Last of the line and best of the breed – that’s the verdict on the final version of the old Land Rover Discovery. The Series II brought the curtain down on a family 4x4 that had defined the sector when it debuted in 1989.
Having been replaced by the all-new Discovery 3 last year, the previous-shape Series II’s improved build quality and updated looks echo those of the current range – and its Land Rover badge is more prestigious than ever.
Run-out models are loaded with extras, and the Td5 turbodiesel is a proven and reliable unit. Less practical is the thirsty petrol V8-powered car.
ENGINES: there's only one diesel, and the Td5 is noisy from cold, but quiet on a run. Head gasket failures are not unknown; make sure high-milers have had their cambelt changed. While 184bhp V8 is rare, it’s also characterful – if you’re happy to forfeit economy.
CENTRE CONSOLE: run-out Discovery II came loaded with extras. Make sure heated seats, sat-nav, dual-zone climate control and Harman Kardon hi-fi all work. Mechanical aids such as the ACE system also need to perform quietly and effectively.
SEATS: for a big car, the interior is cramped and legroom is compromised in the back. The optional fold-out seats can stick, and it’s well worth getting all likely users to test the chairs. Access to the high cabin through the narrow rear doors can be awkward.
GEARBOX: oil seal failures, lost gears and very stiff selection issues from cold require serious attention, especially on manual transmissions. Delve into the service history to check records for possible gearbox repairs or replacement.
CHASSIS: beneath this body lies a serious off-roader with permanent four-wheel drive, adjustable rear air-suspension and a raft of electronic driver aids. It has high and low gearbox ratios, plus a central-locking diff option, too. Check the warning lights on start-up.
May 2002: Series II relaunched with 700 changes. Choice of E, ES, XS and GS trim, all with imperious off-road ability. Centre-locking differential returns as an option.
Oct 2002: Metropolis limited edition arrives, with special Java Black paint and safari lamps.
Oct 2003: Metropolis reintroduced with sat-nav, DVD and an automatic gearbox.
June 2004: G4 Challenge special edition arrives, based on GS Td5 seven-seater.
Late 02-reg Series II models are the most affordable, with GS autos costing from £14,490 at main dealers.
Self-shifters carry a premium of at least £1,000, while 03 and 04-reg ES versions start from £16,000. A range-topping ES Premium is around £21,000.
These prices are all for the Td5 diesel – V8s are rare, but cost £1,000 less. Seven-seaters are up to £900 extra.
What to look for
Build quality had started to improve under BMW ownership, and continued to do so when Ford took over in 2000, but the Discovery is still not perfect.
Check for leaks through ill-fitting sunroofs and door seals. As the full-size spare wheel is attached to it, there is a lot of weight on the side-opening rear door, so make sure it doesn’t drop when swung wide, and examine the hinges. Most examples will have ventured off-road, so look for scratched paint, plus compacted mud and minor dings. Also, check that the gears change smoothly and the transmission operates quietly.
Jonathan Mills, who is self-employed and lives in Lancaster, has a 2003 03-reg Discovery ES Td5 automatic.
“The car drives really well, even on twisty back roads,” he explained. “It’s fitted with the optional centre-lock diff, which really comes into its own when off-roading. There have been no mechanical problems with my Discovery during 20 months of ownership.”
The Series II was a strong seller until its replacement by the all-new Discovery 3, and it’s easy to see why; this machine is unbeatable off-road and decent enough on it. The run-out models even wear the latest family face.
There’s more standard kit and the option of seven seats in this generation, while handling is improved if Active Cornering Enhancement (ACE) is fitted. The diesel engine is noisy and slow compared with rivals, although it can return 27mpg if used gently. With its relaxed road manners, good image and all-round practicality, the Discovery still has a loyal following. We like the unfussy but bold styling, seven-seat option, towing ability and Harmon Kardon stereo. Watch out for off-road damage, notchy manual gearbox, main dealer service costs and cramped second row of chairs on seven-seaters...
Apr 2003: Throttle can stick on V8s built in February and March 2003.
Mar 2004: Fluid leak can lead to failure of service brake in ABS cars made from October 1998 to December 2003.
Mar 2004: Throttle can stick open on cars built from January to March 2003.
Aug 2004: Fuel line may chafe, causing leak on Td5s manufactured from June 2001 to April 2004.