Review and road test of the Land Rover Discovery Series 4 (2009 - 2013)
By Andy Enright
Buying a used 4x4 can often be a fraught process. They're often mechanically complex vehicles that may or may not have lived a very tough life. Obviously it helps if you limit your used shortlist to just those vehicles that score well in customer satisfaction surveys. If that is indeed the case, you can't afford to overlook the Land Rover Discovery 4. Not only does it mop up just about all the gongs as far as new car awards go, but it also makes a cracking used buy.
5dr Family 4x4 (2.7, 3.0-litre diesel [GS, XS, HSE, Landmark, Luxury])
Let's not mince words here. Land Rover Discoveries 1 and 2 were horrible things. The Discovery 3, introduced in 2004 was like a bolt from the blue. Almost everything that was mediocre, parochial and lazy about the design of the previous cars was blitzed with modernity, boldness and style. The Discovery 3 wasn't perfect though. Your engine choice amounted to thirsty or slow, initial reliability niggles took the edge off its used reputation and it proved a victim of its own popularity to a degree, used prices not holding station as many thought. Still, when the sums were totted up after a typical three year ownership period, it was often cheaper to run an initially more expensive BMW or Mercedes SUV.
The Discovery 4 underwhelmed a lot of industry observers when it appeared in 2009. Many were expecting another great leap forward. What we seemed to get was a Disco 3 with the grille from a Range Rover Sport. The big news came under the bonnet. Yes, the unspectacular 2.7-litre TDV6 turbodiesel soldiered on, but it was augmented by the addition of a 242bhp 3.0-litre TDV6 unit that bettered the 2.7-litre diesel by 29 percent (power) and 36 percent (torque) respectively. At 600Nm, the torque output of the diesel was, at the time, the highest of any six-cylinder passenger car diesel in the world, but with nine percent improvements in economy and CO2 emissions over the 2.7-litre V6. Finally, the Discovery had the engine it deserved and at just a £2,500 price step up from the equivalent 2.7-litre, it made financial sense too.
Thing is, it didn't last very long. It was replaced in 2011 by the 245bhp SDV6, which was fitted to a special edition model that appeared in November of that year. The Landmark edition was finished in either Santorini Black or Fuji White and featured 20-inch alloys and an elegant black/white contrasting theme throughout. Definitely more for the Kings Road than the Silk Road. The 2012 Discovery 4 got a decent working over, the key change being the addition of a new ZF 8-speed automatic transmission, improving efficiency and helping reduce CO2 emissions on the 3.0 SDV6 diesel from 244g/km to 230g/km. In conjunction with the new transmission, the Discovery 4 was also equipped with the 'Drive Select' rotary gear shift and steering wheel-mounted paddle shift. Power crept up from 245 to 256bhp. In addition to the driveline improvements, the Discovery 4's design and equipment levels were refreshed too. Buyers got two different alloy wheel designs, three option packs and improved audio and navigation systems based on the latest electrical architecture. The Discovery continued largely unchanged henceforth to the end of 2013 when a restyled 2014 model year car was announced.
What You Pay (used_pay)
What You Get
Inside, the cabin quality is reassuringly strong, with lots of stitched leather and soft-touch plastics, plus keyless go which offers push-button starting. The Terrain Response console takes pride of place in front of the gear lever, there are useful controls on the steering wheel and a neat touchscreen cuts down on the need for so many switches and buttons. At the back, there's decent head and legroom, whilst the foldaway third row is very cleverly done, easy to erect and big enough for adults. As for luggage room, there's 1192-litres with all the seats in place, then the second and third rows fold down to leave a flat floor with 2558-litres without the need to remove the headrests, while in true Range Rover style, the tailgate is split so you can use it as a picnic seat or a viewing platform.
The various control systems are marshalled via the centrally-mounted touch screen display and the driver gets a second LCD display mounted in the instrument cluster through which major functions can be accessed via the steering wheel-mounted controls. The Portable Audio Interface allows all manner of MP3 players and USB devices to be connected and there's a DAB radio option too. The headlights incorporate a High Beam Assist function that activates the full beam headlights when light levels are suitably low. It then detects the lights of oncoming vehicles and dips the beam when necessary to avoid dazzling other drivers. There's also the option of a Surround Camera System consisting of five cameras that give a near 360-degree view around the vehicle on the central display screen.
What to Look For
The Discovery used to have a distinctly second rate reliability record, but the Disco 4 has improved things by leaps and bounds. Check if a tow bar has been fitted and also check the tyres for odd wear patterns. Although the Discovery is very capable off road, there are limits to its ground clearance, so inspect the underside for signs of damage to the suspension, exhaust and front valance. The diesel engine is a tough unit and if you're test driving the car on a cold day, don't be afraid if the Stop/Start system fails to kick in. The engine is programmed to keep running at temperatures below three degrees Celsius.
(based on 2010 Discovery 3.0 TDV6 - approx excl. VAT) Mirror glass retails at £35 while a lamp assembly for the rear number plate is £15. An auxiliary drive belt is £30 and oil and air filter elements are £10 and £8 respectively. Tyres cost £160 per corner and if you are taking your Discovery off road on a regular basis, it might well be worth scanning eBay for a replacement wheel and tyre set, otherwise you might well get through an awful lot of alloy wheel refurbishments.
On the Road
Try to avoid the early 2.7-litre cars. The engines feel like a real weak link and it's worth stretching to the 3.0-litre TDV6 at the very least. Of course, the SDV6 unit is the one to have and you won't need to pay a whole lot more due to the increased selection of vehicles fitted with this excellent powerplant. The 245bhp 3.0-litre diesel under the bonnet means you no longer have to choose between slow or thirsty when it comes to specifying a Discovery, its 600Nm of torque giving it genuine muscle. Discovery 4 brought a weight saving of 140kg as well as improved refinement, bigger brakes, sharper redesigned steering and a tweaked suspension system that flattens out body roll through faster bends.
At this juncture, we'd normally wax lyrical about the Discovery's ability in the dirt, about its clever Terrain Response System and its unfeasible traction but most Disco 4 buyers will never subject their cars to anything more arduous than a grassy track. They'll value instead its ability to step smartly off the line, hitting 60mph from a standstill in nine seconds on the way to a top speed of 112mph. Aside from trying to lever it into a tiny parking space, there's rarely an occasion when the Discovery feels out of its league.
Should you decide to put the car through its paces off road, you'll love that 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 and Ruts', 'Sand' and 'Rock Crawl'). The current system also includes a launch control function designed for deep sand as well as tweaks to the Hill Descent Control and the Rock Crawl mode to ensure tricky manoeuvres are made that bit easier. It's brilliant.
Customer satisfaction tests prove that the Land Rover Discovery 4 has aced the reliability thing that plagued earlier iterations of this car, so with that issue taken care of, you can properly consider the actual merits of this model. There are plenty of them. Many SUVs can perform well on and off road - it's not an exclusively Land Rover preserve. But where the Discovery 4 scores is in offering the off-road ability of a properly agricultural, ladder-framed old schooler with the fit and finish of the latest sports activity vehicles. In that regard, it's very hard to beat.
Of course, the irony is that the specialised engineering built into this vehicle will very rarely be used by its target clientele, many of whom might well be better advised to look at something more road-biased. Still, these vehicles sell on image and for some, there's no substitute for a Land Rover badge. That's a bit of a shame. The Discovery 4 is a car with genuine depth of talent. Just look to buy one from someone who has never quite figured this out.
Land Rover Discovery Series 4 (2009 - 2013) review by Andy Enright