Blog : Disco fever

Sam Mace

LR Discovery

Before Crossovers were in vogue, the term ‘Multi Purpose Vehicle’ was banded around in the media, I think, a little too carelessly. The first car to be branded as such was Renault’s Espace, which sparked the trend of other car makers building big, van-like cars with more seats than most living rooms but with the driving dynamics of a suet pudding. That was, of course, until Vauxhall came to the rescue with the Zafira VXR, which gave hope to family men everywhere.

Setting aside bonkers follies like the Zafira VXR, the name ‘Multi Purpose Vehicle’ is a massive, massive let down. When in ‘cooking’ form, the MPV’s primary purpose is to move a lot of people from one place to another. That’s it. Yes, you can fold the seats down or remove them – full stop. However, if you want to take a piano to the tip, a decent estate will swallow most other large items whole. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking MPVs are cheap to run, because they’re not.

You can’t take a Renault Espace round the Nurburgring. You can’t take a Vauxhall Zafira off road. You can’t use a Vauxhall Sintra as a limousine. Well, you probably can do all those things with an MPV, but here’s the key word here, not well.

A Jaguar X300 is a multi purpose vehicle. You can take one for a spirited B-road drive and, when you’ve had enough, cruise on the motorway in perfect comfort. Then, when you get home attack it with AutoGlym and a pressure washer, stick some ribbons on it and rent it as a perfectly acceptable wedding car.

However, for me, the most multi-talented, useful and flexible car I’ve ever known came as a bit of a surprise – it was a Land Rover Discovery. If you’re thinking about a people carrier, I urge you to seek out a Discovery 2 and spend some quality time with it. It can do all the things an MPV can do and just as well as an MPV can do them – with class.

My on/off relationship with an excellent, 2002 specimen of the breed started, like so many torrid affairs do, on holiday. Many start a package holiday in Spain, but this one began in Wales. A friend borrowed it to use as wheels for our jollies and brought it round to show me the evening before we were due to vanish for two weeks to complain about the rain.

From the start I was smitten. He showed me around and, just like a Renault Espace, it had seven seats. That’s already the people moving part covered. Excited, I clambered abroad to get acquainted. Despite being more than 10 years old, the interior still smelt new. It looked new too. Even the switchgear looked crisp and factory fresh. It was light and airy, like a four wheeled lean-to conservatory. It felt expensive and posh.

New Discoveries give the impression of sitting inside a Bang and Olsen stereo, but the Discovery 2 was more like sitting inside a big Barbour jacket. I felt like the door pockets should have been made out of quilted green fabric and contain shotgun residue from shooting a few clays after the Sunday roast.

The next day, it completed the drive from Hampshire to the outer extremities of Wales without any mishaps and, perhaps more impressively, with no complaints from any passengers. It was quiet on the motorway and well mannered around the many towns we drove through. In fact, it was a thoroughly relaxing place to be. In Wales itself, the Disco’ shone. It’s air suspension floated around the country roads like a Jaguar and the loadspace took cameras, camp beds, boots and other outdoorsy junk like a van. If you closed your eyes, you’d never guess you were in something farmers love so much.

After the holiday, I didn’t miss the mountains, streams or valleys. I did, though, miss the Land Rover, with its burbling TD5 engine and Babour jacket interior.

Some time later, I helped the same friend build something, which required the Discovery again. It was loaded with tools, bags of cement and a wheelbarrow. At the end of the day mud got walked inside her, much to my chagrin. Then, after having to use the low ratio box in a muddy field, the outside got the same treatment. Worse was to come, though…

My friend got me a hot, buttery bacon sandwich dripping with fat and sauce after he filled up with diesel. Starving, too polite to save it for later, and with no breakfast inside me, I had no choice and broke a long standing rule of mine that forbids eating in nice cars (Or worse, somebody else’s nice car).  By the end of the week somebody smoked inside it (by this time I felt like crying) and a can of Red Bull did an impression of Basil Fawlty’s fire extinguisher and soaked the dashboard. By the time the job was finished, I had a feeling that the once factory-fresh Discovery would never be the same again. The interior smelt like an inner city train station.

Before it went back to its owner, it was cleaned within an inch of it’s life inside and out. Once we were finished, it was as if it had never been used for work. The crisp switchgear was still crisp, surviving muddy or greasy hands, cigarette ash and Red Bull. Weirdly, the new car smell came back.

That evening, it was taken out for a drive to a posh pub, where it didn’t look at all out of place with the new and newish Audis, BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes – not bad for something you can use as a work vehicle.

There you have it, then – a truly multi-purpose car. Mile muncher, tough workhorse and a posh waftmobile… Just don’t ask about the fuel consumption.

Keith Adams


  1. Excellent blog as always Mr Mace!

    While not usually a fan of SUVs (specifically crossovers and badly driven Qashcows) – one could not help but be fond of the Disco 2, it is a truly classless vehicle, at home in front of country estates and farms, police duties and towing builders’ trailers.

    Living in the sticks, they are still very popular, I followed one earlier and thought it was a vehicle that wouldn’t look out of place in the nearest town, but which could also easily turn left into a field and just keep going.
    We passed a school, and a Disco 3/4 was reversing, it was a totally different type of vehicle. The image it had was of commuting between newbuild suburbia and the local primary, possibly being borrowed to drive to the glass-and-steel business park for a sales meeting. Still a nice vehicle nonetheless, but some of the “Disco 2” style character had been changed.

    A friend has a brother who moved to London. He tells me the story of how the brother sold his old bangernomics runabout and bought a Disco (1 I think). The neighbours were chuffed, it at least complemented their Q7s and X5s…
    Until the weekend when he started taking the running boards and bumpers off. Next door (think the Audi driver in Saxondale…) was disgruntled and astounded that he was dismantling his vehicle in the driveway, he explains that it is to aid in off roading. They were baffled – in an SUV? What a concept!

  2. “Just don’t ask about fuel consumption.”

    Or the rust. Or the electrical problems. Or the rust. Or the failing air suspension. Or the rust. Or the clattery diesel engine. Or the rust.

    The early Discovery 1 and 2 were a great concept, and as per the article, offered a great 7-seater alternative to staid people carriers. Sadly they were let down by poor execution, and poor quality components. Your friend’s car sounds like a good one, but I don’t think his experience is typical.

    In contrast, the Disco 3 is a lovely car, has a much more modern chassis and powertrain, and is getting cheaper by the day. But if the budget only stretches to a Disco 2, I’d prefer something Japanese instead.

  3. I am on my 2nd Disco. the first was a Mk1 300tdi in metallic red bought with 130,000 on the clock and sold 2 years later with 142 on it. Still driving around over 3 years later according to DVLA website. Improved vastly after I replaced the big knobbly tyres fitted by the PO with some more road like Pirelli Scorpions. Fuel consumption raised from 29 to 33mpg for one!

    The second one is stll with me, a silver TD5 auto, similar to the one pictured, bought with 80k on it, now up over 108k. Has had a few niggles, suspension compressor failed, steering box leaking, rusty brake pipes and failing central locking actuators. Has taken us to France and back from NW England, Cornwall and Ireland. Finally had to replace the original battery after 12 years and 10 months.

    Great for ferrying muddy junior footballers and dogs, gets washed once a year whether it needs it or not. Has also carried logs, furniture, planks, coal, gravel and fruit trees.

    Great motors good for high mileage if you are prepared to look after them. Oil change every 6k miles and TLC when necessary. Look for leaking sunroofs, cylinder head gaskets occasionally and electronic maladies. Misfires can be caused by oil in the wiring loom to the ECU (£50 fix) but these are complex beasties and can be difficult to diagnose if they go wrong. Lots of websites and parts suppliers.

    The car that will do 99.9% of everything you need.

    Just don’t ask about the fuel consumption!! (Well, 24-32mpg for a D2 TD5 depending on manual or Auto, about half that for a V8 petrol).

  4. Thank you, Will glad you enjoyed it 🙂

    It really is an automotive cameleon, that car. If I had the need, I’d buy one today.

  5. Nice to see someone paying tribute the Discovery Series II. I have driven numerous examples, including around an off-road course (no, not Sainsbury’s car park)and still favour the Series II over the other generation examples. Particularly as it has the separate transfer-box lever to engage and not some new fangled Terrain Response with millions of different options.

    The Td5 is a nice enough engine which I managed to get almost 30mpg when driven carefully. The 4-litre V8 automatic was wonderful and I never tired of listening to that classic 8-cylinder soundtrack. Thankfully it was a press loan vehicle so I did not have to fill it right up before handing it back a week later, although I did thoroughly valet it for them because it looked so splendid in Oslo Blue metallic with an Alpaca leather interior.

    As Tony Evans says, the Series II does need to be looked after as even the very final examples built will be nudging ten years old.

    Sorry to sound ‘rather observant’, but the variant you are standing with looks like the short-lived ‘Adventurer’ model, introduced in October 2000.

  6. It is indeed an Adventurer, David, well spotted.
    I’ve only ever seen one other, and that was in Wales would you have it…

  7. Good blog, I agree completely with it.

    As much as I think the current Discovery is a good car I can’t help but think it has lost something in moving ever further up market. A big part of what made the first two Discoveries so good in my opinion was their utilitarian character and ability. I think in the move to be a leather lined, nigh-on-£50K poor man’s Range Rover this has been lost. When the Series II was current they started at around £25,000 and you could get a respectable spec for £30,000. Today’s model starts at £40,000 and goes over £50,000 for a top spec one. It’s without doubt worth that money but it’s a different proposition.

  8. @ Sandie:

    Agreed. What makes me smile about the current Discovery 4 is the name they have adopted for the new flagship model to sit above the HSE – HSE Luxury. I have previously driven a Discovery HSE and even in early Discovery 3 guise it certainly did not want for luxury. It had so much on it! Given the HSE Luxury’s near £60,000 on-the-road price for the 2014 MY, I would have thought HSE Premium to be more appropriate.

  9. The Disco 3 & 4 are very different animals to the Mk 1 & 2. TBH, I would not consider a 3 or 4 because they are just too big and complicated. Not to mention that you have to take the body off to work on the exhaust manifold on a D3/4!

    @2 Andy, the D1 does rust quite badly. The D2 is much better in this respect unless seriously neglected. The issue with the D2 is electronics. Lucas the Prince of Darkness still stalked Solihull in the late 90s and early 2000s. 😉

  10. What a brilliant blog. It’s a great insight into life with the Discovery, a car I will never be able to afford.

    If I could, I would buy one.

    Thank you.

  11. I would have D2 with steel suspension, without ACE and SLABS, and make sure it has a new exhaust manifold and hopefully the fuel gallery in the head does not crack.

    And even then I would be sniffy about owning one.

    The D3 and 4 are not much better with £400 EGR valves x3 and 3 hours labour apiece if the bolts don’t shear.

    Unreliable dog.

  12. Thank you Sam – enjoyed it immensely!
    I have never owned a Disco but have been in my son’s off-roading and accompanied his car with my 109 on many occasions – in extreme situations way beyond Sunday afternoon ‘green laning’.
    A truly amazing vehicle. Considering we rarely came back without damaged panels or broken glazing – it was utterly reliable. I have pictures of it in water to within a foot of the side windows. Thankfully the snorkel never fell off – unlike an incident with a three week old Mahindra!

  13. Thanks Wolsey Man and TCF667.

    TCF667, I’d look on Autotrader, you can pick up a 2 quite cheaply now, and they’ll only get cheaper 🙂

    RE suspension troubles: this one had problems with the rear end dropping some time ago. It’s since been resolved and not given anymore trouble-at what cost I do not know.

  14. I am on my second discovery over 10 years. About 15 months ago I upgraded to a DiscoIIv8 which replaced my Disco1 v8. I love them both they tow anything go anywhere carry 7 people and they handle surprisingly well especially the DiscoII fitted with ACE. Great cars 🙂 I had as leak in air cushoin recently got two new ones for 55GBP each from Paddocks, very reasonable I thought. Alex

  15. Fuel consumption. my Disco 1 v8 only ever did 15 MPG. But on one trip I got 18 out of it and I dont know how. The discoII v8 though does 15MPG round town, but out on the open road 19 to 23 MPG is attainable (in hilly NZ) without trying. I think i could get 25 if I tried a little harder which is about the same as the XJ40 I used to have. From my perspective I bought the disco 1 for NZ$10K kept it for 7-8 years and sold it for just under $3K. I did have to spend some money on it just before I sold it, so in reality I the $3K I got back was a write off. still – not bad motoring over 7-8 years I think especially as it was so useful and practical. I hope the DiscoII does me just as well. Alex (married with 3 children – the Disco is a useful machine)

  16. I have one of these, but with the V8 and unusually its a 5 speed manual 5 seater with steel springs all round and LPG converetd. However it makes a tappet like rattle when warm but beyond that it has few faults and returns 16 MPG on LPG whihc makes it about equal to the TD5 in running costs

  17. I think the Disco 2 is one of the most underated cars out there. As impressive as the Disco 3/4 are, I think they’ve moved away from what the Discovery originally meant to be. The Disco 5 isn’t too far away now, wonder which direction Land Rover will be taking it…?

  18. ive had a 300 tdi for 7 years now been brill great towing vehicle good family car having 7 seats and is very comfy and economical and if needed unlike a car it can handle the mud. i am always surprised by people who say they are poor. rubish they obviously have never owned one!! oh and parts are dirt cheap.
    i would never consider japanese shoguns are thirsty parts are ridiculous prices the so called mitsubushi WARRIORS blow head gaskets big time as do the NIssan equivelant both are pretty poor offroad and some still have medival cart springs on the back. the warrior wont pull the skin off a rice pudding and and things break too easily, give me a good defender anyday they go forever..
    why the hell would i ever consider japanese??

  19. Another good blog, Master Mace.

    I much prefer the earliest generation Discos as sensible usable multi-purpose vehicles, and the first one in particular for it’s remarkably effective raid of parts bin components, without looking like one of those oddly-proportioned ’80s kit cars.

    I think that ‘new car smell’ you refer to however is more likely to be smouldering wiring deep under the dashboard…

  20. Disco 2 FTW.
    I adored mine, even its 16mpg petrol habit.
    I shall be buying a TD5 one late this year or early next.
    Its a car that you either love or hate, and if you love them you either own one or want to own another.

  21. the early discos are simplicity itself, but i still want a td5 or a v8 love v8s stuff the fuel cost, my mate spends 20 quid a day on fags!! which is better for you???

  22. @ ant 80
    Interesting comments about Shogun.
    Please give examples of expensive parts.
    Ive just traded in a 2.5TD Shogun sport warrior after 4 years and 70K miles in my ownership. Regularly towed a 2.7 ton car transport trailer. Yes it was noisy, uncomfortable, and thirsty. As for Parts, never needed them, apart from service items. I get all my service items from Partco. I think if you went to a LR dealer you would crap your self at what they charge!
    I do like Disco’s too. Im thinking of one now as a project car. I Was told by my local garage to avoid TD5. Go for either a V8 on LPG Or a 300TDI

  23. I think the Td5 still has (unfairly) a bit of a bad reputation. As long as they’ve been looked after they’re pretty much bomb proof, and they can reach mega mileage without too much fuss. They can easily be tweaked to push out around 200bhp too (as long as the transmission can handle it!). Plus they sound awesome!

    I know a few people who are using Td5’s in trails motors.

    Still can’t beat a simple Tdi though!

  24. Loved my late model S1 3.9 V8 Disco.
    Didn’t mind the 17mpg I got out of it as I was in Saudi and it was just about 45p a gallon. Filled the tank for about six quid!
    Great to hash about in the desert in it. Never let me down. Sold it on for the same price I bought it for.
    Great motor. Miss it a hell of a lot.

  25. I’ve owned my 04 TD5 for 6 years now and taken the mileage from 20k to 103k.

    Winters in Austria, summers in Monaco, and everything inbetween.

    Its build quality is brilliant, its economy is outstanding, its reliability has been second to none and its parts prices unfeasably cheap.

    Quite simply its irreplaceable. Nothing else offers such class or versitility, or [add whatever here].

    Rover Group’s finest hour?

  26. Well to ad my opinion to the mix. I owned a 2004 Td5 Landmark from 2006 until 2017. In that time it was a totally brilliant family car, able to go anywhere, carry anything, tow anything, carry 7 people. Bought at 33000 miles and sold at 165000. It did need plenty spending on it to keep it going but so much of it was DIY friendly the only big jobs I didnt carry out were clutch and flywheel changes, and fuel pressure regulator changes (because my hands are too big to get at the mounting bolts). Zambesi silver, full black leather, twin sun roofs it was a luxurious big car too and didnt look out of place in any setting. About 28 mpg was the norm for my manual. I still think the late facelifted model is a beautiful shape, its a shame so many have met an untimely end due to chassis corrosion.
    Replaced with a 2014 Freelander 2, another great Landrover thats often under rated, it ticks most of the boxes that the Disco did with the exception of the 7 seats and a smaller boot, It doesnt have the same charachter however.

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