Land Rover Discovery review

Our Rating: 
4
4.0/5.0
2009 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

Luxurious Land Rover Discovery is fantastic all-rounder that's big, bold and brilliant to drive on and off-road

For: 
Very capable off-roader, soothing ride, high quality
Against: 
High running costs, noisy at high speeds, feeling its age

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The Land Rover Discovery is a giant in the full-size SUV sector. It blends some of the iconic Defender's agricultrual, go-anywhere abilities with the class and dignitiy associated with the Range Rover.

It's getting on a bit now though. The current Discovery can trace its roots to the Discovery 3 of 2004, and despite revisions and improvements (with the Discovery 4 and the current car, known simply as Discovery), rivals have caught and past the British war horse. 

There's only one engine and gearbox available – a 3.0-litre diesel and an eight-speed auto – but there's still plenty of trims including two special editions. Launched at the end of 2015, Graphite and Landmark come with extra kit for not a lot of extra cash and mark the first ringing of the death knell.

A new Discovery will be revealed in late 2016 for launch in 2017. It'll trade some of the current Discovery's boxy looks for something more aerodynamic and in keeping with other newer Land Rovers like the smaller Discovery Sport and Range Rover Evoque, but Land Rover promises it'll lose none of its off-road prowess.

Our Choice: 
Discovery SE Tech SDV6

It's obvious that the Land Rover Discovery sticks to the same tried-and-tested formula that's worked for many years. The current car can trace its roots way back to 2004 and the previous-gen Discovery 3, but despite the aged platform a constant series of upgrades mean the Discovery is still at the top of its game - and despite younger rivals pipping it for running costs, reliability and handling, it can still compete with the best that the full-size SUV class has to offer.

Overall, the Discovery’s design hasn’t changed for 2015 – instead, Land Rover has turned its attention to the interior, upgrading the specification. The in-car tech isn’t as clever as the XC90’s, but the brand’s new £350 InControl option allows you to use apps on your Apple or Android smartphone via the in-car screen. On the mid-range SE Tech model there’s also sat-nav, parking sensors, cruise control, DAB and Bluetooth. 

The fourth-generation Land Rover Discovery may well be the ultimate all-rounder. It mixes a relaxing driving experience with a pair of punchy diesel engines and a cabin that boasts luxury car quality with lots of space and seven seats.

Oh, and it's also one of the most capable off-roaders on the planet. It isn't cheap and not sporty to drive like a BMW X5, plus there are doubts over reliability, but this is the Swiss Army knife of cars.

Engines, performance and drive

4.2
Discovery is smooth and refined on the road and stunningly adept off it

The Land Rover Discovery has a single 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbodiesel on offer, with a healthy 252bhp on tap. This makes the Discovery good for 0-60mph in just 8.8 seconds. 

The standard eight-speed auto is a big help to the car's on-road performance. Shift paddles allow you to take manual control of the box, but these seem surplus to requirements as the electronics do a good job of keeping you in the right ratio most of the time.

The soft chassis set-up on the air-suspension model makes for incredible long-distance comfort, but the Disco’s weight and height mean the body rolls heavily in corners, even at moderate speeds. There's quite a bit of wind noise, though.

Venture off the beaten track, and the Discovery demonstrates another level of ability; it’s fantastic. Simply raise the air-suspension to off-road mode and switch the Terrain Response system to the relevant conditions, and the electronics optimise the 4WD system to suit the terrain. There are centre and rear diff locks, low-range gears and plenty of hi-tech electronics designed to keep you going. You’re likely to lose your nerve before the Discovery gets stuck.

If you do head off-tarmac, then there are some options available that are designed to help you on your way. Wade Sensing checks the depth of water you’re fording, while the surround camera system relays images from four cameras, whether you’re on or off the road.

MPG, CO2 and running costs

2.5
Boxy shape and heavy weight means the Discovery isn't cheap to run

With a kerbweight of around 2,500kg and permanent four-wheel drive, there is only so much a diesel engine can do. Land Rover claims 36.7mpg (for the Discovery SE) – in the real world it should return around 30mpg.

It posts emissions of 203g/km, which when compared with the likes of the BMW X5 xDrive30d, is quite disappointing. If you compared the BMW in entry-level SE trim to the Discovery SE, the BMW manages much better figures – 47.9mpg and just 156g/km of CO2. Tyres will be expensive to replace and servicing will also be pricey.

For private buyers, depreciation of between 51 and 57 per centis excellent for such an expensive and aging car, although this is offset by higher servicing costs than for the Toyota Land Cruiser.

Interior, design and technology

4.2
Discovery still cuts a dash on the road blending utilitarian qualities with style, but technology is behind rivals

Constant evolution has kept the Land Rover Discovery looking fresh, although it’s helped no end by the distinctive, simple lines that give it a timeless appearance.

The tall bonnet, big headlight clusters and bright silver grille mean you’ll definitely see this SUV coming in your rear view mirror, and together with the expansive glass windows, chunky arch extensions and sills, plus massive 20-inch wheels, the Discovery looks imposing.

There are lots of traditional Land Rover design features, such as the clamshell bonnet and split tailgate, that add some extra visual impact and practicality, but overall, the look is more biased towards its off-road roots, hinting at this car’s considerable go-anywhere ability.

Like the exterior design, the Discovery’s cabin is more utilitarian than the rival Volvo XC90’s, but all of the gadgets are nicely integrated nonetheless. The infotainment screen is smaller and the graphics have a lower resolution – it takes longer to respond to your inputs than the Volvo’s tablet as well, but the familiarity of the system means it’s easy to use.

There's plenty of models to choose from. Entry-level 'SE' comes with air suspenions with Land Rover's clever Terrain Response system, auto lights, 19-inch alloys and rear parking sensors.

For leather trim, you'll have to go for 'SE Tech' which also adds roof rails, xenon headlights, front parking sensors, sat-nav, heated front seats, a 380W Meridian sound system with 11 speakers. Special Edition 'Graphite' comes with a heated rear window, a heated windscreen and graphite-coloured exterior trim and alloys.

'HSE' comes with plusher, Windsor leather seats which are heated in the front and in the back, a 12-way electric driver's seat and eight-way electric front passenger seat, an electrically-adjustable steering column, walnut trim, timed climate control, mood lighting, keyless entry, an electric sunroof, a parking camera and 20-inch alloys.

'Landmark' is the second special edition – and like most Land Rover specials, it packs extra kit for not much cash. In fact, it's based on the range-ropping 'HSE Luxury' trim but is nearly £4,000 cheaper and comes with softer leather seats, 825kW Meridian sound system, rear entertainment pack, digital TV and Windsor hide covering the top of the dashboard and armrests. There's also a haul of Landmark badges for the exterior and a colour palette of just five colours including a new, unique copper shade called Zanzibar.

For a proper, business workhorse there's also a commercial variant with five seats and van-like panels instead of the rear windows. 

Overall the Discovery’s build quality still feels robust and up to anything you can throw at it, mixing refinement and sturdiness nicely.

The car feels more upmarket than the Toyota Land Cruiser and has a more modern design, while the fit and finish are first-class. There’s a premium feel to all of the switchgear and comfortable seats in all three rows.

Practicality, comfort and boot space

4.6
Big car on the outside – big on the inside. Discovery is also a proper seven-seater

You get a fantastic raised seating position and a first-class cabin. The dashboard has a luxurious mix of leather, wood and soft-touch plastics, plus big chunky air vents. There's lots of room for driver and passengers while hi-tech gizmos like the dual-view centre console screen are desirable. Other options include a set of five cameras that can help you negotiate tight spaces, whether you're in the middle of nowhere or a multi-storey car park.

The two-part tailgate opens to reveal a 543-litre boot, while the lower section doubles up as a handy seat. It also creates a flat boot lip to help loading. The Discovery’s split tailgate is a nice touch, and provides somewhere to sit on family days out, but it’s also quite tall, so you’ll have to lift luggage high to load the boot up. Also, with it down it’s hard to reach in from the outside to put the back seats up. 

The manual seat-folding mechanism is clearly labelled and simple to use, although the rearmost seats are a bit heavy. Once up there’s lots of room, despite tight shoulder space, and two adults could easily sit in the back for a long journey.

Passenger space in all three rows is superb, with lots of headroom and storage, while the large glass area and three sunroofs give an airy feel. Getting in and out is easy, thanks to the Access suspension mode, which lowers the car by 5cm from normal driving height.

Reliability and Safety

3.3
Discovery has never scored well in Driver Power surveys, with owners complaining about disappointing reliability

Land Rover is a perennially poor performer in our Driver Power satisfaction surveys, and its 2015 result proved no different. It ranked as the 29th brand out of 32, while its dealer network’s performance was consistent with this, finishing 28th in our most recent poll.

As the Discovery has been on sale for more than 10 years now, most problems should have been ironed out – the Mk4 model tested here was voted the 68th best car to live with in our Driver Power 2015 top 200. Owners praised its ride quality and practicality. However, the results also show reliability can be patchy.

With one more airbag than the XC90, the Land Rover should be safe. As it’s basically unchanged from the Mk3 model, the last Euro NCAP crash test was back in 2006, where it received four stars overall. Bear in mind the assessment has changed a lot since then, but safety kit has been upgraded to include more airbags, as well as ESP, blind spot warning and reverse traffic alert. So although the Discovery can’t match the Volvo’s long list of hi-tech features, it should be reassuring.

Warranty 

The Discovery comes with a three-year unlimited mileage warranty which also includes a three-year paint warranty and six-year anti-corrosion warranty. Land Rover dealers also offer an extended warranty too for extra peace of mind. 

Servicing 

Land Rover offers a number of service packs costing from £499 helping owners keep on top of their costs. However, Land Rove dealers aren't partiuclarly well-known for their great service according to our Driver Power survey. 

Last updated: 4 Jul, 2016