The British mid-size SUV Land Rover Discovery was an off road-focused vehicle that has been the first choice for Brits looking to tackle the bumpy road less traveled. Keeping the standard British elegance, the Discovery has undergone four generations since its introduction in 1989 and fills the gap between Land Rover's utilitarian Defender and upper crust Range Rover models. The luxury SUV was offered in Europe for several years before being exported to North America.
Codenamed 'Project Jay', Land Rover based the chassis and drivetrain on the more upmarket Range Rover, but priced it much lower to appeal to a larger market segment and was to compete with Japanese models. In the beginning the Discovery was available only as a three-door, but soon after a five-door version was offered. Both versions had five seats, and the option of two further seats that fitted in the trunk. This first generation would be the only generation with four-cylinder engines. The Discovery I rode on a 100.0-inch wheelbase had an overall length of 178.7 inches, a width of 70.6 inches and had a height of 77.4 inches.
Conran Design Group was a design agency hired by Land Rover to design the interior of the Discovery. Their award winning design won high acclaim and was awarded a British Design Award in 1989. Some off-the-wall features like a custom sunglass holder built into the center of the steering wheel didn't make the cut, but other original features were only found on the eye catching Discovery. Most of the interior of the SUV was constructed from 'Sonar Blue' plastic with blue cloth trim, remote radio controls on the instrument cluster, map/magazine holding slots positioned above the windscreen, hand-holds for backseat passenger incorporated into the head restraints of the front seats, twin removable sunroof panels, and a Land Rover-branded cloth fabric hold-all in the front center console for oddment storage that could be removed from vehicle and used as a 'handbag' with a supplied shoulder strap.
The interior basic structure was identical to the Range Rover and most of the switchgear and instruments came from other Rover Group cars like Montego and the Maestro. The outside of the vehicle was also similar to other Rover models, retaining the Range Rover panels and headlights from the Freight Rover van and taillights from the Maestro van.
Initially the Discovery was available with either the 2.5 liter 200 Tdi engine or the 3.5-liter Rover V8 engine. Early on the V8 engines utilized a twin SU carburetor system before moving to a Lucas 14CUX fuel injection system in 1990. The only available engine in the U.S. market was the V8. Dubbed the 2.0 L Mpi I4, a 2.0-liter petrol engine was very briefly offered from Rover in an attempt to appeal to fleet managers since UK tax laws benefitted vehicles less than two liters. This engine didn't last long thanks to a combination of taxes and the engine being underpowered for such a heavy vehicle. This engine was fitted to several Discoveries manufactured for the British Royal Family and was most famously driven by Prince Philip around Windsor Great Park.
The Discovery was modified for 1992 and received a new interior color of a more traditional beige in addition to the flamboyant light blue color. 200Tdi models now offered an automatic transmissions and new colors were added to the Discovery range. Early Discoveries had featured large 'compass and mountain' side decals that disguised wavy panel fit around the rear three quarter windows disappeared this year. Options this year included front driving lights; roof bars, a special range of metallic paints, and the 'SE' pack incorporating alloy wheels. Offered by Land Rover Special Vehicles was a two-seater, three-door Discovery Commercial version that didn't have rear side windows.
Many updates were in store for 1994. The 2.5 L 300TDi 4-cylinder and 3.9-liter Rover V8 engines replaced the 200Tdi and 3.5 L V8 engines and the 300Tdi debuted a Bosch electronic emissions controls for specific models and markets. A more powerful R380 gearbox was fitted to all manual models combined with the flexible cardan coupling GAJ-1 from SGF for more comfort. The modified models sported larger headlamps and a second set of rear lights in the bumper. To meet real or projected European safety legislation the new rear lights had the wiring changed several times. Some models were left with an arrangement where the vulnerable bumpers held only working direction-indicators light, while other examples have these lights duplicated in the traditional rear pillar location.
The original model designers were forced to cut costs by economizing the 200 series from the 'parts-bin' the Rover Company. The basic body shell was taken from the Range Rover, the taillights from the Austin Maestro van, the door handles came from the Morris Marina and the interior instrumentation and switchgear came from the Rover 'parts bin'. 1994 model year would the first time that the Discovery would be marketed in the U.S. and airbags were quickly incorporated into the design of the '95 model to meet U.S. motor vehicle regulations though they weren't fitted as standard in all markets. 95 models sold in the U.S. featured the 3.9-liter V8 engine from the Range Rover SE models before they were switched to the 4.0-liter version of the engine.
The 96-98 U.S. models with 4.0 liter engines had the same displacement as the 3.9-liter engines fitted to earlier '94-95 US models with the only differences between the engines being in modifications to the block rigidity and pistons, and a change from the Lucas 14CUX engine management to the distributor-less GEMS (Generic Engine Management System). Early 3.9 liter US engines featured the fuel injection computer that didn't control the ignition, but instead controlled by a traditional system with ignition coil and distributor made by Lucas. Several important differences with the 4.0-liter engine were the revised pistons, revised intake and the GEMS system and larger, cross-bolted main bearings. This engine was developed by Lucas and SAFEM jointly and controlled both spark and fuel injection. GEMS was made OBD-II compliant unlike the earlier systems fitted to Rover V8 engines. This modification was made because of the 1996 federal requirement for vehicles sold in the U.S. to meet the OBD-II specification.
The transmission in the Discovery is a permanent four-wheel drive system with a locking center differential at the transfer box like all Land Rover vehicles designated since the Land Rover Series that had switchable two-wheel and four-wheel drive. Like most of the range, the handbrake acts on the transmission at the back of the transfer box, locking all wheels when applied.
The Honda Crossroad was a badge-engineered version of the Series 1 produced in Japan. Since the early '80s the Rover companies had cross-holding association with Honda U.K. until 1994 when Rover was taken over by BMW. The nameplate 'Crossroad' was revived by Honda in 2007 for another small sport utility vehicle. Local tax laws in the Republic of Ireland meant that the first ever instance of a Discovery Commercial van was introduced in 1991. Two years later a modified version was launched shorty after the UK market example in 1992. Most of the Commercials up to 2011 were basically tax-exempt and the Irish examples have highly influenced the Discovery's success and high sales there.
In the fall of 1998 the Series II Discovery was debuted in the UK, and would be introduced in the US the following year. The Series II was advertised as having 720 'differences' over the previous series. Less utilitarian looking, both the exterior and interior were modified, though they still looked similar to the previous Series. Except for the rear door outer skin, every body panel was new while the rear body was extended to give more room, unfortunately at the expense of added rear overhang, which effected off-road ability negatively.
The 2,495 cc Td5 was introduced at this time and was smoother and produced more usable toque at lower revs than its 300 Tdi predecessor. This engine is oftentimes mistaken as BMW produced, but was in fact derived from the Rover L-series passenger car engine and developed by Land Rover. The Range Rover P38 Thor 4.0-liter Rover-derived V8 replaced the 3,948 cc V8 petrol version from the Disco 1. The capacity was not increased at all over the previous 3.9-liter engine. Though the engine design was similar, internally the design was quite different and utilized a different crankshaft, had different con rods and pistons and larger bearing journals with cross bolted caps. To accept extra sensors for the Gems and Bosch (thor) injection system, and to the allow the additional stroke of the 4.6 crankshaft the blocks were machined differently. The Discovery Series II switched to the 4.6-liter V8 for 2003 and 2004. The 4.0 continued as the only V8 option available in the UK. Some versions received ACE (Active Cornering Enhancement), which reduced corning roll thanks to an electronically controlled hydraulic anti-roll bar system. Some models received self-leveling air-springs, and European style-approval for seven-seat models were only given for air-sprung cars.
Until early 2001 the locking center differential continued to be fitted, though the linkage to operate it was not attached since Land Rover believed that the traction control and newly developed Hill Descent Control would render it superfluous. In early 2001 the actual locking mechanism was removed before being fully reinstated with linkage in the newly modified 2004 model. The traction control system worked well but didn't have the same level of control and smoothness that other vehicles fitted with a diff lock did. The diff lock controls were fully reinstated on UK/Irish models as a cost option only thanks to customer demands.
Three sub types were offered with the U.S. version; the S, the SE, and HSE, with the last two coming in 7 seat version, SE7 and HSE7. New 'pocketed' headlamps made these modified models easily distinguished from earlier models and matched the Range Rover and updated Freelander models. Other modifications included turns signals moving from the bumper to the high side fixtures and redesigned turn and brake lamps on the rear of the vehicle. It was easy to tell the earlier Series II models from the later models by new paddle door handles, different dimensions and the new location of the stop light fixtures above the window.
Several Discovery II Commercial models were produced by Land Rover Special Vehicles based on the five-door body shell reminiscent of a minivan with opaque windows. Normal vehicles were exported to Ireland where they were had the rear side windows smashed and rear seat destroyed in front of a Revenue official to offer a vehicle that avoided the Vehicle Registration Tax which saved around 40%.
Only two models were in the offerings during the final production run of the Discovery II in the UK market. The base model Pursuit and the top of the line Landmark. The Pursuit still kept its high level of equipment standard, while the Landmark featured a lush all-leather interior, heated windscreen, twin sunroofs and Active Cornering Enhancement six-disc CD player. The Special Vehicles released Commercials featured rear self leveling suspension standard and rendered windows fixed in place on the modified models so while a retrofit of seats is viable, it doesn't offer any big comforts to the backseat passengers unless the doors are almost completely rebuilt to facilitate windows that open, with the help of additional wiring. The final modification of this vehicle came with climate control, a high spec, alloy wheels, roof bars and marine ply boarding with full-length rubber mat in the loading space, all standard features.
The Discovery 3, or LR3 was introduced on April 2, 2004 in North America. Keeping many of the same major features of the Discovery like the steeply-raked windscreen and the stepped roofline, the LR3 designation was chosen for North American markets because of negative quality associations with the Discovery name and an American preference for alpha-number model designations (according to Land Rover). Because of this opinion, the second generation Freelander was also modified for the U.S. market as the LR2.
Land Rover created a body construction method that was marketed as IBF, or Integrated Body Frame. In the method the engine bay and passenger area were constructed as a monocoque, then joined to a basic ladder-frame chassis for the gearbox and suspension. Though it makes for a heavy clumsy vehicle, which compromised agility and performance, Land Rover claims IBF combine the qualities of ladder-frame and monocoque. The LR3 was offered with a rear locking differential.
This series of the Discovery featured FIS; fully independent suspension, like the Series III Ranger Rover, this was an air suspension system that enable ride-height adjustment by simply pumping up or deflating the air bags. When off-roading, this vehicle can be raised or lowered to improve handling and provide ground clearance. 'Cross-lined' air suspension was developed by Land Rover which is the suspension copying the action of a beam axle as one wheel drops, the other rises. The system senses the reduction in load on the air springs and raises the car an extra inch if the chassis contacts the group when the suspension was at its 'off road' height. A coil-spring independent system was available on the base model in both the UK and European markets. Lacking the Terrain Response system, this model was special in the range for only featuring five seats, and only available with the 2.7 liter diesel engine.
All of the engines used in the DR3 came from Jaguar, Land Rover's sister company at the time. Intended to be the biggest seller in Europe was a Ford/PSA-developed 2.7-liter, 195 hp, 440 Nm V6 diesel engine. The high-performance option (and the one for the US market) was a 4.4-liter petrol V8 of 300 hp. Also available in North America and Australia was a 216 hp 4.0-liter SOHC Ford V6 petrol engine.
Brand new on the Discovery 3 were the gearboxes. A six-speed manual transmission was standard for the diesel engine. A six-speed automatic transmission was available as an option and as standard on the V8 engine and both came with a two-speed transfer box and permanent four-wheel-drive. In tough circumstances a computer controlled progressively locking central differential ensured traction was kept, and a similar differential was available to aid traction on the rear axle.
A variety of electronic traction control systems were fitted on the Discovery 3 including 4-wheel Electronic Traction Control (4ETC) which prevented wheel spin in low-traction conditions and Hill Descent Control (HDC), which prevented vehicle 'runaways' when traversing steep gradients. Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) was an on-road system, which eliminated skidding when steering and braking at speed. The DR3 also featured the 'Terrain Response' system, a system that attempted to react to as many difficulties like deep water, tough terrain and steep hills by simply selecting a type on a dial in the cab of the vehicle. The selectable options were 'Mud & Ruts', 'Rock Crawl', 'Sand' and 'Grass, Gravel & Snow'. The on-board computer systems then chose the correct gearbox settings, adjusted the suspension heat, adjusted the differential lock settings and even altered the throttle suspension of the engine depending on the terrain situation. Despite the system, the driver is still able to retain some manual control over the off-road system and is able to select the Transfer Box ration and the suspension height manually, though use of the Terrain Response system is needed to allow full use of the SUV's capabilities.
The DR3 also unveiled a variety of interior and exterior modifications with this series that incorporated a fresh new minimalistic style. On the inside was a flexible seven-seat layout that seated passengers in the rearmost row entering through the rear side doors instead of the tailgate. New features included a DVD navigation system and optional extras like Bluetooth. Just like the Range Rover, this 'infotainment' system in the DR3 adopted an electronics architecture whereby the system's distributed control units pass information and audio amongst one another and throughout the vehicle through optical links based on the MOST fiber-optic automotive networking standard. The navigation system was unique to Rover because in benefits in addition to the typical road map navigation included an off-road navigation and four-wheel drive information mode. When in four-wheel drive information mode the screen displayed a schematic of the car, displaying the angle of the front wheels, the amount of suspensions movement, what gear was selected on automatic versions and the status of the locking differentials and icons showing which mode the Terrain Response was in.
The public loved the DR3 Series, especially with the Terrain Response system, which improved on-road capabilities, and the fresh interior. Jeremy Clarkson from BBC's Top Gear drove a DR3 to the top of Cnon an Fhreiceadain, which was a 1,005 foot mountain near Tongue in Northern Scotland, where no other vehicle had ever before traversed. Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond praised the DR3 as the 'Best 4X4 of all time', and the SUV was awarded '4WD of the Year' by the 4WD press in Australia.
A DR3 was used in the Land Rover G4 Challenge in 2006 alongside the Range Rover Sport. The SUVs used were in standard mechanical form and were fitted with equipment from the standard Land Rover brochures. The Range Rover Sport is based on the Discovery 3 platform instead of the larger Range Rover and is the first all-new model placement since the Freelander. A UK version of the DR3 was produced in August of 2008 that offered an upgrade to the stereo system (Harman Kardon) as standard along with a six CD stacker, integrated steering wheel controls, color-coded bumpers and clear indicator side lights. Unfortunately the Discovery 3 was put on Forbes DARPA driverless edition 'Least Reliable Luxury Cars 2006'. Finishing 4th in the DARPA Urban challenge was a driverless version of the LR3.
Introduced in Gerotek, outside Pretoria, a fiercely decked out version was called Armoured Discovery 3 S with B6 ballistic level of protection. The SUV featured side blast and under floor grenade protection, blast certification, Independent ballistic, uprated suspension, handling and braking system. The engines choice was the 2,720 cc V6 turbo diesel with 5L V8 in 2010 model year and the wheels were fitted with run-flat tyre system.
A modified version of the Discovery 3 was the Discovery 4, or the LR4 in North America. The updated version featured a restyled front grille and bumper to adopt the rounder, smoother style also adapted for the 2010 Range Rover and Rover Sport. It used the same Integrated Body Frame structure and featured altered front and rear light units. The new model kept the body-colored wheel arches and bumpers from its D3 predecessor. LED lamps were housed in both front and rear lamp units, and Optional Daylight Running Lamps could be specified.
Most of the modifications for the new model were mechanicals and two engines were brought over from Jaguar Land Rover's 'Gen III' range. A 3.0-litre development of the 2-7-liter engine used in the D3 was the TDV6 Gen III. The new version sported improved twin-sequential turbochargers where a Variable geometry turbocharger is used at low engine speeds, with a second standard turbo brought online at higher engine speeds. This season pumped out greater output than the older engines by 214 hp, while reducing CO2 emissions by 10%. The Gen III version of the V8 petrol engine develops 385 bhp and 380 lb/ft and is now a 5-liter unit with Direct Petrol Injection.
The ZF six-speed automatic/sequential gearbox was modified and fitted which includes taller gearing to take advantage of the new engines' greater torque output along with an updated lock-up system to further reduce fuel consumption. New more powerful brakes from the Range Rover Sport were added along with thicker anti-roll bars that improved on-road handling. Other technical updates included the electronic handling system updated with the Stability Control System now including a program that detects the onset of understeer and applies the brakes. The D4 kept the previous models fully independent air suspension with cross-linkings when off-road and the twin-range transfer gearbox with an electronic infinitely-variable locking center differential. Just like before a similar locking rear differential can be added.
The Terrain Response system was available once again, and was updated with two new features. The 'Sand' mode boasts a new traction control mode that helps prevent loss of traction when starting off and stopping in soft sand. The 'Rock Crawl' mode received a feature that applies gentle brake pressure at low speed to aid in grip and stability on slick rock. To account for the new engines and gearboxes with their updated engines and gearboxes with their different torque characteristics the system was also 'retuned'. The D4 also now featured Trailer Stability Assist, which can adjust the throttle and brakes to prevent an unsafe swaying trailer.
In Europe the 2.7 liter TDV6 engine was still available on the basic 2.7 GS passenger and 2010 Commercial ranges. This engine came equipped with air suspension and the Terrain Response system unlike the D3 base model while automatic transmission as optional. Available in the GS trim level with automatic transmission was the 3.0-liter Gen III model.
Sporting a brand new revamped interior, the Discovery 4 closely mimicked the new style set by the LR range for 2010. To improve clarity when driving the instrument cluster was updated with the redesigned speedometer and tachometer analogue gauges. A single TFT screen with the power of displaying information in a variety of modes and formats replaced the electronic information display, the analogue temperature and fuel gauges from the its predecessor. The D4 sported a new center console that featured more simplified controls and switches. A new seat design was showcased this year along with a broader range of available interior materials like wood veneer and the highly polished 'Piano Black'. Land Rover's purpose behind these upgrades was to lift the Discovery into a higher market aimed at luxury and executive markets.
The Discovery 4 gained some electronic systems from the Rover lineup like the optional 'Surround Camera Systems' which was a series of cameras nestled in the headlamps, wing mirrors and rear tailgate handle which sent the images to the center console screen to help improve visibility when parking, off-roading or hitching up to a trailer. Other systems aided in efficiency like a 'Smart' alternator that charges the battery when the engine load is low which reduced fuel consumption when the engine is working harder.
Introduced in the summer of 2009, the Discovery 4 went on sale in the U.K. on September 1st of the same year. At the same time a Commercial van variant was released in the UK using the 2.7 engine and available in GS and XS trim levels. Based on the XE 2.7 manual and HSE 3.0 auto engines a Commercial van was introduced in the Republic of Ireland from January 1, 2010. The 2.7-liter engine was dropped for the 2011 model year. Newly available were two versions of the 3.0-liter engine, one called the TDV6 and one called the SDV6, which offered 245 bhp.
Diesel models in Europe for the 2012 model year featured the new eight-speed auto gearbox with steering wheel paddle controls and a circular dial selector that raises upon startup. The new SDV6 engine was uprated to 255 bhp. Both diesel engines featured reduced emissions for European models. The HSE Luxury special edition was introduced during 2010 and was available in both European and North American markets and featured improved trim levels.
An all-new five-seat version of the Discovery 4 was debuted in Ireland in 2010. Classified as an N1 Commercial vehicle, the five-seater attracted lower VRT rates. On the same rules was also a brand new two-seat Commercial. All Irish models arrived with the lower emissions TDV7 engine.
The Land Rover LR4 placed fourth out of five vehicles in a January 2011 comparison test by Car and Driver. The LR4 fell behind the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Acura MDX. Since it was introduced in 2009, the LR4 had continued to win the Auto Express categories of Best Large SUV and Best Towcar.
In March of 2012 the one millionth Land Rover Discovery rolled off the production line in Solihull, Birmingham, UK. In a replica of a 1950s expedition, this vehicle (along with two similar examples) was driven from Solihull to Beijing, China. When the expedition toured Lake Geneva a pre-production Discovery 1 G459 WAC (which had been converted into an amphibious vehicle) joined the expedition, which concluded when the actual Millionth Discovery appeared at the Beijing Motor Show. The vehicle now remains on permanent exhibition at the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust center at Gaydon, Warwickshire, EnglandSources:
By Jessica Donaldson