If you can see it, there is a good chance the Land Rover Discovery can drive over it. A mountain. A desert. A hippopotamus. A slightly raised curb. The Discovery makes light work of them all. There is nothing ‘pretend’ about the Discovery. Its most modern interpretation may well be more frequently seen on the driveway of footballers than on the side of Snowdonia, but make no mistake, ignoring the path more followed is in this car’s blood. But then, it’s built by Land Rover, so it would be.
The Land Rover Discovery was launched in the late ’80s (yes, it’s really that old). It was designed to bridge the gap between the utilitarian Defender and the rather expensive Ranger Rover. The Discovery was designed to be a perfect blend of the two. It would be rugged, it would be ready for anything, but it would also be a pleasant thing to drive. Unlike any Defender, which will rattle your teeth out of your head.
Some real thought clearly went into the development. Land Rover could have phoned it in, and just put some softer springs and leather seats into a poor facsimile of the Defender, but it didn’t. The Range Rover had proven that there was a market for a premium 4×4. However, the Range was too premium. As such, many people had to look from the sidelines. The Discovery changed that.
The Discovery erred on the side of the Defender to begin with in terms of fit and finish. It was only available in three-door, it was only available with cloth trim and hard plastic. Land Rover knew the Discovery was good, but it also knew there was no known market for it. Basically, Land Rover was taking a chance, so it made sense to play it safe with the spec. If it appealed to farmers, then at least they would get some sales.
It didn’t appeal to farmer though. It appealed to everyone. And with that, Land Rover showroom were soon full of curious customers who wanted to take the plunge and buy a 4×4. The Land Rover name brought with it a reassuring sense of never being being stuck. It was tough and rugged. And as buyers, we liked that.
As the sales increased, Land Rover increased and improved the specification of the Discovery. Leather trim, a better boutique of electronics, metallic paint, alloy wheels – the kind of stuff that looks good on your driveway – all made it to the Discovery, as did two more door to make it a properly practical family car.
And it really was. It was big, comfortable and boasted a massive boot. You could even specify extra fold-up seats in the rear to make it a seven-seater. The driving position was commanding, and thanks to huge swathes of glass, visibility was excellent.
Of course, the true test for any 4×4 is its on-road ability. The Discovery was based on the chassis a drivetrain of the Range Rover. This meant it was supple and smooth. Okay, so body-roll was a feature, too, but then it is 23 foot tall. You’re going to get a bit of roll. But that’s the sacrifice you make, and it’s worth it, because the chassis is also brilliant off-road. Not good, not adequate, not passable. Brilliant.
Engine-wise, and because it was given Ranger Rover underpinnings, there was of course a V8 option. With fuel injection, it kicked out 184bhp which, frankly, isn’t enough for a V8. It certainly wasn’t enough grunt to justify 17mpg. If you do want one, go for the TD5 diesel. It’s torquey, which is good in the mud, and it can get 25-30mpg depending on how you drive. Plus, the TD5 came with a manual ‘box, which again is handy off road.
Going back to the ride, the Discovery was fitted with the brilliantly-names ACE, which stands for Active Control Enhancement. It was standard kit on the XS and ES models, though optional elsewhere. It’s not a revolutionary system, and you do still get body-roll, but nothing like what you’ll find in Discovery without it. So yeah, make sure you have it.
Another thing you need to have when buying a Discovery is a willingness to go under it. These suckers rot for fun, but what else would you expect from a British car? When looking, don’t just have a prod about for holes, look for dodgy repairs, too. They’ll only come back to bite you.
Mechanically, the Discovery is pretty tough. Most of them have done mega miles, which is testament to how reliable they can be. For this budget, don’t be surprised to be looking at something with north of 150,000 miles. But at the same time, don’t be put off if it has a decent wedge of history to go with it, too.
The Discovery was, and always will be a popular weapon. As such, they have held their value reasonably well. As such, you’re going to be looking at a year 2000 second-generation model. If you’re really lucky, you might get a face-lift version, though it’ll probably be a bit leggy so best to go earlier.
And once you’ve got it, you’ll be set. There is a GARGANTUAN aftermarket for the Discovery, both in therms of keeping them on the road and modifying them to be even more rugged. You can build a Discovery into whatever you want it to be. And you should, because the Discovery is rather great.