The Land Rover Discovery: History, Generations, Specifications
All things Land Rover Discovery on Automobile.
Land Rover Discovery Essential History
Land Rover first introduced the Discovery in late 1989 as an off-road family car, fulfilling the role envisioned for the 1970 Range Rover which, contrary to Land Rover's intentions, became a luxury icon. The Discovery was based largely on Range Rover bones and was offered in 3- and 4-door versions with four-cylinder diesel and V-8 gasoline power. Not that most American car buyers would be familiar, because the Discovery wasn't offered in the States—yet.
Land Rover Discovery Comes to America
With the Range Rover well established in the U.S. and a surge in sales of upscale off-roaders like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Land Rover decided to bring the Discovery to America for the 1994 model year. The Discovery was fitted with airbags and the Range Rover's engine, a 182-horsepower 3.9-liter all-aluminum V-8 that started life in 1960 as a Buick engine. Build quality was abysmal—a 1996 Discovery was one of the most troublesome vehicles in Automobile's long-term Four Seasons fleet—but its off-road skills were impressive and its glassy cabin was just one of many things that separated it from the SUV herd. Changes were minimal, with the engine revised in 1996 and redesignated as a 4.0-liter, though its displacement was actually unchanged.
In 1999, the Discovery Series II came to the United States—not a complete redesign but "85 percent new" according to Land Rover. The chassis was stiffened, the sheet metal reshaped, and the body lengthened and widened to accommodate a 3rd row of seating. Wider axles and new suspension tuning improved handling.
LR3 and LR4: New Names for the New Land Rover Discovery
Land Rover introduced a new Discovery in 2004, and for reasons unknown it was introduced in the USA with a new name as the 2005 Land Rover LR3. All new from bumper to bumper, the LR3 featured a hybrid unit-body and ladder-frame construction. It featured a host of electronic off-roading aids, including terrain selection and hill descent control. Power came from a 4.4-liter V-8 based on the Jaguar AJ engine, and a one-foot wheelbase stretch provided more comfortable seating for seven. Automobile added one to our Four Seasons fleet, and it proved to be more reliable than the '96 Disco, but we still thought it was too heavy and thirsty and needed more torque.
The next chapter in the Discovery story opened with the 2010 Land Rover LR4, though it was effectively a facelifted LR3. The engine was enlarged to 5.0 liters with output increased to 375 horsepower and the styling was refreshed. Off-road electronics, suspension, brakes, and interior fittings (particularly the infotainment system) were all improved, and both acceleration and handling were notably better than the LR3. The LR4 was updated for the 2014 model year, the biggest change being a new supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 that replaced the previous V-8. At 340 horsepower, it was down 35 horsepower versus the V-8 but promised improved fuel economy.
Return of the Land Rover Discovery
An all-new Discovery made its debut for the 2017 model year. The new model reverted to its original name in all markets, and dropped the traditional blocky styling in favor of a new streamlined look. The new aluminum unibody wiped out half a ton of weight, and along with the 3.0-liter supercharged V-6, U.S. buyers could now get a 3.0-liter turbodiesel. Once again, Automobile added a Tdi-powered Disco to our Four Seasons fleet, and after 24,000 miles, including some epic road trips, we were satisfied with the improvements to performance and economy, even if build quality was still troublesome. In 2017, Land Rover showed a "production preview" 518 horsepower Discovery SVX, but later canceled it. The Land Rover Discovery remains in production to this day.
Land Rover Discovery Highlights
From 1993 through 1998, Honda sold a rebadged Land Rover Discovery in Japan and New Zealand as the Crossroad.
In the U.K., the first-generation Land Rover Discovery was offered with a 2.5-liter turbodiesel, a carbureted 3.5-liter V-8 from the Rover 3500, or a fuel-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder. U.S. emissions laws dictated the change from the Rover engine to the Range Rover's 3.9-liter V-8, which replaced the carbureted V-8 in the Discovery in all markets.
Land Rover Discovery Buying Tips
The Discovery has not attracted the attention of collectors the way more traditional Land Rovers, most notably the Defender and "Series" models, have, and with good reason: The Discovery is a complicated vehicle that does not always age well. The running gear is rugged enough, but build quality was never a strong suit for Land Rover, and owning an aging Discovery can feel like death by a thousand cuts: You'll likely have lots of leaks and electrical glitches to chase down.
When shopping for a Discovery, you'll find all sorts of vehicles, from pampered suburbanites that have never climbed anything steeper than a curb to highly-modified off-roaders. Approach modified vehicles cautiously, as the quality of installation can vary and it's possible to be stranded by poor work done by previous owners.
If you're serious about off-roading, a Discovery is a good start—though they were often sold as luxury vehicles, all versions feature four-wheel drive and are exceptionally capable off-road. Carry tools and spare parts, though, as Discoveries are no more reliable in the rough than they are on the street.
Land Rover Discovery Articles on Automobile
Land Rover Discovery Recent Auctions
Land Rover Discovery Quick Facts
- First year of production: 1989
- First year of U.S. sales: 1994
- Original base price (U.S. ): $28,900
- Pseudonyms: LR3, LR4
- Distinguishing feature: Skylight rear windows for early models
Land Rover Discovery FAQ
Is a Land Rover Discovery reliable?
In a word: No. While a new Discovery is unlikely to break down and leave you stranded, older Discoveries (and other aging Land Rover models) have a history of developing small annoying problems (and bigger annoying problems, such as leaks) as they age.
Who makes the Land Rover Discovery?
The Land Rover Discovery is made by Jaguar-Land Rover, a British automaker that is a subsidiary of India's Tata Motors.
Which model Land Rover Discovery is best?
It's difficult to say, as all versions of the Discovery have their advantages. Early Discovery models (Series 1 and 2) are the most mechanically simple. The LR3 is notable for its chunky good looks, while the LR4 changed from a V-8 to a supercharged V-6 which improved fuel economy. The latest iteration of the Discovery from 2017 is significantly lighter than the LR4 it replaces, with notable fuel economy and handling improvements over earlier versions of the Discovery.