Land Rover Discovery 4 | PH Used Buying Guide
The last generation Disco was big, heavy and pricey. And one of the best Land Rovers ever made
By Tony Middlehurst / Monday, September 28, 2020
- Available for under £7,000
- 3.0 litre diesel V6, all-wheel drive
- Superb practicality and comfort
- Surprisingly capable handling
- Big enough for family or work
- Reliability much improved, but not cheap to run
Search for a Land Rover Discovery 4 here
If you wanted to buy a brand new Land Rover in 1988, when smaller, more affordable Landies like the Freelander were still a far distant dream, your choice was stark: a Farmer Giles style Ninety or One Ten, or a Range Rover that you probably couldn't afford to buy or run.
Land Rover's owners at the time, Austin Rover, desperately needed something to plug the yawning gap between labourer and lounger. In 1989 the range-plugger arrived. Based on the Range Rover Classic's chassis and body structure, the first-generation Discovery (Series 1 1989-1998 and Series II 1998-2004) were a big step forward for Land Rover, even if the drivetrain choices – Defender-style diesels or thirsty, inefficient (by modern standards) petrol V8s – did hark back to olden days.
Still, gen-one Disco sales of over 670,000 proved that many folk liked that olde-worlde thing, and indeed many still do, but the L319 gen-two models – the Discovery 3 of 2004-2009, which was the first Land Rover product developed during Ford's ownership of the company, and the Discovery 4 of 2009-16 – were entirely different kettles of fish.
The Discovery we'll be discovering today is the 4, an evolution of the 3 rather than an entirely new model. It retained the 3's IBF (Integrated Body Frame) construction, the simpler-frame/monocoque hybrid arrangement that was the biggest departure from the old gen-one cars' traditional 'beefy ladder chassis with a body plonked on top' approach. Gerry McGovern claimed the design credits for the 4, although in fairness to Andy Wheel, the unsung hero behind the 3 who is now Chief Designer at LR, the visual differences between the two were largely restricted to the front and rear-end restyling touches that every manufacturer applies to their mid-cycle refreshes. The 4's front bumper was perhaps a bit clumsy, but the boxy design that in a different form had served the Defender and its predecessors so well remained largely intact.
These L319 Discoveries were as functional as they were handsome, looking no larger than the old 1/2s despite having a foot longer wheelbase. In reality there was no comparison between the old and new-gen Discoveries. The 3 & 4 were leagues ahead of the 1 and 2 in design modernity, both in their cabins and under the skin. The extra length in the wheelbase turned it from a 'five plus two scrunched-up' into a magically roomy seven. The 4's boot had a van-rivalling 2,558 litres of space in two-seat mode, 1,214 litres in five-seat mode (about twice the amount you got in a big estate), and the cargo room was still acceptable even with all seven seats in place, though with an unloaded weight of nearly 2.6 tonnes the 4 didn't exactly toe the growing industry line for lightness.
The upside of monster weight combined with the L319's fully-independent suspension package was an uncanny ability to squash just about all irregularities short of a volcanic caldera into submission, both on- and off-road. A clever suite of traction aids was headed up on the 3, and then on the 4, by the appealingly simple 'dial in your environment' Terrain Response system. This was complemented by off-road oriented Electronic Traction Control, tarmac-oriented Dynamic Stability Control, and the brilliant Hill Descent Control that was first seen on the Freelander.
Discovery 4s mainly came with V6 diesel engines (originally the Ford-developed 'Lion' unit). Technically at least there was a 340hp supercharged 3.0 petrol V6 in the range as well, which offered not much less performance and a little more economy than the old 4.4 V8, but you'll struggle to find one of these in the UK. Same goes for the 5.0 V8.
The single-turbo 190hp TDV6 2.7 that had powered the 3 was replaced by a 211hp 3.0 TDV6 with an improved ZF six-speed automatic transmission and ultimately in 2011 by a new, more powerful (253hp) and cheaper to fuel twin-turbo 3.0 SDV6 with an efficient 8-speed paddle shift gearbox. That's the one we'll be concentrating on and describing in the spec below.
Road testers and owners alike loved the L319's mix of comfort, genuine seven-seater space, go-anywhere ability and classiness. Yes, it was an MPV, but the stately Discovery's ready acceptance by the country set gave it an air of superiority that simply wasn't available in other manufacturers' common-or-garden MPVs.
In 2014 LR dropped the '4' from the badging and moved the rehabilitated 'Discovery' name to the bonnet in place of 'Land Rover'. The new era of rakishly styled Land Rovers ushered in by the Evoque meant that the clean, squared-off look died with the last Disco 4s of 2016, along with much of the ability of passengers to wear their top hats while travelling. The controversially styled 'fifth' (or really third) generation Discovery of 2017 is the current model. It costs nearly £58,000 in SE format. Interestingly you'll pay about the same for a top-spec lateDiscovery 4 as you will for an early Discovery 5. That's some indication of the love that's still felt for the older car.
The great news for anyone thinking about taking the plunge on a Discovery 4 is that 2009 or even 2010 models are available for under £7,000 as long as the mileage is right (ie on the wrong side of 150,000), you're happy to take a gamble and you're a bit handy with the spanners. Or ideally all three at once.
SPECIFICATION | LAND ROVER DISCOVERY 4 3.0 SDV6
Engine: 2,993cc, V6, 24v
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 442lb [email protected],000rpm
0-60mph: 9.6 secs
Top speed: 112mph
MPG (official combined): 32.5
Wheels: 19 in (20in option)
On sale: 2009 – 2016
Price new: from £38,000
Price now: from £6,750
Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it's wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
Once you've got past the slight tremor on startup and the distant buzz through the controls at idle, the 3.0 SDV diesel and 8-speed box operate with surpassing smoothness. There is some wind noise from the screen and the big door mirrors, but generally speaking the bluff Discovery 4 acquits itself remarkably well on the road. It's still one of the best vehicles for moving a family far and fast and with minimum fuss. It's not quick, but the performance it does have is nicely useable and you'll reach your destination sooner and more refreshed than would be the case with a great many other cars. If power really is an issue, a remap will easily take you over the 300hp mark.
Inlet manifolds are known to crack on the earlier (pre-2015) 3.0 diesels. The part is around £200 but there could be up to ten hours of labour involved in fitting it. More seriously, the crankshaft failure that could be an issue on the 2.7 was not entirely banished on the early (up to 2012) 3.0s. It's good practice to change the oil every 6,000 miles.
Servicing is done on an annual or 16,000-mile basis. The cost will depend on what work is needed, but ballpark figures from one of the many unofficial specialists around would be between £180 and £220 for an interim B service and between £280 and £325 for a major A one. Official LR prices will obviously be considerably higher.
The seventh or 112,000 (though some say 105,000) mile service will involve replacement of the cambelt. Besides the main cambelt at the front and the usual water pump and aux belts, there's another belt at the back that runs the high-pressure fuel pump. This is a swine to get at and a major contributor to the amount of time it takes to do all the belts at once. Realistically it's a full day's work altogether that will generate a four-figure bill even when it's done by experienced non-LR mechs.
Full belt- and turbo-swapping are more easily done with the body raised up off the chassis. Skipping the back belt replacement on lower-mileage cars will save money and won't hurt the engine – a snapped one will just cut off the fuel – but a broken cambelt will lunch the motor and you'll be looking at £10k for a recon unit. Water pumps can leak, as can the power steering, so keep an eye on the coolant/steering fluid levels.
The engine, transmission and transfer cases can all leak oil, and there was a recall in the summer of 2016 for engine cutout on the 3.0 diesels which obviously took the steering and braking assistance out with it. This bowel-loosener was traced to a fault with the crank position sensor. It affected cars within the 2012-2014 model year range.
Whining or humming noises can signify a worn front or rear differential. Check the transfer box by putting the trans into neutral and pressing the 'low' button to engage low range mode. It should come in and out without problems. Torque converters on the early 6-speed autos can wear out after 100,000 miles. The 8-speeders were more robust but you should change the transmission oil in both every 35,000 miles. Spark plugs should be changed on the same schedule. For diffs and transfer cases it's every 55,000 miles. Brake fluid and fuel filters should be replaced every two years.
If there's one thing Land Rover has always excelled at it's off-road performance. The Discovery 4 followed that glorious tradition. A 4 in fine fettle will take you to places you wouldn't imagine possible. It's all the more freaky when you realise that you're negotiating Defender-level terrain from the driving seat of a genuinely luxurious vehicle, and a good-handling one too considering its size.
The 4's excellent platform means that in terms of ability, value, and space for your money this seven-seat Disco arguably eclipses all its rivals, from the traditional ones like the Shogun and Land Cruiser to more modern and in some cases more sporty-handling cars like the X5. If heavy-duty towing is a part of your life, the Discovery 4 is a great solution thanks to its max towing capacity of 3.5 tonnes.
That phrase 'in fine fettle' is important. though. You need your radar switched to high when considering any used Discovery 4. Scanty maintenance or general neglect by previous owners can bite you on the bum. Heavy cars like this go through suspension components for fun, and these Discos can throw in some extra amusement in the form of failed compressors and leaks in the height-adjustable air suspension, so make sure that any car you're thinking of buying goes up and down in an even fashion as it's supposed to do because fixing faults in this area is not cheap. Compressors are around £400 a go and a leaking front strut – which will become known to you when one side of the car seems oddly lower than the other – will be around £600 for a genuine part (£700 for a rear) or about half that for an aftermarket one. Height sensors are about £120 a pop. Steel conversion kits are available.
If your 4 makes a knocking noise on slow turns it's going to need new front lower control arm bushes. These tend to go at around the 60,000 mile mark. Roll bars and tie rods go too. Degradation in the rear suspension is normally revealed in uneven tyre wear. A degree of nobbliness in the low-speed ride is normal, and if all's well that should be replaced by a highly agreeable plushness as speed is gained.
Brake pipes can rust through, and dirt in the braking system or badly adjusted brake shoes can disable the electronic parking brake. Fixing a seized parking brake actuator is expensive at getting on for £1,000 so listen for unseemly screeching noises before buying any car. A replacement set of Brembo discs, pads and sensors can be had off eBay for around £360: the fronts on their own will be between £185 and £200.
As long as you don't expect state of the art panel gaps on a Discovery 4 there's a good chance you'll experience a warm sense of satisfaction when you look back at it after a drive. Even the entry-level model had xenon headlights, parking sensors, roof rails, electric folding wing mirrors and 19in alloy wheels. The split tailgate is both cool and useful but the tailgate release cable can loosen or break. The microswitch in the upper section can fail too, but that's cheap at under £20.
If a roomful of people was asked to name a manufacturer associated with good rust protection, Land Rover wouldn't come up that often, or maybe even at all. Although the most venerable Discovery 4 is only a decade old, don't be surprised to see some surface corrosion underneath if you're using it on salty British roads.
The drain channels for both sunroofs can get blocked, causing water to course down into the cabin. The usual giveaway up front is dampness in the footwells close to the A-pillars. You can access the drain pipe ends via the front wing grilles. Water can also get in via A-pillar trim attachment clips or past warped windscreen cowls, but these are not difficult fixes. In the case of the cowl, adding sealant to the edge should prevent any re-occurrence of leaks. Rear sunroofs can crack if you go in for a lot of serious offroadin'.
Styling is always a matter of taste but you'd be forgiven for wondering what the LR board was smoking when they approved the Discovery 5's gawky evolution of the asymmetric rear end that was so right on the 4 and the 3 before it.
As mentioned at the start, if you drop all the back seats on a 4 you've got enough room there to start a business as a parcel drop courier. The cabin is absolutely huge in every direction. The Discovery 4 benefitted from the interior redesign that spruced up all LR products in 2010. That included clearer main analogue instruments, a new TFT info screen, new centre console and new seats (the second row of three are very well shaped), plus some posher materials trickling down from the Range Rover. The cracked dashboards, deformed steering wheel centres and sagging headliners that could afflict Discovery 3s, particularly those used in warmer climes, were not an issue on the 4. The harder plastics that you'll still see in some areas of a 4 are there for sensible utilitarian reasons.
In some models a 'dual view' display allowed the driver to use the satnav at the same time as the passenger was watching a movie. All this, along with solid-feeling switchgear and the dominant driving position, produced a pleasantly upmarket ambience even if the infotainment interface will nowadays seem quite old-fashioned.
Standard equipment on all models included cruise control, a reversing camera, keyless entry, a Meridian sound system, leather upholstery and heated front seats. Upgrades in the range-topping Landmark included 20-inch alloy wheels, an electric sunroof, TV screens in the back, heated seats all round, souped-up Meridian sounds and a heated steering wheel – surely one of motoring's most underrated luxuries.
The Range Rover was also the source of new efficiency-boosting electronics in the Disco 4, like a smart alternator that only kicked in at low engine loadings and an optional Surround Camera System that gave you an all round view of the car on the TFT screen. If the SCS image you see on the screen of any post-2014 cars you're looking at doesn't seem to be as sharp as that on pre-2014 cars you look at, that's not necessarily a cause for concern as rumour has it that LR reduced the system's image quality in 2014. On the plus side we think that a wade sensing feature was added to the screen functions of 2014-on Discoveries. This used sensors in the mirror housings to determine the depth of water on river crossings. Maybe not such an important feature in the Home Counties in 2020, but if we ever get to a Waterworld situation as a result of global warming it could be handy.
On the often vexed subject of Land Rover electronics reliability, the 4 was an improvement on the 3 but you might still experience problems with the windows, locks, rear wiper and central locking. It's important to maintain good battery condition if you want to minimise faults. The sensors controlling the air con and air suspension are not immune to failure either and the fuel gauge can misread. If you can, check any potential purchase with an OBD scanner to find fault codes. The 2016 recall for engine cutouts also dealt with non-deploying airbags.
In terms of updating the offroad experience and adding a whole new dimension of luxury and comfort the Discovery 3 was a massive leap forward for Land Rover. The Discovery 4 built on that strong foundation and added worthwhile improvements, both general and detail.
The result is an imposing, imperturbable vehicle that is not just a highly appealing blend of serious offroad talent and family-toting sophistication thanks to its big space, copious stowage and the rising 'stadium' seating, but also a potential wage-earner for anyone who wants to go into the transportation business. Bung a decent trailer on the back and for under ten grand you could be one of those people who advertise nationwide car shipping at a pound a mile. There are worse ways of making a living. Spend a bit more money and the tax-friendly Commercial van version hoves into view.
When buying any used car, you need to find a good one, and nowhere does that maxim apply more strongly than in the world of Land Rovers. Although the last Discovery 4s were also the best ones as LR continued along its usual catchup path of detail improvements, there's still a degree of bravery required in flashing the cash on a 4, but the amount reduces with in line with a car's youth and the risk level generally is much lower than it used to be.
Although road tax for all 4s is reasonable at £330, other running costs are never going to be low. The official fuel consumption is 32.5mpg but as we may have said before these are big, heavy cars. If you need to get to places in a hurry you'll see the overall consumption rise to something in the low to mid-20s, but even at that rate the 82-litre tank will give you more than 360 miles between fills. 30mpg is doable if you really try hard on longer, less frenetic runs, but to avoid disappointment you shouldn't really expect more than 25mpg.
Where should you buy your Discovery 4? Land Rover's approved used scheme covers cars up to seven years old, meaning that you can still buy 2013-on cars from there. As with any manufacturer's used car scheme, you'll pay through the nose for a factory-approved Discovery. If you can stomach the prices you'll have some peace of mind, albeit only 12 months' worth of warranty. The cheapest 4 on their site at the time of writing was a 2015 SDV6 with 66,000 miles at £19,950. The dearest was a 21,000-mile Discovery Landmark at £37,991.
You won't glean much from the appalling LR approved website as it offers just one thumbnail-sized exterior pic of each car and no car-specific data other than the year of manufacture and the mileage. Based on the assumption that, despite the poor online display, they should have among the best examples on the market, a look through LR's stock will at least provide you with an overview of what dealers are charging for warrantied Discovery 4s and make you feel like you're getting a bargain when you buy a car plus a decent warranty off the open market instead.
Which brings us to PH Classifieds, where at the affordable end of the range we found this 2010 TDV6 HSE in Loire blue with black leather and 125,000 miles. It's due another service and there are no shots of the driver's seat, which is slightly worrying, but you can't have everything for £10,990. For just a thousand pounds more how about this 96,000-mile 2010 SDV6 in teal with cream leather? If high mileages Land Rovers frighten you here's a 59,000-mile 2012 SDV6 in Java black (but, unusually, no leather) for £15,950. If nothing other than a low-miler will do, this 22,000-mile 2013 HSE in Indus silver with black leather should soothe your beating heart at £27,000.
Search for a Land Rover Discovery 4 here
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