Land Rover SUVs are the first choice of England's royals when the need arises for a vehicle gutsy enough to tackle rocks and mud. It's no wonder; in addition to their go-anywhere bravado, Land Rovers offer a uniquely British brand of elegance that feels supremely upper-crust. The Land Rover Discovery, offered in Europe a few years before coming to North America, was created to serve as a bridge between the manufacturer's utilitarian Defender and prestigious Range Rover models.
Unlike today's family-friendly crossovers, the Land Rover Discovery was an old-school luxury SUV that was at its best when pitted against treacherous ravines and vertiginous mountain paths. On-road performance clearly wasn't the primary focus, though on later models, Land Rover made more of an effort to strike a balance between trail-busting capacity and boulevard comfort.
In certain aspects concerning versatility, interior ergonomics and safety, the Land Rover lagged behind its peers. Cargo space was limited, and side airbags and stability control weren't available. Then there was the issue of reliability. Land Rovers of years gone by had a notoriously intimate relationship with repair shops, and the Discovery was no exception. More recent models, though, showed some improvement in this area.
Legendary off-road capabilities and a high level of luxury are the Discovery Series II's best points. But in our opinion, both are overshadowed by the vehicle's faults. Most buyers will probably be better served by competing Japanese or domestic luxury SUVs.
Most recent Land Rover Discovery
The Land Rover Discovery was a two-generation vehicle, and its most recent generation was built from 1999 until the SUV's demise in 2004. (The Land Rover LR3 took its place in the lineup.) Between model years 2000 and 2002, the Discovery was known as the Discovery Series II.
This generation saw a dizzying flurry of trim changes. In 1999, the Discovery was available in two versions: the outgoing generation called the SD and the new Series II. In 2000, the old one was dropped. Model-year 2001 saw another revision; the Discovery Series II could be had in SD, LE and SE models. The LE trim level was dropped in 2002. In 2003, the SUV once again became known simply as the Discovery, and from that point on it was available in base S, SE and top-of-the-line HSE trim levels.
Base-model Discovery models from this generation weren't light on luxury features, offering standard amenities like a CD player, power-adjustable front seats and dual-zone climate control. The nimble Land Rover was also ready to roam the great outdoors, thanks to permanent four-wheel drive, plenty of ground clearance and Hill Descent Control. Active Cornering Enhancement, a hydraulic suspension system that reduces vehicle body lean during cornering, was available, as were a self-leveling rear suspension and third-row seats.
Initially, two 4.0-liter V8s were available, one good for 182 horsepower and 233 pound-feet of torque, and the other for 188 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque. In 2000, the less-muscular V8 was dropped from the lineup. Model-year 2003 saw the introduction of a more potent 4.6-liter V8 good for 217 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. This engine was used to power all Discoverys until the model's retirement. This Land Rover wasn't known for stellar fuel economy. Discoverys powered by the 4.6-liter got a paltry 12 mpg in the city and 16 in highway travel.
Engine changes weren't the only ones experienced by the Land Rover Discovery during these five years. In 2000, the SUV benefited from minor interior upgrades. In 2002, new alloys were added, along with a standard Harman Kardon sound system. The Discovery got revised styling and interior treatments for 2003, and improvements were also made to its steering, brakes and suspension. By 2004, the options list had grown to include a navigation system, rear-seat DVD entertainment system and rear parking sensors.
Top-notch interior materials were the order of the day in the Discovery's cabin. There was ample head- and legroom, but the SUV's narrow proportions resulted in scarce shoulder- and hiproom. Additionally, this Land Rover's cramped doorways and tall stance made entry and exit somewhat of a challenge.
In editorial reviews, the Land Rover Discovery scored high marks for its off-road performance. On pavement, it was plagued by sluggish steering and an overly harsh ride. Ride quality saw some improvement after 2003's refresh, so opt for a 2003 or 2004 model to get a Discovery offering the most competence in this area. Finding a well-maintained and -documented model is probably wise given the Disco's less-than-exemplary reputation for reliability and durability.
Past Land Rover Discoverys
The Land Rover Discovery's first generation lasted from 1994-'99. Standard features included full power accessories, keyless entry and cruise control. A third-row seat and, eventually, a CD player were offered as options. Early Discoverys got their juice from a 3.9-liter V8 good for 182 hp and 232 lb-ft of torque. This engine was replaced by a 4.0-liter V8 in 1996, offering slightly more torque (233 lb-ft) and improved fuel economy. In 1997, the Discovery's interior was upgraded to include burled walnut trim.
Even more so than later models, Discoverys from this generation were prone to reliability issues; on-road ride quality was also quite unforgiving. Given these factors, we'd recommend that those in the used market place their money with one of the SUV's more amenable Japanese competitors. If you're determined to get a first-gen Discovery, opt for the 1996 and '97 versions, with their more frugal engines.