Test mules of the new Land Rover Discovery are currently being trialled worldwide, ahead of the car making its official debut at the 2016 Paris Motor Show. With more than 25 years of heritage, the Discovery has quite a story to tell.
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The story starts in the mid 80s, when Land Rover was losing sales to the likes of the Mitsubishi Shogun and Isuzu Trooper. The firm decided it needed a practical, family four-wheel-drive vehicle, filling the void between the Defender and the Range Rover. The first clay models were created in 1986.
Tucked away in Hall 9 at the 1989 Frankfurt Motor Show, Land Rover revealed its new Discovery. Budget constraints meant it shared many features with the Range Rover, including the chassis, suspension, body frame, inner door panels and even windscreen.
It shared a V8 petrol engine with the Range Rover, too – although it was enlarged to 3.9 litres for the Discovery. A four-cylinder diesel, the 200 Tdi, was also offered.
Three- and five-doors
Initially, the Land Rover Discovery was only available with three doors. To truly appeal to families, a five-door was required, and this was launched a year later. The Discovery’s interior was designed by an external agency, Conran Design Group. It was described as a ‘lifestyle accessory’, featuring built-in sunglasses holders, map pockets above the windscreen and twin sunroofs to create an airy cabin.
At a time when company car tax rules favoured cars with smaller engines (rather than being CO2-based), Land Rover briefly sold the Discovery with a 2.0-litre petrol engine known as the ‘MPI’. It struggled to heave the mass of the Discovery and proved to be unpopular. As such, it was short-lived.
The Land Rover Discovery soon became a sales hit for the brand. In November 1993, the Sunday Times reported: “During the L-plate bulge in August, sales of recreational four-wheel-drive vehicles continued to soar. Almost 15,000 new off-roaders were registered, a rise of 66% over last year, amounting to over 3.5% of the entire car market.”
Leading the SUV boom was the Discovery, with 3,161 sold in August 1993 – ahead of the Vauxhall Frontera, Suzuki VItara, Isuzu Trooper and Jeep Cherokee.
Honda acquired a 20% share in Rover Group in 1990 – and the Discovery was launched as the Honda Crossroad in Japan three years later. It was the first time Honda had used its badge on a foreign vehicle, but competition from other Japanese manufacturers meant it was keen to exploit its relationship with Land Rover.
The annual Camel Trophy put a variety of Land Rover vehicles (and their drivers) through their paces every year, exploring areas including the Amazon, Madagascar and Australia. The Discovery was first used in the Camel Trophy in 1990.
The first Camel Trophy event to use the Discovery took place in Siberia, and used a three-door 200 Tdi model. As always for the event, the vehicles were painted in the old British Motor Corporation colour of Sandglow, and kitted out with essential off-road gear such as winches, extra lighting and roll cages.
The Camel Trophy was a huge PR exercise for Land Rover. Although most Discovery buyers wouldn’t do much extreme off-roading, it showed what their cars were capable of. By the 90s, Land Rover decided it wouldn’t be appropriate for the upmarket Range Rover to compete in the Camel Trophy, so the Discovery featured for seven years.
Land Rover Discovery facelift
A facelifted Discovery arrived in 1994, codenamed internally as ‘Romulus’. Although it didn’t look much different externally than its predecessor, with revised taillights and headlights, the interior was heavily revised to make it more car-like. Airbags were added, as was a more advanced sound system. A variety of colour schemes allowed customers to personalise their Discovery.
The biggest change came in the form of the engine. The archaic 200 Tdi was replaced with the more modern 300 Tdi – another 2.5-litre four-pot diesel, with improved performance and lower emissions. A new five-speed gearbox was also introduced.
At the same time as the 1994 facelift, Solihull’s Special Vehicles department produced a load-lugging version of the Discovery. Based on a three-door, the Commercial featured the same engines as the regular model. It had panelled-over side windows and no rear seats.
The 1994 model was the first Discovery to be sold in North America, and it proved popular worldwide throughout the mid-90s, with 70,000 built in 1995. Several special editions were also introduced, including the Anniversary 50, Goodwood and the Argyll.
Land Rover Discovery 2
The second-generation Discovery was launched under Rover Group’s BMW ownership in 1998, and broadly similar to the outgoing model. But it was heavily revised, with a tweaked chassis and changes to almost every body panel. The three-door model was dropped, and a larger shell meant it was more practical than its predecessor.
A year before, Land Rover had launched the smaller Freelander, meaning the Discovery could concentrate on being a large, seven-seat, family 4×4. Extra kit was fitted as standard, and passengers on the rearmost, side-facing seats had more room.
The biggest changes were under the bonnet. Although the 3.9-litre petrol V8 remained largely unchanged, a new in-line 5-cylinder diesel replaced the 300 Tdi. Badged the TD5, the new diesel was shared with the Defender, and is often misdescribed as being a BMW engine. It is, in fact, a Rover engine, largely finished when BMW bought the Group in 1994.
As with the Discovery 1, Land Rover sold a number of special editions of the second-generation Discovery, including the Adventurer and Braemar.
Land Rover Discovery 2: facelift
In a bid to bring the now-ageing Discovery up-to-date alongside its L322 Range Rover, Land Rover gave the model a facelift in 2002. Changes were minor, with the bodyshell remaining the same but new front and rear lights and bumpers introduced.
Even more options were added to take the Discovery 2 further upmarket, while the engine line-up remained in the same – in Europe, at least. In North America, a more powerful 4.6-litre version of the V8 was offered in a desperate bid to sell the Discovery to power-hungry Americans. So far, the model hadn’t been a success in the States.
Back in the UK, the Discovery was proving to be a popular vehicle with emergency services. Its ability to travel at motorway speeds in comfort (and greater, when required), combined with its practicality meant many police forces had a Discovery on their fleet, particularly in rural areas.
Land Rover Discovery 3
The third-generation Discovery arrived in 2004, and proved to be a bit of a shock for traditional Discovery fans. Developed under Ford, the Discovery 3 was all-new – with not a single component carried over from its predecessor.
It was bigger and heavier than before, designed to appeal to North American customers (where it was badged the LR3 to shake off connotations associated with the Discovery badge). Over there, it was powered by a 4.0-litre Ford V6 (known as the Cologne V6).
In Europe, buyers could choose between a 4.4-litre Jaguar V8 and the (much more popular) 2.7-litre V6 turbodiesel co-developed with Peugeot/Citroen.
The Discovery 3’s huge 288.5cm wheelbase meant it was roomier than ever before, while air suspension on all but the entry-level models offered a Range Rover quality ride.
Although the 2004 Discovery was less utilitarian than ever before, it proved to be even more popular with emergency services. There have been reports of TDV6-powered Discoverys having covered more than 400,000 miles.
Although Land Rover cut its links with the Camel Trophy after the 1998 event, the firm introduced its own G4 Challenge in 2003. The third-generation Discovery was used in Bolivia in stages of the 2006 event – proving that it had what it takes to be a serious off roader. A clever terrain response system worked with its air suspension to make the Discovery 3 the most capable Discovery so far.
Land Rover Discovery 4
The fourth-generation Discovery (known as the LR4 in North America) has been on sale since 2009, and is very similar to the Discovery 3 on which it’s based. Like with the Discovery 2 facelift, the Discovery 4 featured revised front and rear lights, and new front bumper. This gave it a more modern look and brought it up-to-date with the rest of the Land Rover range.
Dig deeper, and you’ll find greater changes underneath the skin. The Discovery 4 was powered by a revised version of the TDV6 PSA diesel engine, increased to 3.0-litres with greater power, torque and economy. A revised gearbox followed in 2012.
Today, the Discovery remains a competent off-road vehicle. Land Rover Experience centres worldwide are used to promote it, and demonstrate its capabilities to potential customers. There’s one thing you can be sure of: when the Discovery 5 goes on sale in 2017, it’ll be just as capable off-road.
As traditional for Land Rover, a number of special editions have been introduced to the Discovery 4 range over the years. These include the XXV, launched to celebrate 25 years of the Discovery.
Land Rover Discovery Sport
What’s this? The Discovery Sport, launched in 2014, triggered the Discovery badge now becoming a sub-brand in its own right – following in the footsteps of Range Rover.
Essentially a replacement for the Freelander, the Discovery Sport was previewed in the (larger) Discovery Sport Vision concept at the 2014 New York Auto Show, before going on sale in September of that year.
Designed by Gerry McGovern, the same man responsible for the original Freelander, the Discovery Sport features a steel monocoque, while the bonnet, wings, roof and tailgate are made from aluminium. Many have commented on its likeness to the popular Range Rover Evoque.
Initially, buyers had a choice of the same engines that powered the Freelander: a 2.0-litre Ford EcoBoost petrol engine and the 2.2-litre Duratorq four-cylinder diesel in 150hp and 190hp guises. When JLR’s new Ingenium engine range was launched in the Jaguar XE in 2015, they soon followed in the Discovery Sport, replacing the ageing Ford engines.
Land Rover Discovery 5
And this brings us to today: the new 2017 Land Rover Discovery 5, teased ahead of its debut at the Paris Motor Show. The tech-heavy SUV is expected to offer ‘capability and technology like no other’, says Land Rover.
The Discovery 5 will look like a larger version of the Discovery Sport, and very similar to the Discovery Vision concept of 2014.
Again going upmarket compared to its predecessor, the Discovery 5 will be powered initially by the firm’s 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel engine, with 3.0-litre V6 powerplants also expected. Using the Range Rover’s aluminium monocoque, it’s expected to be substantially lighter than the Discovery 4, coming in at less than two tonnes.