Surely its a sign of getting older, but can it really be 25 years since the launch of the Land Rover Discovery? Many will remember the advert with “Johnny Foreigner” on a snow-mobile curious to see what the mound is under the white blanket of snow at the top of a mountain. Rubbing the snow away with a mitten clad hand he reveals the iconic green oval badge – The Discovery had got there first!
Just as the Range Rover that was launched almost 20 years earlier, the Discovery seemed to find and create its own niche in the market place. Almost as capable as a Defender in the Dales yet roomy and fashionable enough to have that wow factor on the Kings Road, the Disco has furrowed its own path in life. Its been a 25 year journey of both revo and evo-lution and although it’s a much plusher and refined machine with a price tag to match featuring some breathtaking technology thrown in for good measure, it is still a vehicle for every occasion or situation.
My earliest recollections of the Discovery go back to not long after the launch. My manager at the time went away on holiday and I was left “car sitting” a five door turbo diesel. The temptation to go digging in the dirt was too much for a young man with a passion for cars. Late one night myself and a friend found some land where a large factory once stood that was perfect for off roading. Mud banks, rubble hard-core, unkempt grass and almost knee-deep water cemented my respect for the Discovery that remains to this day.
The original design with its trendy Terrance Conran designed interior was functional if not a mix of whatever parts the cash strapped Rover Group under B.A.E incumbency could call upon. Headlights for example shared from vehicles like the Seddon Atkinson truck range and Freight Rover Sherpa, column stalks lifted from the evergreen Metro – even the rear light clusters were similar to those fitted onto the Maestro commercial van. During the mid 90s Discovery gained a new fascia and some minor styling revisions along with improved diesel engines, a redesigned gearbox with a fleet special 2.0 tax break model featuring Rovers 16v T series engine.
As the 90s progressed under BMW ownership, a massive re-engineering programme took place with the end result becoming the Discovery Series 2. Out went the Land Rover 300 series TDi engine with its roots going back decades and in came an all new five cylinder 2.5 litre turbo diesel with an extra 4.6 V8 petrol option. Almost every body panel was new despite the overall silhouette being instantly recognisable. Gone were the powder coated door handles that graced past cars like the Morris Marina or Lotus Esprit – this new Discovery featured a level of build quality that was more in line with its premium price tag.
Under Ford stewardship, the Discovery 3 was launched in 2004 that featured a new yet still recognisable shape and a departure from the Land Rover engine ranges. Power now came from Ford and Jaguar in V6 / V8 petrol and V6 diesel format. A new electronic terrain response system replaced the manual levers with sleek, efficient push button controls though the patented Hill Decent Control remained albeit in improved form. Front and rear air suspension with adjustable trim height made sure the underbelly would be better protected when running off the beaten track. Discovery 4 was a much updated development launched a few years back with vastly improved steering and an eight speed gearbox.
A personal Land Rover milestone came when I purchased an approved Discovery 2 Td5 XS edition. My other half had been used to driving her immaculate Renault Cabriolet until this point and she adapted to the sheer bulk of the Java black Discovery like a Duck to water. We never tired of drawing the curtains every day to be greeted by our very own black beauty – even if it did block most of the morning sunshine. The car became surplus to requirements following a change of her job and I still to this day remember consoling her – she was crestfallen and heartbroken to see it go and we both still miss it deeply!
A number of my personal friends own Land Rover products from brand new Range Rovers to well used Defenders. A work colleague once told me of an illness called “Ovalitis” – the inexplicable passion for Warwickshire produced four-wheel drive vehicles that many owners contract upon first contact – this may sound funny but it’s strangely true. So without trying to be too biased, how does the modern-day Discovery cope with everyday life and of course every hazard and situation you can throw at it? Jaguar Land-Rover very kindly loaned AUTOBRITANNIA a Discovery SDV6 HSE and – we came away alarmingly impressed.
Despite a quarter of a century passing between the original 200TDi example and this bang up to date 2014 SDV6 HSE, the bloodline and pedigree is there for all to see – they’ve made a terrific job of the latest Discovery.
New revisions include updates to the audio system, a new grille, less cheesy looking front headlamps, a new bonnet badge now depicting the word Discovery, subtle black/silver power unit badges to the leading edges of the front doors. The most obvious change is the deletion of the 4 series badge on the tailgate, from now on in the UK, the car is simply known as the Land Rover Discovery. One thing obvious from the outset is the impressive stature of the car. Despite a quarter of a century passing between the original 200TDi example and this bang up to date 2014 SDV6 HSE, the bloodline and pedigree is there for all to see – they’ve made a terrific job of the latest Discovery.
First impressions are, well… impressive and I shall make no excuses for saying that the new revised Discovery is a hulk of a car. It’s visually imposing and standing well over six feet tall – certainly stands out from the crowd. The premium price comes with a genuine premium feel with neat precise shut lines and the test car came with a very nice “Indus Silver” paint job. Pretty much everything about it is big – large door handles, mirrors and lamp units continue the size theme. Even with the active air suspension in “access mode” whereby it gently lowers by a few inches, shorter people may find gaining entry slightly challenging – but worth it.
Once inside, you are treated to a commanding view ahead and the bonnet edges are visible which is a major plus when manoeuvring in close spaces. Hard wearing carpet with rustic feeling heated leather seats adorn the spacious saloon, they electrically move in every direction but sideways in the front. The doors close with a “whump” surprisingly easy considering the weight and subconsciously add that extra feeling of security. All the controls fall to hand, there is a lovely hand stitched leather steering wheel that’s just the right thickness in the rim and the huge centre console could almost double as a mantelpiece.
As you would expect there is a dual zone climate control system that’s sports something you don’t often find on many modern cars – face level vents that actually provide more than enough heated or chilled air to your upper body. Below the heating system is what at first seems to be confusing plethora of buttons and rocker switches. These are the controls for the four-wheel drive and suspension and once you spend a moment looking at them – it’s actually all very simple to reckon with. Select your suspension height setting, dial in the terrain you plan to traverse and if in true Billy Ocean style, the going gets tough – select high or low gear range!
Long gone are the spindly Bake-O-Lite transfer knobs and levers of Landies of old, in the new digital era the Discovery is all about technology, but for people like me who still think in feet and inches in an analogue 33rpm world – its technology that’s easy to work. Every whistle and bell is provided including a stunningly decent Meridian audio system with DVD and D.A.B function, all round security cameras, panoramic roof and a very efficient Sat-Nav with a lovely voice that sounds very much like Joanna Lumley. Security cameras I hear you say? You hear correctly!
…wade sensing and selective terrain four-wheel drive system result in stress free and effortless off-roading. And yet when you choose to glide along the motorway or admire your reflection in the Kings Road windows, the Disco mixes it with the City slickers.
At the press of a button you can call up live images of all four corners and the front wheels which sounds odd yet amazingly handy when trying to avoid hidden boulders or shopping trolleys. Not only that but there is even a display setting on the dash advising you of water depth via a function that Land Rover simply call “wade sensing” – a neat idea that was well and truly put to the test. The camera functions allied to the wade sensing and selective terrain four-wheel drive system result in stress free and effortless off-roading. And yet when you choose to glide along the motorway or admire your reflection in the Kings Road windows, the Disco mixes it with the City slickers.
The refinement during any type of task you give it is nothing short of outstanding. Gear changes and kick-down action from the ZF 8 speed gearbox are both seamless and almost instant and when in low ratio mode, the throttle pedal takes on a longer travel to avoid lurching and uncomfortable pitching. Despite the kerb weight being over 2.5 tonnes, it never feels too bulky or ungainly through your fingertips. The much improved steering feel has virtually banished the arcade game lifeless sensation but equally so, off-road steering kick back doesn’t threaten to sprain your wrist either.
General road holding on the black top is quite good when taking its height into the equation and there is plenty of grip on offer
Braking comes from all round vented discs with traction control, ESP and virtually every other technical abbreviation known to mankind and they have perfect progression too. I also noticed that even after wading through almost 3 feet of water that was contaminated with silt, mud and ash, once back on Terra-firma the brakes remained sure-footed with heaps of power in reserve. Thanks to its well-developed all round air suspension, the Discovery rides in a fashion that would embarrass many a luxury car. Its well damped, remains almost magic carpet smooth even over rutted roads and during some spirited ploughing off the main roads – it’s just brilliant and well controlled… faultless even!
General road holding on the black top is quite good when taking its height into the equation and there is plenty of grip on offer. Sure it rolls and under-steers if provoked through fast bends while sometimes jittering a little bit on a mid apex pot hole but nothing to alarm to driver or occupant. Where it does excel is the comfortable ride and refinement on motorways. Wind and tyre noise are well suppressed – the latter having the clever air suspension to thank. Long journeys are simply munched away and the legal maximum sees the engine burbling away at just under 2000 rpm. Engine noise is never obtrusive and the gutsy 3.0 SDV6 has a pleasant crackle noise under spirited driving.
There are no issues with leg or head room and there is heaps of space for loose change and general clutter. Even the armrest features a roomy cubby box that doubles as a fridge for tinned drinks and there are power sockets in the centre console, rear passenger area and boot. Two extra fold away seats also finished in leather are neatly stowed under the load bay floor and require a simple two action movement to deploy. Quality is pretty good although one or two items of incidental trim such as the pop out coin tray and the plastics around the rear seat air vent console could be much better for the price tag.
So it looks great, drives great and performs great… as a true off-road capable car, has the Discovery gone soft with evolution?
The Discovery made light work of everything it was offered – only tyre limitation on the muddiest of banks stopped the Solihull Trojan in its tracks
We visited Tony Gothard who is a tipper haulier and land reclamation specialist who has operated out of Tilbury power station since the 1960s. He kindly offered us the run of the massive site and its ash pits which also feature a deep lake and every possible type of loose terrain imaginable. If anyone appreciates a solid and well performing off-road vehicle the he`s your man. His usual method of transport is a Ford Ranger that wears a decent set of multi-terrain tyres that give it an almost Moon Buggy appearance. Tony initially thought the Discovery would soon succumb to almost 50 years of Power Station waste that includes some huge 1 in 4 banks of loose surface.
After a moment of pointing out the controls of the Discovery’s HDC and electronic terrain system to Tony, with no prior experience of the latest Discovery he was soon left deeply impressed with the capabilities. The Discovery made light work of everything it was offered – only tyre limitation on the muddiest of banks stopped the Solihull Trojan in its tracks. Tony was left speechless at the patented Hill Decent Control that automatically brakes individual wheels to maintain a perfect crawl down the steepest of slippery gradients.
And yet of course the average Discovery will never see terrain or environments like the aforementioned in its lifetime, but it’s so good to know it has the minerals when required. The impressive capabilities that AUTOBRITANNIA found in a week of truly enjoyable driving along every kind of road and scenario cement my personal affection for an icon of a car that has no direct rival. For sure, the Discovery HSE SDV6 is not cheap, but for a car that you just know you could trust with your life when it matters – it would be hard to put a price on security… Lets all raise a glass to the legend and click here to see a short film depicting Land Rovers quarter century on the road of Discovery!
Many Happy Returns!
AUTOBRITANNIA would like to thank the following for their help with this feature:
Lindsey Dipple at Jaguar Land Rover
Tony Gothard of Gothard Plant Hire & Land Reclamation Tilbury
Andrew Elphick for some of the photography
Land Rover Discovery 3.0 SDV6 HSE
Driveline:3.0 V6 256Ps Turbo diesel & 8 speed ZF 8HP70 automatic gearbox
Suspension: All round self levelling air suspension with terrain response control
Fuel Economy & Co2: 35.3mpg Combined (31.3 on test) 213g/Km – VED band K
Price as tested: £53.750.00 including options
AUTOBRITANNIA RATING? 9/10
The Highs: A car for all occasions – Makes you feel special – Refined – Image – Much improved fuel consumption and V.E.D – Simple to drive and operate – Clever terrain response and electronic four wheel drive – Off road performance Limited only by tyre adhesion – Gutsy and great sounding 3.0 V6 – Plenty of space and storage – Good equipment levels.
The Lows: The sandal wearers and environmentalists wont like you – Some minor quality niggles – Not the easiest car to clean or park – Gaining entry needs practice to keep your dignity – Jealousy of other motorists – Computer / Central monitor type fonts need modernising.