February 18, 2020

Class – at a price

If you need all-terrain access and the ability to tow a heavy trailer, chances are that you will be looking at a 4×4 pick-up as your daily driver. The combination of a tonne of payload, a 3.1-3.5 tonne towing capacity and, in a double-cab at least, seating for five, make the pick-up a popular choice.

Of course, as we all know, many pick-up buyers never tackle tough terrain and probably don’t do much towing either. Yet, despite a slight drop in sales figures in 2019, the all-wheel drive LCV remains a relatively big seller.

Of course, those who need all-wheel drive and the ability to tow, don’t have to opt for a pick-up, there remain a small number of 4×4 vans on offer too. Mitsubishi has both the Outlander and Shogun Sport Commercials, while Toyota will sell you a Land Cruiser Commercial in either short or long wheelbase form.

Traditionally, this was also a big market for Land Rover, with many generations of Defender offering load hauling abilities to farmers, construction workers and the military. If you wanted something a bit more luxurious, Land Rover would also convert a Discovery to Commercial specification, removing the rear seats and blanking the rear side windows to create a 4×4 van.

Comfortable

Since the company stopped making Defender a few years ago, its only LCV has been the Discovery Commercial, which is currently available in the latest Series 5 guise. It comes in S, SE and HSE trim levels and this mid-range SE is certainly a very comfortable place to spend the day.

It is a remarkably relaxing vehicle to drive, with the standard air suspension soaking up bumps, yet providing reasonable road holding and handling. The Discovery is equally at home on country roads and motorways, and it is easy to see why it would be high on the shopping list for those with the necessary budget.

There is a sturdy load platform installed in the back, with a mesh-topped bulkhead to protect front seat occupants. The bulkhead leaves space behind the front seats for soft bags or coats and there’s a full width storage cubby beneath the load platform.

That platform can carry around 650kg, in line with competitors from Toyota and Mitsubishi, though the 3.5-tonne towing capacity is ahead of both Land Cruiser and Shogun Sport vans. The Land Rover also comes with constant air suspension, making it possible to lift the body when off-road, but also allowing the back of the floor to be lowered for easier loading.

If you are looking for ultimate off-road ability, there will be few doubts about the Discovery’s credentials. That said, Land Rover had equipped the test van with an optional Advanced Off-Road Capability Pack (£1,125) and an Active Locking Rear Differential (£1,060), making it near unstoppable on the rough.

You get a choice between the test vehicle’s 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel or a 3.0-litre V6. Both come as standard with an eight-speed automatic transmission and full-time all-wheel drive.

You might think that a 2.0-litre engine would struggle with such a big vehicle – the Discovery Commercial tips the scales at almost 2.3-tonnes unladen. However, the four-cylinder engine copes well with the weight, thanks to a powerful 240bhp output and a healthy 430Nm of torque.

There is a little diesel rattle at start-up and if you are accelerating heavily, but otherwise the Ingenium engine is both smooth and quiet. It also returned a realistic low to mid-30s fuel consumption in mixed use.

Certainly, the V6 tops that output, with 306hp, but unless you are constantly towing at full weight, it seems like an unnecessary expense. Talking of which, the Discovery Commercial is what lager purveyor Stella Artois used to call “reassuringly expensive”. With a list price of over £45,000, the options and VAT on this press vehicle take it dangerously close to £60,000.

A company will reclaim that VAT, dropping the price by around £9,000, plus there are big benefits for the business driver, particularly if they are a 40% tax payer. If this was an SUV, a company driver would expect a Benefit-in-Kind value of £19,532. As a commercial vehicle, the Discovery has a fixed BiK rate of £3,430.

The Discovery is not alone in this price sector either, with top versions of Mercedes’ X-Class, VW’s Amarok and Ford’s Raptor among a growing list of pick-ups that can be taken well above £40k if you tick a few option boxes.

So, the Discovery Commercial is not without competition. And perhaps its biggest competitor will be launched later this year, with the return of Land Rover’s own Defender. While no prices have been announced yet, you can expect a Defender 90 Commercial to start at around £35,000 before the VAT.

Until then, the Discovery Commercial remains the best drive in this admittedly small sector, if you can justify the financial outlay.