Land Rover Discovery SUV (2011 - ) review
The Land Rover Discovery is a big luxurious 4x4 that can go pretty much anywhere or do pretty much anything. Posh, practical and incredibly comfortable, it’s one of the best big off-roaders money can buy.
- Smart, spacious interior
- Wonderfully comfortable ride
- Impressive practicality
- High running costs
- Limited safety kit
- Historical reliability issues
At a glance
If you like your 4x4s to look as chunky as possible, and many people do, the Discovery certainly fits the bill. Everywhere you look, there are big, square details – the headlights, the bumpers, the fog light surrounds – and these give the Disco an appealingly rugged, no-nonsense look. The big coarse-mesh grille continues the effect, but there are some daintier touches, like the intricate LED daytime running lights incorporated into the front lamps. Further back, the lines are about as functional and workmanlike as it’s possible to get, but in a very good way. The kink in the rear window line also helps make the back end look more interesting than it’d otherwise be.
The Discovery’s interior design echoes the chunkiness of the exterior, with big controls that feel very substantial. The same goes for the quality of the cabin; it’s all very robust, but it also feels impressively plush, with attractive high-grade materials and some thoughtful finishes. Most of the dials and buttons are well-marked and easy to use, but the touch-screen infotainment system lets things down a bit, because it’s rather fiddly and slow to react. On the plus side, the driving position has masses of adjustment, and because you can see all four corners of the car, your view of the road is absolutely brilliant.
This is the reason that most Discovery buyers choose a Discovery, and it’s a darned fine reason; this car is as practical and as versatile as pretty much any MPV. The seven individual seats are very supportive and surrounded by an impressive amount of space; so, even if you’re a six-foot adult and you find yourself relegated to one of the chairs at the very back, you’ll have enough room to get comfy. Each row of seats is mounted higher than the row in front, so everybody gets a decent view out, and the chairs fold down in a wide variety of different configurations, giving you lots of choice over how you use the space available. The flat loadbay is enormous with only the two front seats upright, and still pretty huge with the car in five-seat mode, but it gets a lot smaller when you’re travelling seven-up. The split tailgate is handy, too, not least because, when you drop the bottom section, you can use it as a picnic bench.
Ride and handling
Any Land Rover Discovery needs to be as capable on the road as it is off it, and this car doesn’t disappoint. Granted, there’s a fair amount of body lean to contend with when you tackle a set of bends, but it still feels surprisingly stable for a car of this size and height, and things rarely get to the point of feeling untidy. The four-wheel drive means you always have bags of grip and traction, too. By far the best thing about the way the Discovery drives, though, is the slushy ride. All versions have an adjustable air suspension as standard, and no matter what the surface, the car just glides over it in a comfortable, serene way. That suspension pays dividends off-road as well, because you can jack up the ride height electrically to tackle even tougher terrain. And, depending what settings you choose on the standard Terrain Response system, you can tackle anything from mud to snow to rocks. You can even wade through water up to 700mm deep, and not many 4x4s can match that.
The Discovery doesn’t exactly have the biggest choice of engines – there’s one – but thankfully, it’s all the engine you’ll ever need. The 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel has 252bhp and 443lb ft of torque, which is enough to haul this leviathan of a car around easily and reasonably briskly. Even better, it stays smooth and reasonably quiet along the way. The eight-speed automatic gearbox that comes as standard also helps keep life relaxed, swapping cogs smoothly and quickly.
The Discovery is not a cheap car to buy – nothing like – but importantly, it’s competitive on price with rival big 4x4s from premium manufacturers. It’s a more genuine off-roader than pretty much any of its rivals, too, and that, combined with the technology and quality on board, makes it feel like it’s worth the money. Unsurprisingly, it won’t be cheap to run, either, although the costs might not be as ruinous as you expect. The official average fuel economy stands at 36.6mpg. If you’re a company car driver, however, the CO2 emissions of 203g/km will mean you’ll fork out a small fortune in tax bills.
We have to be honest here, this area is a big cause for concern. Land Rover’s reputation for reliability could be described as ‘patchy’ at best and ‘catastrophic’ at worst; and, one look at Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index will do nothing to disprove that. The company currently lies near the bottom of the manufacturer rankings, and the reliability score for the Discovery itself is through the floor. The owner reviews on our own website are less uniformly damning, but there are still one or two horror stories.
On top of all the fancy electronic aids you get to maximise traction in a variety of situations and on a variety of surfaces, the Disco also comes equipped with six airbags to help keep you from harm in a smash. However, the curtain ‘bags don’t extend to protect those in the rearmost seats, and functions like autonomous emergency braking, which is commonly found in much smaller and cheaper cars, isn’t offered at all. Systems like blind-spot warning and reverse traffic detection are offered, but only as part of an option pack at additional cost. The Discovery was last tested by Euro NCAP back in 2006, and even though the tests were far easier then than they are today, it still only scored four out of five stars.
The entry-level SE trim comes with a decent amount of luxury kit, including alloy wheels, automatic lights, a heated windscreen, rear parking sensors, climate and cruise controls, and a stereo that comprises DAB, Bluetooth and USB connectivity. However, you’ll probably want to upgrade to the SE Tech model to make your car the Discovery you want it to be, because it adds leather upholstery, heated front seats, front parking sensors, xenon headlamps and an upgraded stereo that includes sat-nav. HSE brings a rear parking camera, heated rear seats, electric adjustment for the front seats and steering wheel, plus a panoramic roof and keyless entry, while HSE Luxury trim adds digital TV with extra screens built into the front headrests.
You could look at the Land Rover Discovery as the Swiss Army Knife of cars, because it’s a vehicle that can play many diverse roles. On the road, it has the comfort and the quality of a luxury limousine, and it’ll accommodate seven people plus luggage as well as any MPV. With the seats down, it’ll double as a removal van, and of course, being a Land Rover, it’ll also get you further into the wilderness than most other 4x4s. As a multi-purpose tool, and a very nice one at that, it’s hard to fault.