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Land Rover Discovery 3.0-litre diesel review 2023

Make and model: Land Rover Discovery D300
Description: Large seven-seat SUV, diesel
Price range: £60,540 (plus options)

Land Rover says: “Discovery combines an exceptional design evolution with a versatile and intelligently packaged interior which embodies the spirit of family adventure.”

We say: Undoubtedly competent and supremely comfortable, but it’s big, expensive, heavy and inefficient.


Introduction

Like the other grandee names in the Land Rover family – Defender and Range Rover – the Land Rover Discovery has come a long way from its utilitarian origins.

Now in its fifth generation, the Discovery is a sophisticated seven-seat SUV that has to appeal to buyers who will rarely venture off the beaten track. Yet, at the same time, it needs to be worthy of the Land Rover name by being perfectly capable in the sorts of off-road situations that would embarrass most SUVs from other brands.

For the purposes of our review, we’re going to take the Discovery’s off-road talents as a given. What we’re interested in finding out is whether they compromise the Disco’s abilities on-road, since that’s where it will inevitably spend the vast majority of its time with most of its customers.

What is it?

The Land Rover Discovery is a large, seven-seat 4×4 with a starting price of just over £60K. It used to be the biggest model in the Land Rover family, but has been overtaken by the latest Range Rover and Defender models. Unlike those models, the Discovery is only available in one size and seating configuration.

The current Discovery has been around since 2017, and this is the fifth generation of vehicle to carry the name (Land Rover die-hards, we’re going with what the company says so we’re not going to argue whether it’s really only the third generation…). It had a major update in late 2020, although visually there wasn’t a great deal of change.

Customers have a choice of diesel or petrol power for the Discovery, although exact engine availability will depend on which of the four trim options you choose.

Who is this car aimed at?

Unusually, Land Rover offers not one, but two large seven-seat SUVs in the same price bracket. The Discovery and Defender 110 are similar in price, size and equipment levels. So what gives?

The Discovery is more subtle in styling, if you can ever call a five-metre-long SUV subtle, while the Defender pays homage to its famous predecessor with its squared-off styling. The Disco follows the last decade of Land Rover’s Russian doll approach to styling, with everything looking like a larger version of the original Range Rover Evoque.

It’s fair to suggest that the new Defender isn’t really a replacement for the old Defender at all, but rather a replacement for the old Discovery. Meanwhile the Discovery has moved more upmarket, looking and feeling like an entry-level Range Rover.

Who won’t like it?

Land Rover is very much a premium brand these days, competing in the same space as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. So, like those brands, it’s not about value for money. If you’d like to tick most of the same boxes on the spec sheet for a little over half the price, you should be looking at a Skoda Kodiaq.

It’s also a very large, near-three-tonne SUV (once you put a couple of people in it and fill up the tank with diesel), so it’s not going to win any awards from climate change campaigners. The Defender and Range Rover models are available with plug-in hybrid powertrains, but the Discovery has not been blessed with these.

First impressions

The Discovery may no longer be the largest model in the Land Rover family, but it’s still big. Really big. Which is great news if you you want to take up to six passengers with you, because most seven-seaters are rather cramped once you fill up all the available seats.

Of course, if you don’t need the third row of seats, they fold flat into the floor and you have a big, square boot space. The rear of the car even lowers down at the touch of a button to make loading easier, as the Disco sits very high up off the ground (more on that later).

Styling-wise, it’s a mixed bag. The front half is all quite neat and smooth, and far better resolved than any SUV from BMW (admittedly, that’s a low bar to clear). It all looks like an Evoque XXL. But the back half of the car isn’t anywhere near as attractive. For such a wide vehicle, it manages to look very tall and narrow, and the silly offset number plate doesn’t look any better now than it did six years ago.

Our car was finished in an attractive metallic greyish-blue colour called Byron Blue, with silver alloy wheels. It was a nice change from the usual dark grey or black cars with dark grey or black wheels that you usually see on the roads or at your local Land Rover dealer. Why can’t more customers pick brighter colours for their cars and wheels?

What do you get for your money?

Once we’ve got the first impressions out of the way, it’s time to look a bit harder at exactly what you’re getting for your money with the Land Rover Discovery.

As of late 2023, the range starts with the Discovery S, only available with a 300hp diesel engine (yes, they still exist) and with a starting price of just over £60K. It’s actually pretty well equipped and is certainly not just a price-leader model that no-one is likely to ever buy.

The 3.0-litre diesel engine is hooked up to an automatic transmission, with no manual alternative. It’s a proper four-wheel-drive vehicle, meaning that all wheels are driven all the time – although the amount of drive going to each wheel will vary depending on the conditions.

In terms of standard equipment, the Discovery S has all the basics you’ll need, although obviously the niceties are kept for more expensive models. It’s good to see that all the safety kit is standard rather than costing extra, which isn’t always the case.

Above this model is the Dynamic SE trim, with either or diesel or petrol power and starting at about £68K with same diesel engine. Then comes Dynamic HSE trim, which bumps the price to just over £72K, and finally the top-spec Metropolitan Edition for £77K.

What’s the Land Rover Discovery like inside?

The interior is where most of Land Rover’s money went during the mid-life update. If you’re looking for a used Discovery, you’ll see a big difference between the pre-facelift (2017 to 2020) models and the post-facelift (2021 onwards) versions.

There’s plenty of room for everyone, with good headroom and legroom in the first two rows. Inevitably the third row is tighter, but you could still carry two adults back there for relatively short trips. The middle-row seats don’t slide and fold as quickly as you’d like, so if you’re using the third row regularly you’ll get tired of waiting for the partially electric seat to get out of the way.

The biggest single improvement on post-2020 models is the new infotainment system, which Land Rover calls Pivi Pro. The screen is larger (11 inches) and more responsive than on older cars, and the whole thing runs much more smoothly. That said, it’s still not as user-friendly as some systems on other cars, and you’ll probably end up just running Apple CarPlay or Android Auto rather than the fairly fiddly built-in systems.

The dashboard layout is fairly conventional and logical in its layout, although it’s starting to look dated compared to rivals. There are lots of storage spots all throughout the cabin, which is great. Unfortunately, several of them were very reluctant to open when their buttons were pressed, which suggests that Land Rover’s build quality is still not up to scratch. Budget cars get this sort of stuff right, so it’s unacceptable in a £60K+ premium vehicle.

Boot space is great with the rear row of seats down – the square shape of the Discovery’s back end maximises load space compared to the en vogue coupé SUVs found elsewhere. With all three rows in use, you obviously lose the vast majority of your boot, so you’ll only be able to fit a few smaller bags back there.

Standard-fit air suspension means you can lower the back end of the car at the touch of a button. This is helpful if you’re loading heavy bags or bulky objects, as the Discovery sits quite high – you definitely climb up into it. The motorised tailgate can also be opened or closed remotely with your car key.

What’s under the bonnet?

The only engine choice for the Discovery S is a 3.0-litre diesel unit, helped along with mild hybrid assistance. It’s called a D300 in Land Rover lingo. The company does emphasise the mild hybrid bit quite a lot on its website, but don’t get too excited. Most diesel engines are now mild hybrids, and it just means that the engine gets a bit of electrical support to hopefully provide a small improvement to fuel economy.

In practical terms, it’s still a near-three-tonne SUV so don’t be expecting a Christmas card from Greta Thunberg. Over the course of a week of mixed driving on roads we use regularly, we saw fuel economy of about 29mpg. Our usual petrol estate would probably achieve somewhere close to 40mpg for the same sort of driving.

Being a big diesel engine, it produces loads of torque, so you can expect that the Discovery will maintain its performance well regardless of how much you load it up with passengers and luggage, and your fuel consumption won’t suffer as much as it would on a petrol vehicle. You can get a Discovery with a petrol engine, but I can’t imagine why you’d want to unless you have your own private oil refinery.

The gearbox is an automatic transmission, which shifts smoothly between its eight gears. This is a proper four-wheel drive, so all four wheels drive the car at all times. Some SUVs are two-wheel drive only, or may only use all four wheels on occasion. The Discovery can apportion drive to each wheel depending on how much grip is available at the time, so traction is always maximised. There’s nothing you need to do to assist or control this, it’s all done by the car.

At this point in the review, it’s probably time to address the elephant in the room when it comes to Land Rover – reliability. According to data supplied to The Car Expert by our partner MotorEasy, the Discovery has a very poor reliability rating. But it’s not just us – owner surveys from What Car? and other titles consistently put the Discovery, and most other Land Rover models, right at the bottom of the pile.

What’s the Land Rover Discovery like to drive?

As said right at the top, we’re only evaluating the Discovery’s on-road ability here. There are plenty of good 4WD websites and magazines that can give you plenty of detail about how good it is off the road, but that’s not where the vast majority of Discoveries spend their time.

We’re interested in assessing how well the Disco copes with ordinary day-to-day driving and road trips, which is exactly how most families will use it. We found plenty of good and not-so-good in this regard.

Firstly, the driving position is great once you get there. It’s definitely a step up to get into the Discovery, and you’ll find that you actually look down on almost every other car on the road – plus most delivery vans apart from the really big ones. That gives you plenty of visibility down the road to see what’s coming.

Being diesel-powered and weighing more than 2.5 tonnes, the Discovery is sluggish to respond off the mark but does then pick up speed rather quickly if you keep the throttle pedal floored. Combined with its large dimensions and huge turning circle, it’s a clumsy thing for city driving. This is not the ideal car for negotiating car parks, stop-start traffic and narrow laneways, notwithstanding the fact that plenty of owners do use them in these environments on a daily basis.

Find your way free of the urban jungle and the Discovery is far more comfortable. The ride is generally quite good – our car rode on 20-inch alloy wheels, but if you pay extra for larger wheels then you can expect the ride to become bumpier. Corners, however, feel quite roly-poly. This is a combination of relatively soft suspension and sitting quite high up. It doesn’t detract from the car’s overall ability, but it’s noticeable if you’re used to a low-slung saloon or hatchback or estate car.

In comparison, big SUVs from the German trio of Mercedes, BMW and Audi tend to be less comfortable in ride, but feel more planted in corners. There’s no real right or wrong way to go about it, just a different approach. Be sure to take a good test drive in any car you’re thinking of buying to make sure you’re comfortable with how it drives.

The front and middle-row seats were certainly comfortable, even after a couple of hours on longer runs. We only tried the third row briefly, but it was better than expected. You still wouldn’t want to travel over great distances back there as an adult, but for shorter trips it was perfectly reasonable. Steering is light, as it is on most

The diesel engine grumbles along with more noise than you’d get from a similar petrol unit, and the tyres are also quite noisy. Once you get up to motorway speeds, a fair amount of wind noise is also audible. Overall, it’s not an overly noisy car but others are quieter.

How safe is the Land Rover Discovery?

The Land Rover Discovery was assessed by Euro NCAP back in March 2017 and awarded a five-star safety rating, with a very good set of scores in every category – both in how it avoids an accident in the first place, and how it copes with an accident if impact is unavoidable.

It’s worth pointing out that this rating is due to expire in January 2024, which is normal practice for Euro NCAP (the ratings usually expire the January after the sixth anniversary of the initial publication).

Verdict

With Land Rover now offering four different seven-seat SUVs in its range (Discovery, Discovery Sport, Defender and Range Rover), it’s getting hard to see how the Discovery can stand out in its own family, let alone among rivals from other brands.

Would you choose a Discovery over a Defender 110 with the same engine and similar spec for similar money? Or how about a near-new (last-generation) Range Rover, which would also be a similar price?

After a week of driving the big Disco, the overall impression was of a car with undoubted competence but little real character. It certainly did everything we needed it to do, and in considerable comfort. But the driving experience was fairly average and the fuel economy was poor. And then there’s the historically poor reliability of the Discovery across all generations.

The off-roading capabilities are certainly overkill for the needs of most households, but you’re paying for them in both the price of the car and the additional running costs every month. If your driving circumstances involve travelling a fair distance off-road, then a Land Rover Discovery would be a great all-round vehicle. But if you never venture any further off the tarmac than a National Trust car park or well-maintained campsite, there are more suitable alternatives available.

Similar cars

If you’re looking at the Land Rover Discovery, you might also be interested in these alternatives

Audi Q7 | BMW X5 | Genesis GV80 | Land Rover Defender | Lexus RX | Maserati Levante | Mercedes-Benz GLE | Range Rover Sport | Tesla Model X | Toyota Land Cruiser | Volkswagen Touareg | Volvo XC90

Key specifications

Model tested: Land Rover Discovery S
Price (as tested): £69,090 (including £10,600 in optional extras)
Engine: 3.0-litre diesel (with mild hybrid assistance)
Gearbox:
Eight-speed automatic

Power: 300 hp
Torque: 650 Nm
Top speed: 130 mph
0-60 mph: 6.5 seconds

Fuel economy (combined): 33.3 mpg
CO2 emissions: 222 g/km
Euro NCAP safety rating: Five stars (Sept 2022)
TCE Expert Rating: 77% (as of Nov 2023)

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