Rover LR4 is great to drive and looks better than its predecessor, but isn't different enough to upset the set-in-stone Land Rover fans. It has a few annoying traits, such as the doors that never seem to close without a hefty slam and a boot that never seems to be shut no matter how many times you slam it, but oddly it always is.
The centre console screen isn't easy to use on the move and the key is far too heavy and chunky (a common trait across the industry). But all these are insignificant things that won't stop anyone buying one. Its rivals tend to have a longer list of problems, so no one at Land Rover will be losing any sleep over my gripes anytime soon. On the plus side, the car feels incredibly strong, ruggedly built, but importantly far more luxurious than the old LR3. It's nimble when you need it and quiet and refined when you want to relax. Hit the throttle and it drops its quiet demeanour and sets off like a scalded cat. I'm still not sure if it can be called a Disco anymore here in the Gulf region, but it certainly seems to want to dance when politely asked.