What's the used Land Rover Discovery 4x4 like?
Square-sided and plush but purposeful, the Discovery of this generation - in fact two generations, as this time period captures two versions, known as the Discovery 3 and the Discovery 4 - stands aside from most of the modern crop of Land Rover products. Even the latest Discovery, launched to much ballyhoo in 2017, is softer and more rounded than this one, and not without some controversial styling touches of its own, where this earlier car is all fit for purpose and ready to rumble.
Indeed, it might be slightly old-fashioned now, but as a large and solid workhorse packed with character, refinement and practicality there's little to touch it, especially if you need a competent off-road car that features seven seats. The Discovery is a genuine 'do-it-all' vehicle. It’s a practical family car that remains relaxing on the longest journeys, yet it’s also capable of tackling terrain that would leave most large SUVs floundering.
It started life with a 2.7-litre V6 diesel of good manners and reasonable efficiency that was replaced by a 3.0-litre engine of even punchier performance and quicker response. There was also a 4.4-litre V8 petrol engine option in the earlier cars, which gave the car smoothness and speed but upped the fuel consumption.
Despite weighing the best part of three tonnes, the Discovery’s suspension manages the car’s mass and height with unerring control. However, don't expect sports car-like levels of roadholding and agility. Ride comfort is everything in this car. Both large and medium-sized intrusions are dismissed with silent disdain, and the Discovery's motorway ride is excellent, thanks mainly to the sheer mass that's moving down the road. Permanent four-wheel drive ensures good traction in all conditions, and there are clever electronic aids to take the stress out of off-roading.
Inside, there are hard, durable plastics among the many soft-touch materials. The driving position is peerless and commanding. The interior design is particularly well thought out, with classy yet hard-wearing materials, room for seven adults (although cheaper versions came with only five seats) and great all-round visibility. The centre console and trip computer look a bit dated and over-complicated and it’s a shame the speedometer is hard to read. Still, with the Disco 4 came a high-grade touchscreen multimedia system that noticeably betters the system fitted to the Discovery 3 in terms of its usability and graphics quality.
Advice for buyers
What should I look for in a used Land Rover Discovery 4x4?
Check that the sunroof frame isn’t cracked, because this happened frequently on Discoverys built before 2007 and a replacement costs almost £1000.
Also, look underneath the car to make sure that there is no damage from off-roading; Discovery drivers are far more likely to head off the beaten track than owners of rival SUVs.
During its long life, the Discovery has been subject to quite a few recalls, making it important to check if any of these are relevant to the model you’re buying – and if so, that the work was actually carried out.
The biggest recall, involving 77,262 Discoverys and Range Rover Sports, affected diesels built between October 2005 and June 2009, when it was found that oil could enter the brake booster or brake vacuum pump, which led to reduced braking performance and increased stopping distances.
What are the most common problems with a used Land Rover Discovery 4x4?
The previous incarnation of the Land Rover Discovery had a woeful reliability record, but this one appeared to do a little better.
That said, it’s not completely without its problems: the air suspension and air compressor have been known to fail.
Some early cars also suffered from electrical and software problems, which produced a range of symptoms including cruise control failure, glitches with the infotainment system and problems with the pre-heat facility for the engine and interior. The electronic parking brake can revert to its failsafe mode, too.
Is a used Land Rover Discovery 4x4 reliable?
Land Rover as a brand has struggled recently in our reliability surveys. In our 2018 survey it actually finished one from bottom in 30th place out of 31 manufacturers. This generation of Discovery obviously didn't figure in this survey, but there were poor finishes in their respective classes for the Range Rover, Evoque and the Discovery Sport models.
What used Land Rover Discovery 4x4 will I get for my budget?
Prices are from around £4000 for the very early 2.7-litre diesel-engined Disco 3 models that have covered large mileages, but we'd recommend trying to spend at least £8000 on a good-condition Discovery. The cheapest, high-mileage 3.0-litre diesels will cost you about £12,000. At the other end of the scale, a 2016 diesel 4 in our favoured HSE spec that has covered an average mileage for the year will set you back just over £30,000. Between lie many and varied Discoverys, in varying condition. Be careful how you buy and where you buy it from, and insist on as much history as you can.
How much does it cost to run a Land Rover Discovery 4x4?
The bad news is that running costs are hefty. The diesels will only nudge just over 30mpg with gentle driving, while the V8 will struggle to better 20mpg. That’s the price you pay for the Discovery’s 2.7-tonne weight and four-wheel drive.
Only insurance gives your wallet some respite. The Discovery is in groups 33 to 42, making it cheaper than both of its aforementioned German rivals.
Which used Land Rover Discovery 4x4 should I buy?
When the current Land Rover Discovery was introduced in 2004, it was known as the Discovery 3 and was available with two engines: a 2.7-litre V6 diesel and a 4.4-litre V8 petrol.
The diesel is the better option and is therefore much more common, even though it’s far from frugal and feels like it could do with a bit more muscle.
This latter problem was solved in 2009 when Land Rover introduced a host of updates, including a 3.0-litre diesel engine. In fact, the changes were comprehensive enough for Land Rover to call the revised car the Discovery 4.
The basic S specification is best avoided, but SE has leather seats, while HSE has all the gizmos and chrome-plated whistles.
Our favourite used Land Rover Discovery: 3.0 TDV6 HSE
What alternatives should I consider to a used Land Rover Discovery 4x4?
Like the Discovery, the Volvo XC90 is a practical, seven-seat SUV that can play the comfortable long-distance cruiser. It doesn’t have the off-road ability of the Discovery, and its diesel engines and interior feel dated. There are lots of XC90s on the used market, though - some for very tempting prices.
The BMW X5 offers different qualities. It’s more enjoyable to drive than the Discovery, with precise steering and agile handling, and the interior is very classy. However, it isn’t as practical, because you couldn’t specify it with seven seats until the second-generation version arrived in 2006, and even then the third row seats were both optional and tiny.
The Lexus RX is also worth considering, despite having numb steering. It’s available as a petrol-electric hybrid, is incredibly well equipped and probably has the best reliability record of any SUV on sale.
For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here
Buy a new car with What Car?
Before you buy, visit What Car?’s new car deals section.
We have discounted deals on most new cars on sale, so you're never far away from finding a new car deal in your area.
It's all based on Target Price, which is the price we think you should pay based on research by our team of mystery shoppers, and the best discounts they can achieve.