The Discovery was developed specifically to tackle the family 4x4 market which had been exploited so effectively by Japanese manufacturers during the 1980s. It was developed in double-quick time, using a new body with distinctive stepped roofline on what was essentially a Range Rover chassis. The fashionable interior took its basic theme from Conran Design. In order to create the “Lifestyle vehicle” image which was seen as essential to the marketing, the three-door model was released first and was aimed at younger buyers. However, the family-oriented five-door followed a year later and quickly became the preferred choice in most markets. Door count included the tail door to help differentiate Discoverys from Range Rovers. Key to the Discovery’s success was its economical and flexible new turbocharged and intercooled direct-injection diesel engine, the 200 Tdi, and in Europe most examples were fitted with this. However, there was a petrol option from the start. 1990 models had a 3.5-litre carburettor engine, the 1991-1993 models had an injected version of this engine (in some markets with an exhaust catalyst which was optional elsewhere); and the 1994 models had an injected 3.9-litre engine with a catalyst for all markets. Carburettor Discoverys were badged as V8 types, while injected ones were called V8i models. For 1994, there was also a relatively rare 2.0-litre four-cylinder “Mpi” model, using an adapted Rover car engine. The standard gearbox was always a five-speed manual, the LT77 on 1990-1991 models and subsequently the LT77S with improved synchromesh. A four-speed automatic was optional on V8i Discoverys for 1993-1994, and on Tdi models for 1994. It was never offered on Mpi models. A wide range of options was a major factor in the Discovery’s appeal. There was a broad colour palette, plus decal striping (standard on early three-doors) and alloy wheels were available from early 1990. Sonar Blue was the only interior colour in the beginning, and was joined by Bahama Beige for the 1991 season. The basic three-doors and five-doors were supplemented for the 1993 model-year by a Discovery Commercial (van) based on the three-door body. Some ambulance and other Discoverys were also built on a stretched (typically 116-inch) wheelbase. Outside the UK, other special models included a long-wheelbase chassis-cab in Switzerland, high-roof models to meet tax regulations in Holland, and a pick-up in certain Scandinavian countries. For the 1994 model-year, five-door V8i models went on sale in Japan wearing Honda Crossroad badging. The Discovery was a huge success and immediately became Land Rover’s best-seller. Between its launch in September 1989 and the introduction of a facelifted model-range in March 1994, around 115,000 examples were built.
The original Discovery was given a mid-life facelift in March 1994 for the 1995 model-year, which started early as a result. The facelift coincided with the model’s introduction to the North American market, and this important introduction was the main reason why the facelifted Discoverys incorporated a redesigned dashboard, which could accommodate twin airbags. However, the airbags were not a standard fitting, except on top models and in North America. New upholstery materials accompanied the facelift, with cloth for the cheaper models and leather on the more expensive ones (known as ES models in the UK). On the outside, the visual changes focused on the front and rear ends: there were new headlamps and indicator units flanking a chunkier grille, and the indicators and fog guard lamps were incorporated within the rear bumper. The front apron and front and rear bumper wraparounds were restyled, and different bump-strips were used on models which had them. Both five-door and three-door bodies remained available, together with a three-door Commercial from Land Rover Special Vehicles. The 3.9-litre V8 and 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engines remained available (though the latter was dropped in mid-1997), and the 2.5-litre diesel now came in more refined 300 Tdi form, though without any power or torque increases. However, both power and torque were boosted for automatic models in mid-1995. Automatic gearboxes (Not on 2.0-litre models) were always ZF four-speeds, but the manual gearboxes were now R380 types with a slicker gearchange and revised gate positions. For the 1996 and later model-years, for North America only, the “4.0-litre” version of the V8 was fitted; shared with the Range Rover 38A, this engine was used simply to avoid having to modify the 3.9-litre type to meet changed North American regulations. Discoverys with the 3.9-litre V8 engine continued to be supplied to Honda for just one year longer, but only 137 examples were sold. All facelifted Discoverys came with anti-roll bars front and rear as standard, and with ventilated front brake discs. ABS was standard on top models and optional on others. Various combinations of optional equipment were used almost from the start of production to create a wide variety of limited editions, which differed from country to country. More than 290,000 examples of the facelifted Discovery were built between 1994 and 1998, when the model was replaced by the Discovery Series II.
The first-generation Discovery was replaced in autumn 1998 by a new model range known as the Series II. Although this retained the iconic profile of the original vehicle, it was almost wholly different and only the tail door panel was unchanged from the earlier range. Side doors were now panelled in steel rather than alloy to get improved fit, and there were no three-door models: all the Series II Discoverys had five-door bodies.
Some major changes had been dictated by US safety regulations – notably an extra two inches of rear overhang which allowed the rear “occasional” seats to be mounted facing forwards instead of inwards. Others lay in the drivetrain, which featured the brand-new five-cylinder Td5 turbodiesel engine as the alternative to the Thor version of the 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine – the only option in North America. Land Rover’s trademark permanent four-wheel drive was standard, but without even the option of a lockable centre differential, which had been omitted for marketing reasons.
There were coil springs all round on basic models, but more expensive variants had air springs on the rear axle (known as SLS – Self Levelling Suspension), plus a variable-height feature which allowed the rear end to be lowered for hitching up a trailer or raised to improve the departure angle off-road. At the front, top models also had ACE (Active Cornering Enhancement), an electro-hydraulic system which considerably reduced cornering roll.
Increased use of electronic traction aids was a further feature, with all models having ABS, EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution) four-wheel ETC, and Hill Descent Control. The interior featured cloth upholstery, cloth-and-leather on the more sporty variants, and full leather on top models, which also had a version of the Range Rover 38A’s thermostatically-controlled heating and ventilating system.
In Britain, the range consisted of entry-level S, mid-range GS, sporty XS and luxury ES models. None wore model identification badges. From September 2000, there were a cheaper entry-level model (the E) and new mid-range Adventurer models, and at the top of the range LRSV’s Autobiography custom-finishing service was available. A Commercial variant produced by LRSV became available in May 2001, although Land Rover Ireland had built its own “van” model since April 1999 to meet local market conditions.
Special editions differed from country to country. In Britain, for example, there were the Millennium Edition in the 2000 model-year and the Braemar in Scotland during early 2002.
Facelifted versions of the Series II Discovery were introduced in spring 2002 for the 2003 model-year. Key differences were a revised front end with shallower chin spoiler and driving lights integrated into the bumper, and “pocketed” headlamp units designed to resemble those of the third-generation Range Rover. At the rear, the turn indicator and reversing lights swapped places, and Park Distance Control became standard on top models. A different selection of alloy wheels was made available.
Interior changes included black for the fascia instead of the earlier grey, changed graphics on the main instrument dials (to match those on the latest Range Rover) and three colourways instead of two.
Suspension and brake changes also improved these areas, while North America got as its only engine choice a version of the 4.6-litre V8 from the old Range Rover 38A. Modified gears in the transfer box improved refinement on all models, and a differential lock was added to the options list.
The Discovery 3 (LR3 in the USA, where the Discovery name had lately attracted some negative associations) was developed a Project L319 and introduced in summer 2004. Its new "T5" chassis had hydro-formed main members to improve rigidity and minimise weight, and had been designed under the Ford regime to be common to other models. The body was a separate load-bearing monocoque bolted to it to give a structure which Land Rover called Integrated Body-Frame construction.
The T5 chassis used all-independent suspension, normally with air springs (although entry-level Discovery 3s had coil springs). Sophisticated electronics derived from those in the L322 Range Rover provided off-road handling characteristics like those of a beam axle, while the on-road handling was car-like. Electronics also underpinned the new Terrain Response system, based on a simple dial which selected the appropriate accelerator response, traction control and other systems according to the type of terrian.
The Discovery 3 was a much bigger model than earlier Discoverys, with a 2885mm (113.6in) wheelbase. Its square-rigged body retained the raised rear roof traditional to Discoverys, and featured a horizontally-split tailgate. The spare wheel this time was carried under the body. Most models had three rows of seats, the rear pair arranged to fold flat and provide an unobstructed load area.
Three engine options were available. The diesel most crucial to Europe had a single-turbo version of the twin-turbo Jaguar V6, known as the TDV6. For most markets, the only petrol option was the Jaguar 4,4-litre V8, but from spring 2005, some countries outside the UK also had the 4.0-litre V6 from the American Ford Explorer SUV. Gearboxes were six-speed automatics (though a six-speed manual could be had with diesels), and steering was a power-assisted rack-and-pinion type.
The 2009 models had a minor facelift that included body-coloured wheelarch eyebrows, and was intended to smooth the introduction of the Discovery 4 successor.
Discovery 4 (LR4 in the USA and some other markets) was actually a heavily-revised Discovery 3, and the new model designation had been adopted for marketing reasons. The bodyshell remained essentially the same, but a new front end design and detail changes made the vehicle look smaller and less utilitarian. A redesigned dashboard gave the interior a more luxurious feel.
Brake, suspension and steering changes brought improved dynamic qualities. Terrain Response gained an extra “sand launch” setting, while Gradient Release Control and further stability and towing aids were added. Intelligent Power Management became standard, together with Smart Regenerative Charging.
Entry-level models came with the six-speed manual gearbox and the 2.7-litre TDV6 engine from the Discovery 3, and some markets took the 4.0-litre petrol V6 carried over from the Discovery 3. Both engines remained available until mid-2013. Outside the UK, coil-spring suspension was also available. However, the mainstream models had air suspension and the new 3.0-litre TDV6 diesel engine with twin sequential turbochargers. For the USA and other markets that favoured petrol engines, there was the latest 5.0-litre LR-V8. Most models now had a six-speed ZF automatic gearbox.
For the 2011 model-year, two versions of the 3.0-litre diesel were made available, one with 211 PS (for TDV6 models) and one with 245 PS (for SDV6 models). For 2012, eight-speed ZF automatic gearboxes with a rotary gear selector replaced the six-speed types for most markets, and the SDV6 had a power increase to 256 PS.
For the 2013 model-year, the range was simplified, leaving just TDV6, SDV6 and petrol V8 models in production. Then the 2014 model-year brought a facelift, and, for the USA and other petrol markets, a supercharged V6 petrol engine in place of the old V8.
From the beginning, the Discovery 4 was also available as a Commercial “van”, usually with the least powerful of the engine options and typically with coil-spring suspension.
The Discovery Sport (L550) was introduced at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2014 as the replacement for the Freelander 2/LR2 and became available through dealers in January 2015. The change of name reflected Land Rover’s re-organisation of its range into three “pillars”: Range Rover for Luxury, Discovery for Leisure, and Defender for Dual Purpose. The model was built at Halewood.
L550 shared most of the front of its platform with the Range Rover Evoque, but the rear half was completely new to give a longer (108in/2741mm) wheelbase and to make room for a third row of seats that folded into the floor. A new multi-link independent rear suspension was part of the package. Steering was a variable ratio electrically assisted type, and a large range of traction and driver assistance controls was standard, including Terrain Response and Autonomous Emergency Braking. New technologies included All Terrain Progress Control (an off-road cruise control).
The only engine available at launch was the 190PS 2.2-litre Ford four-cylinder turbodiesel, driving through the same six-speed manual gearbox as in the Evoque or through a new nine-speed ZF automatic. Four-wheel drive with an intelligent Haldex coupling to vary the front-to-rear torque split made the SD4 model; an eD4 with two-wheel drive became available later in 2015 and all models came with Stop-Start. However, the 2016 models available from September 2015 replaced the Ford engine with Land Rover’s own new EU6-compliant 2.0-litre Ingenium turbodiesel, available with either 150PS in base models or with 180PS in higher specification form.
The bodywork was a lightweight combination of steel and aluminium elements, styled by Gerry McGovern with a resemblance to the Evoque but also to more mainstream MPV models. A panoramic glass roof was available, as was a roof in contrasting colour to the body. Base models came with five seats and more expensive ones with seven; the second-row seats could tilt and slide to optimise loadspace. All models had a pedestrian airbag concealed just ahead of the windscreen.