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A spotter's guide to the Land Rover Discovery

A spotter's guide to the Land Rover Discovery

Chris Pollitt is an award-winning automotive word-wrangler, editor of the website Not 2 Grand and a keen collector of crappy old cars.

The Land Rover Discovery. It can drive over mountains, through rivers, around trees, whatever you throw at it, the Discovery can take it. That’s why it’s been a motoring mainstay since 1989, making it nearly thirty years old!

Despite its age though, it’s only been through five generations, with the most recent only being released onto the muddy lanes of the world last year.

Proof then, then each generation has been very good at its job. But how do you tell the difference? You read our spotter’s guide, of course! 

The first-generation Series 1

The first-generation Series 1 

Built from 1989 to 1998

Land Rover had made a name for itself with two models. There was the trusty Defender and also the Range Rover. The Defender was great and could famously climb every mountain and ford every stream.

However, it was about as comfortable as shoes full of grit, so it had no place outside of the farmyard. As for the Range Rover, it was a wonderfully luxurious beast with serious off-road ability. Sadly though, it cost more than a Faberge Egg.

There needed to be a middle ground, and it came in the form of the Discovery, or Disco as many call it. It was chunky, it was capable off the beaten path, but if you needed to go to ASDA, it wouldn’t rattle your teeth out. 

To spot a Series 1 Discovery, you’re looking for a big, tall off-roader, obviously. Small square headlights and amber indicators moulded into a chunky grille give it away, as does the thin ‘skylight’ window over the rearmost window on either side. These windows give the Discovery its distinct ‘stepped’ roof.

Discovery fact: In Japan, the Discovery was available as a Honda, namely the Crossroad. 

The second-generation Series 2

The second-generation Series 2

Built from 1998 to 2004

To the untrained eye, the second-generation Discovery was pretty much the same as the first. However, Land Rover was keen to point out that it had been the subject of 720 tweaks and changes.

Every body panel bar the rear door’s outer skin was new, the interior was less Farmer Giles and more Gerry in Finance, and it was a bit longer, too. The oily bits were refined, too. The diesel option was the TD5 straight-five, which had more torque at lower revs.

For those keen on burning as much fuel as possible, the V8 was upgraded to the ‘Thor’ unit found in the P38 Range Rover of the time. 

To spot a Series 2 Discovery, look at the front and back. The rear lights are slightly higher, with their lowermost edges almost in line with lower part of the drop-shaped rear window.

At the front, the lights and grille were two distinctly different units, though the indicators and headlights became one unit. On facelift models, the headlights mimicked those of the Range Rover, while the front bumper gained in-built fog lights. 

Discovery fact: The second-generation model was available with hill descent control, slowing you when going down steep hills. 

The third-generation Discovery 3

The third-generation Discovery 3

Built from 2004 to 2009

By now, the Discovery had found a following, and not only that, Land Rover noticed it was pulling in buyers that may have gone for the range-topping Range Rover. As such, it pulled out all the stops for the Discovery 3 (they did away with the ‘series’ naming). It was odd in its construction.

The body and engine bay were of a monocoque construction, which would have been fine on its own. However, the bods at Land Rover slapped it all on top of a basic ladder chassis. They claimed this made for an impressive ride both on and off road.

Add in the fully-independent suspension and, well, they were right. It could go pretty much anywhere you put it. In fact, Jeremey Clarkson once famously drove a Discovery 3 up a Scottish mountain with only the assistance of a small bumper-mounted winch. 

To spot a Discovery 3 is easy. You’re looking for that familiar Discovery ‘stepped’ roof shape, the same ‘stepped’ rear window, but this time on a vehicle that is very tall and very slab-sided.

At the rear, the lights moved lower to the bumper, while at the front, the headlights featured a small half-circle indentation into the grille. Also, it’s unusual to see a spare wheel on the back of Discovery 3 – they were mounted underneath. 

Discovery fact: A driverless version of the LR3 finished 4th in the DAPRA Urban Challenge, testing out driverless technology. 

The fourth-generation Discovery 4

The fourth-generation Discovery 4

Built from 2009 to 2014

The Discovery 4 was more of a heavy facelift of the Discovery 3 than an outright new car. The majority of changes were mechanical, mainly to address the reliability issues that had plagued the Discovery 3.

The biggest change was the inclusion of the 3.0 diesel engine, found in some Jaguars in 2.7 guise. With twin-sequential turbochargers featuring variable vane turbos, it was a cutting edge means of propulsion.

Inside, the love for cutting edge was carried on, with a more luxurious cabin laden with technology, probably to satisfy those who had bought one over a Range Rover. 

To spot a Discovery 4, you just need to look for a Discovery 3, but with wider, flared arches and slightly different front lights – that half-circle indentation into the grille grew a little.

Also, the grill itself became very stylised, with a cut-out metal look, rather than normal plastic. 

Discovery fact: In 2012, the one millionth Land Rover Discovery rolled off the production line at Solihull.

The fifth-generation Discovery 

Built from 2017 to present

The current Discovery only went on sale in February of last year, but already it’s proving to be hugely popular. But given it takes its underpinnings from the Range Rover, that’s hardly surprising.

This is a completely new vehicle, and shares nothing at all was the Discover models before it. Probably because the Disco is now very much a luxury vehicle, fitting in with the Range Rover and the Range Rover Sport. In case you’re wondering, the Freelander Sport is now the entry-point into the Land Rover world. 

To spot a modern Discovery, you’re looking for remarkably sleek body with the headlights and grille blended in perfectly. Also, those two features are thin and darkened to blend into the body.

The ‘stepped’ roof is gone, but chunky c-pillar that swoops both forwards and back is a solid clue. Also, the rear lights are thin and wide, and the rear number-plate is, annoyingly, off-centre. 

Discovery fact: The current Discovery can wade through water up to 35.6” deep!