Land Rover Discovery 4 (2009-2017) Review
The SUV that makes every school run feel like an expedition
Strengths & weaknesses
- Practical, spacious and comfortable
- Great off-roader and tow car
- Easy to drive despite its size
- Thirsty engine
- Only has a four-star Euro NCAP safety rating
- Quality and reliability concerns
If you want a car that could take the children to school in comfort before heading off on a jungle expedition, the Land Rover Discovery is it.
It’s spacious and practical for family life, with a popular boxy design that looks ready to explore undiscovered territories and cross raging rivers, even if it’s just wading through a puddle from a burst water main.
Inside is a light, airy interior with seven seats. Fully occupied, there’s little space for luggage, but five seats can be folded flat to make a giant boot. Even in the cheapest Graphite trim, the Discovery has luxury levels of equipment, with sat-nav, leather seats, heated windscreen, parking sensors and a rear-view camera as standard.
It's now been replaced by an all-new Land Rover Discovery, which no longer has an angular design, but is considerably better-finished inside.
The interior quality is a weakness of the old Discovery, which looks a little outdated next to newer alternatives like the Volvo XC90 and Audi Q7, which have higher-tech features and better dashboard displays. Their seats are easier to fold flat and they feature the latest safety equipment. However, the outgoing model is still worth considering because it has received regular updates and has more standard equipment. Prices for 2015 models start at around £25,000, although the car's shaky reliability record means that an extended warranty is worth considering.
The Discovery’s diesel engine is thirsty and expensive to tax, but powerful, making it a great tow car. Combined with the car’s well-cushioned air-suspension and a sophisticated four-wheel drive system, the Discovery makes light work of off-roading.
On-road the Land Rover Discovery is surprisingly quick and agile given its 2.5 tonne weight. In fact, that bulk helps keep it incredibly well settled over rough roads while the suspension soaks up the bumps. Good visibility makes it easy to drive despite its size and the steering is direct and precise so you feel in control.
The Discovery is still one of the most comfortable cars on the road but wind noise is noticeable and it does lean heavily in corners if you take them at speed. The Audi and Volvo are better in this respect, while the BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne are more suited for enthusiastic drivers who want as much excitement as it’s possible to get while behind the wheel of a heavy SUV.
None of these four cars are anywhere near as capable if you do need to go off-road, which is why the Land Rover Discovery is claimed to be the ultimate SUV. The name stands for sport-utility vehicle and was coined to describe a car that could carry bulky extreme sports equipment far beyond tarmac roads to beaches, ski slopes and cliff edges. With its dominant off-road ability and a huge boot that could swallow a surfboard, skis and paragliding kit at the same time (if you fold the seats), few cars could do a better job.
The Discovery was granted a safety rating of four stars out of five by Euro NCAP, the crash safety organisation. Newer rivals with the latest safety features have five stars awarded under the new, stricter testing regime.
|Boot size||280 litres|
|Tax||£290 a year|
Best Land Rover Discovery for...
Best for Economy – Land Rover Discovery 3.0 SDV6 Graphite
With only one engine to choose and two trim levels, the entry-level Land Rover Discovery Graphite is the cheapest model to own.
Best for Families – Land Rover Discovery 3.0 SDV6 Landmark
With every version having seven, genuinely roomy seats the Land Rover Discovery is a great family vehicle. Stretch to Landmark trim for screens in the front headrests for rear passengers and wireless headphones.
- 2009 The Land Rover Discovery is launched with choice of 2.7 and 3.0-litre diesel engines, new interior, clever all-terrain response system and trailer assist which stabilises loads when towing. GS, XS and HSE trims available.
- 2011 The 2.7-litre diesel engine is dropped from the range, while a more efficient eight-speed auto transmission replaces the old six-speed gearbox. The remaining 3.0-litre diesel engine gains extra power. Hill-start assist and gradient acceleration control are added. These help when pulling away on steep hills or going down them.
- 2012 Discovery HSE Luxury added to the range with bright silver exterior trim, extra leather inside and a Harman/Kardon sound system.
- 2014 XXV special edition based on HSE Luxury is launched to celebrate 25 years since the first Land Rover Discovery. Silver roof rails and black grille trims are among the unique features.
- 2015 Discovery Landmark and Graphite models launched as limited edition models. They later became the only choices in the range. Software updates allow owners to use phone apps on the vehicle’s entertainment system.
- 2015 Recalls to repair fragile wheel nuts, a glitch in the electronic stability control safety system, and a flaw that could cause the panoramic sunroof to fall out were launched, affecting certain models.
- 2017 Replaced by the all-new Land Rover Discovery.
Understanding Land Rover Discovery names
Engine 3.0 SDV6
Only one engine is offered with the Discovery Its size is given in litres and it is badged SDV6, as it contains six cylinders.
Trim level Graphite
The trim levels let you know how much equipment comes as standard. The cheapest version is Graphite. Landmark comes fitted with more options.
There’s only one gearbox available on the Land Rover Discovery: an eight-speed automatic.
Land Rover Discovery Engines
3.0 SDV6 (diesel)
The 3-litre six-cylinder diesel engine in the Land Rover Discovery is smooth and powerful, so you just need to dab the accelerator to surge forward - there’s no need to rev the engine. This makes it relaxing to drive on the road and powerful enough to pull itself out of a sticky situation off-road.
It does fall down on fuel economy. A claimed mpg figure of 36.7mpg is bad enough (a diesel Volvo XC90 manages almost 50mpg) but, as ever, this figure doesn’t reflect driving in the real world, and owners will be lucky to get 30mpg. That makes it expensive to run. Meanwhile, CO2 emissions of 203g/km mean road tax costs a stiff £290 each year.
In its defence, the Discovery does weigh more than 2.5 tonnes and is capable of towing a braked trailer with a gross weight of 3.5 tonnes. Taking into account those figures, it’s remarkable that it can go from 0-62mph in 8.8 seconds, on the way to a maximum speed of 112mph.
Land Rover Discovery Trims
As Land Rover phased out the Discovery in 2016, it reduced the available trim levels to two. Both of these came with extremely high levels of equipment, so you're guaranteed a high-specification if you buy either of them.
Graphite models feature grey, graphite-coloured finishes outside on the grille, mirrors and vents, and include comfortable electronic air suspension, sat-nav, front and rear parking sensors, bright xenon headlights, powered mirrors, heated front seats and premium Meridian sound system.
It’s got Land Rover’s Terrain Response system, which adjusts the car’s settings so that they are optimised for different off-road surfaces, such as sand, snow or rocks, as well as a series of other sophisticated features that further improve its off-road performance. Wade sensing, which detects the depth of water that you are driving through and displays it on the dashboard, is optional on all models.
Moving up to the Landmark trim level cost a hefty £5,500 when new, adding TV screens in the front seat headrests for rear passengers, complete with wireless headphones, as well as more leather inside, electrically adjustable front seats, heated rear seats and a sunroof. The graphite details on the outside are replaced by black and silver finishes.
Cars coming to the end of their life often attract the biggest discounts and some of the cheapest finance offers. You may find even better Land Rover Discovery deals than normal because there are still unsold new cars built with recently discontinued trim levels (SE, SE Tech, HSE and HSE Luxury) that dealers are keen to sell.
Land Rover Discovery Reliability and warranty
The Land Rover Discovery came with a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty when new and any remainder is ransferred to the new owner when the car is sold.
That’s reassuring since Discovery reliability has long been a weakness. In the 2016 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, the model was in 108th place out of 150. The most common problems for owners related to the interior, with fittings coming loose and numerous complaints about rattles. But owners also mentioned sunroof leaks and loose bonnet catches.
Used Land Rover Discovery
The Land Rover Discovery’s power, comfort, practicality, classy image and go-anywhere capability (that’s anywhere as in central London to the wildest, most far-flung places) would appear to trump any concerns over the model’s reliability and build quality. For evidence, look no further than its rock-solid used values.
After three years, a Discovery is predicted to have lost just under half of its value, which helps keep the total cost of owning it low (because you can sell it for a high price), but doesn’t help second-hand buyers who are looking for a good used Land Rover Discovery deal.
That said, prices for 2015 cars have fallen to £25,000, or less than £400 per month with a epresentative finance agreement. This rises to £40,000 for some of the last models to be produced.
The cost of ownership aren't all positive. You'll spend a lot on fuel and it’s expensive to service. Given its poor reliability record, it's worth considering an extended warranty that covers any major and expensive failures.
The biggest bargains may come with HSE Luxury models. These were previously the most expensive and best-equipped Discovery models, and are likely to lose value fastest. This means that the cost difference between the least-well equipped Discovery SE and a luxuriously-equipped HSE Luxury car is much smaller in the used market than when new.