Review and road test of the Land Rover Discovery Series 3 (2004 - 2009)
By Andy Enright
Deep down we always knew that Land Rover were underachieving with the Discovery. If given a clean sheet of paper and a generous development budget, most 4x4 enthusiasts knew that the famous British marque could produce a genuinely world-beating family 4x4 and so it proved. When it was unveiled in late 2004, the Discovery 3 offered a bold new take on a classic theme with radical styling and high tech features packed into a model which spanned a wide range of pricing. As a used buy, Disco 3s are still in very high demand so don't expect any screaming bargains.
Models Covered: 5 door 4x4 2.7 turbodiesel, 4.4 petrol [base, S, SE, HSE]
Say what you will about the old Discovery, but there was always something endearing about it. On virtually any objective calculation, it was way off the pace but the way it had triumphed over considerable adversity was almost Shackletonesque. The Discovery 3 doesn't need to rely on the British admiration for stiff upper lips to do well. It was new from the ground up when launched in 2004 and boasts enough technology and design savvy to punt all of its rivals clean off the map.
The old Discovery had so many facelifts that there was a running industry joke that there were more Discovery variants around than Discoverys themselves. Although this may have engendered a certain exclusivity amongst buyers, it never did much for the Discovery's resale value, which was mediocre at best. Factor in the car's consistently poor showing in customer satisfaction surveys and it was apparent that a radical overhaul was required. With Ford money bankrolling the design process, this was a true 'no expense spared' bid to build the best possible family 4x4. With the Range Rover commanding serious money, there was a huge swath of market for the Discovery to stretch into, charging premium prices for a premium quality product. From the 2007 model year all Disco models were fitted with the Land Rover Watch stolen vehicle tracking system.
What You Get
Unambiguously a Land Rover product, the Discovery looks like a Range Rover from the front and a Freelander on growth hormone from the side - no bad combination. Design director Geoff Upex is proud of his team's work. "Everything you see has been done for a reason. The priority was to give the passengers and driver a superb cabin environment with more headroom and greater comfort. It has big, deep glazing because that provides greater airiness and a better view." Most importantly, it does a good job of refreshing the brand's styling without diluting the look and feel. "
An absolute priority was that nobody could mistake this vehicle for anything else." said Upex. "It had to look modern, bold and distinctive." The Discovery 3 certainly ticks those boxes. Asymmetric styling is a key theme. The rear tailgate is designed in this way and there's an air intake on one side of the car but not on the other. With typical economy, Land Rover claim that's all that was needed. An optional third row of seats was available with fold flat functionality in both the second and third rows giving the Discovery some serious load-lugging abilities.
The designers of the previous generation Discovery managed to perform the neat trick of endowing a vehicle with a huge mass and a substantial footprint with a strangely pokey interior. It was a little like the Tardis in reverse. Fortunately, the current model is far better on this score. It's bigger than the car it replaces with 345mm extra wheelbase to play with and this is reflected inside where occupant accommodation is far more generous. However, some users complain of restricted luggage space when all seven seats are in use.
What to Look For
Somewhat amazingly, the Discovery went in one generation from somewhere near the foot of customer satisfaction surveys to somewhere in the upper half of the table. Much of this is due to far more stringent quality control and more efficient design and construction techniques. That said, this is a far more complex vehicle than its predecessor so if things do go wrong, it can often be beyond the abilities of the handy spannerer to fix themselves.
Therefore it's worth looking for a perfectly stamped-up history. Be careful too if the car you're looking at has a towbar fitted, for this may mean that it has had a hard life dragging horse boxes out of muddy fields. The engines and the transmissions used are robust but expensive to repair if they do go wrong, so watch out for rattles and ensure that all the electrics work perfectly. The Discovery 3 is a favourite target for thieves, so ensure on an HPI check to ensure it isn't a stolen/recovered or an insurance total loss.
Avoid 5-seat versions as most future used buyers will. There have been reports of the electric parking brake jamming on, so check it out thoroughly on the test drive.
(2005 Discovery 2.7 SE approx exc. VAT) A clutch assembly will be around £210, a starter motor around £240 and a radiator around £375, Brake pads will be around £50 for a set of front pads and an alternator should be close to £280.
On the Road
The Discovery 3 marked the end of Land Rover's reliance on BMW for motive power. Out went the Td5 diesel engine and in came the 2.7-litre V6 diesel that Jaguar developed in conjunction with Peugeot. It's doubtful anybody in their right mind will rue that particular trade. This powerplant is constructed from compacted graphite iron (CGI) to ensure outstanding strength, durability and above all, low weight. Because less material is needed to build a CGI engine block, the engine can also be shorter.
For buyers who don't mind splashing out on fuel, there's a 4.4-litre V8 petrol engine. This isn't the 4.4-litre BMW-sourced engine seen in the Range Rover, instead being an enlarged version of the 4.2-litre V8 that's found under the bonnets of some Jaguar models. Tuned to deliver the sort of low down torque that Land Rover owners require, this unit also gets improved dust and water proofing and revised breathing capabilities to allow the Discovery to wade through rivers. It has also been tested at acute angles for serious off road use. All engines feature full time four wheel drive and sprightly on-road performance. The petrol engine is mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox with 'intelligent shift'. This system is offered as an option for the 2.7-litre diesel, a more conventional six-speed manual being fitted as standard to this variant. Fully independent suspension all round and an Integrated Body-frame structure are twinned with air suspension on most models. This is height adjustable to assist entry and exit and to boost ground clearance when off roading.
Guaranteed to provoke curiosity is Land Rover's patented Terrain Response system. This is virtually akin to having an expert sitting alongside you, helping to get the best out of the vehicle, on or off road. The driver chooses one of five terrain settings via a rotary knob mounted on the centre console. There's a general driving programme plus one for slippery conditions (dubbed 'grass/gravel/snow') and three specialist off road modes (mud/ruts, sand, rock crawl). The system will then automatically select the optimum setup for the electronic controls and the traction aids. This encompasses ride height, torque response, hill descent control, electronic traction control and transmission settings. This sort of joined up thinking is virtually impossible to implement from anything but a clean slate and is one of the most impressive attributes of the Discovery 3.
Few cars improve so radically over the course of one generation but the Discovery 3 did exactly that. Used examples aren't as common as you'd expect as owners soon twig that there's nothing out there that gets close to the Disco's on and off road combination, strong image and decent reliability record. It's almost overwhelmingly impressive. Our pick would be a 2.7-litre SE model, but it's hard to choose a duff car. Just don't expect a lot of creature comforts if you're seduced by the cheap price of the entry-level model.
Land Rover Discovery Series 3 (2004 - 2009) review by Andy Enright