Buying light vans used to be a pretty easy affair once upon a time – there was the Ford Escort van, Vauxhall Astra van or those weird-looking foreign things. Not exactly rocket science, was it?
Nowadays there are vans for every conceivable purpose – and even vans which appear to serve no purpose at all.
The market really became complicated with a change in the law back in 2000 that allowed double cab pick-up trucks to be classed as commercial vehicles as long as they had a one-tonne payload.
This signalled a new-launch frenzy in which a host of macho 4x4s suddenly appeared.
It didn't take canny fleet car drivers long to realise that they could opt for, say, a Mitsubishi L200 4life and pay just £110 a year benefit-in-kind tax and sales of these vehicles took off. Manufacturers had found another niche and it wasn't long before commercial versions of all the major off-roaders were launched too.
Fleet drivers trying to fiddle the taxman out of a wad of cash are of no concern here, but a fortunate by-product of these shenanigans is that now, van fleets have the option of purchasing a whole new range of stylish yet practical load luggers. And when it comes to stylish off-roaders, none comes with more panache than Land Rover – which brings me nicely round to the van on test here, the Discovery Commercial.
At first glance, the untrained eye would not even realise this vehicle is a van – the only giveaway is the darkened state of the rear windows. This fact in itself makes a good case for the Discovery in fleet terms – a senior company official could, say, attend a meeting in it and not feel he or she is letting the image of the company slip by rumbling up in a van.
At £19,242 ex-VAT, the vehicle sits midway between the likes of the Daihatsu Fieldman TDL at £13,495 and the Mitsubishi Shogun LWB at anything between £24,587 and £27,087. But in my opinion, neither of these vehicles have the cachet of the Land Rover badge.
Massive, stately and stylish – words that sum up all Land Rover products and certainly the Discovery.
Our test model was set off a treat with a snazzy set of alloy wheels (options range between £130 and £370 depending on style) but I did wonder how long the spare would last in my theft-ridden part of the world, held on as it is with just three studs.
Plastic bumpers are massive and all wheelarches feature plastic protectors so there should be little chance of suffering annoying bumps and scrapes. Two grab rails on the roof look good and will hold a roof rack, while the huge rear bumper incorporates a shelf at the top for helping slide in awkward loads. A folding footstep adds to the practicality.
A host of other paid-for options are available.
In the front
Climbing aboard, the cab is very much as you'd expect from a Land Rover – massively built, with sturdy switchgear and grabhandles everywhere for when the going gets tough.
Standard equipment includes driver's airbag, pre-tensioning seatbelts, remote central locking with alarm and immobiliser, high security door locks and collapsible steering column.
Seats are solid and comfortable but the intrusion from the full bulkhead meant the driver's seat didn't go back far enough to house my 6ft 3in frame in comfort. Luckily, the steering column is height adjustment so I just about slotted in behind the wheel. There are a variety of storage places, including document shelves right across the ceiling, but the radio/cassette player appears to be one of those nasty bargain basement ones you often find in vans.
In the back
The tailgate opens towards the offside to reveal a good square loadbay with wipe clean plastic floor containing six load-lashing eyes. The awkward spaces at the sides between the rear wheel arches and rear door posts are filled with two large lidded bins and there are two nets in the ceiling for odds and ends, together with two ceiling lights. Load volume measures two cubic metres, on a par with the Mistubishi Shogun SWB, but payload is 680kg, on a par with the Shogun LWB.
On the road
The Discovery Commercial is powered by Land Rover's five-cylinder 2.5-litre turbodiesel powerplant, offering 138bhp and 220 lb-ft of torque. It's a real smoothie and not at all rattly like the diesels of old.
The driving position is high, giving a good view all round, and under way the Discovery doesn't seem to pitch and roll on corners as one might expect.
Of course being a Land Rover, its off-road capabilities are legendary. Most fleets won't ever need to use this facility to its full – as indeed I didn't during my test week. But ask anyone in the know and they'll all put LR at number one in the mud-plugging charts.
Power steering is not exactly the lightest on the market, but then you wouldn't expect it to be with a vehicle like this. Its macho stance fits a heavier steering and the whole thing seems to work fine. Standard features include permanent four wheel drive, four channel ABS brakes and electronic traction control - what more could you ask for in a van?
Warranty is three years/unlimited mileage.
It is not just fleets with an off-road need who should consider this vehicle for inclusion on the list – its upmarket badge means the Discovery will say a lot of positive things about the image of a company. Its credentials are rock solid, its pedigree second to none and its performance capabilities are unsurpassed. Need I say more?
Discovery 4wd 2.5 Commercial fact file
Price (£): £19,242
Engine (cc): 2,495
Power (bhp): 136
Torque (lb-ft): 220
W'base (mm): 2,540
Load length (mm): 1,700
Load width (mm): 1,130
Load height (mm): 1,080
Load vol (cu m): 3.0
GVW (kg): 2,800
Payload (kg): 680
Tow wt (kg): 3,500