Land Rover Discovery long-term test: filth peddling

Published: 16 January 2020

► CAR lives with a big Landie
► Plush Discovery HSE Lux
► Ben Oliver is at the wheel

Month 9 living with a Land Rover Discover: better dirty

I've just returned from Scotland, where I was shooting a story on the Discovery's 30th anniversary, which you can read soon. I have to admit that there's still a lot of Scottish mud on the wheels despite being back in Sussex. Living on a farm, there isn't much point cleaning the Disco, but subconsciously I think I prefer it dirty (stop it!) to communicate the fact that it doesn't just get used on the school run. The odometer tells the same story: I've been putting miles on this car at a prodigious rate – faster than any long-term test car I've had before, and at about twice the national average. Other than the fuel bills (almost all over £100 now) I don't mind a bit, and nothing has yet gone wrong.

By Ben Oliver

Logbook: Land Rover Discovery Sd6 HSE Luxury

Price £70,405 (£76,065 as tested) 
Performance 2993cc turbodiesel V6, 302bhp, 7.5sec 0-62mph, 130mph 
Efficiency 36.2 mpg (official), 29.2mpg (tested), 206g/km CO2 
Energy cost 21p per mile 
Miles this month 2861
Total miles 14012


Month 8 living with a Land Rover Discovery: a luxury chase car

Early last year, multiple Tour de France winner Chris Froome posted an extraordinary ride on the exercise-tracking app Strava. Starting from his home near Johannesburg he rode for 270km at an average of 45km/h (us cyclists always use kilometres – it sounds further and faster) before the Team Sky staff in the car following him swept up his dessicated remains and drove him home.

That's 28mph, for six hours. On a bicycle. Nobody looks at that Strava post and thinks 'that's a good idea' – except, it seems, me. Froome titled his ride 'Emptying the tank', and apparently there's some good training reason for bleeding every last joule of energy from your body. I just thought it would be 'fun' to ride with some friends north from Brighton, where we live, until we dropped, and see where that happened. I guessed we might manage a similar distance to Froome, but a lot more slowly.

Discovery bike rack

The car is a crucial part of this. You don't know where you're going to run out of juice, and the idea of cycling another 10 miles to a train station after you've 'bonked' may be impossible. You can ride light, with all your spares in the car, and have proper nutrition in a coolbox rather than relying on cafés.

My Discovery with a three-bike rack fitted to its retractable tow bar was the car for the job. I just needed three friends: two to ride with and one to drive. So I got on WhatsApp one evening (so many bad things start on WhatsApp after dark) and recruited photographer Alex Tapley to drive and document, and Raya Hubbell and Stephen Grant to ride with. Raya is a Team GB triathlete and coach, a former world-class skier and an Instagram star. She's ideally suited to a ride like this. Old friend Stephen isn't. He's a stand-up comedian and a strong rider, but Lord, can he whinge.

I'd plotted a route that took us on mostly quiet, scenic roads from Brighton towards Birmingham, skirting the eastern edge of Brum and finishing after 300km in the hamlet of Foul End, which seemed appropriate given the likely state of our personal hygiene by then. But it was raining in Brighton that morning, and it was hard to get out of the Disco's heated leather seats. I'm all for riding in all conditions, but if you're on the pedals all day it's best to avoid a soaking at the start.

So it was well past our planned departure time when I finally demounted the bikes next to the Palace Pier. Mounting them had been nerve-wracking. I'm relaxed about hanging my own bikes off the back, but with Raya's £8k Specialized Tarmac training bike (her Shiv competition bike is £11k) and a rather humbler Canyon Endurance apiece for Stephen and me, there was 13 grand's worth of bike back there. I'm not sure how the rack grips so securely around the ball of the tow hook, but I'm bloody glad it does.

Discovery cycling

The sun came out soon after we left, a gentle following wind blew, and other than a couple of showers, the occasional whinge from Stephen (his hands were 'frozen' at 16º) and the fact that we were riding halfway up the country, it felt like an easy Sunday ride.

Alex and the Disco helped immeasurably, meeting us every 20 miles or so. Like me, Alex found the Disco's sat-nav occasionally frustrating, so switched between the car's system and his phone to find our rendezvous points, but otherwise reported that the cabin was a very pleasant place to spend what turned out to be a 21-hour day. The car's much-marketed versatility proved genuinely useful: we sat on the fold-out tailgate replacement, plugged our lights and phones and ride computers into the myriad USB ports, and slid the rear seats forward to get at kit and tools which we would otherwise have had to unpack the very full boot to get at.

In fact the Disco proved too comfortable. We stopped too often and for too long, so after an extraordinary sunset over the Cotswolds we found ourselves on the outskirts of Stratford-on-Avon at 10pm with our tanks nowhere near empty but an almost Froome-equalling 251km (155 miles) on our Wahoos. We'd burnt 6000 calories apiece, averaged a very gentle 26km/h (16mph) and spent nine hours on the pedals but nearly four hours dicking around and drinking coffee. We could probably have ploughed on to Foul End, or beyond, but it was dark and Alex had been in the car all day, and the route took us past Caffeine & Machine, which seemed the right place to quit.

Discovery cycling brighton

After owner Phil McGovern had processed the fact that we'd cycled there from Brighton, he gave us coffee, cake and crucially some floorspace for me to stretch out my 45-year-old hamstrings before I drove the Disco home. The fact that I could do a 140-mile drive home at nearly midnight after a 155-mile bicycle ride was more to do with the Discovery than me. I've had plenty of other such adventures in it, and it is a calm and endlessly capable companion.

By Ben Oliver

Logbook: Land Rover Discovery Sd6 HSE Luxury

Price £70,405 (£76,065 as tested) 
Performance 2993cc turbodiesel V6, 302bhp, 7.5sec 0-62mph, 130mph 
Efficiency 36.2 mpg (official), 26.9mpg (tested), 206g/km CO2 
Energy cost 19.1p per mile 
Miles this month 2449
Total miles 11151


Month 7 living with a Land Rover Discovery: chips ahoy!

Three stone chips meant a new windscreen, an item so large it takes two Autoglass man-and-vans to fit it. I suspect that the bill was just as large, but luckily that goes to the insurer. Fitter Terry very expertly scraped my Swiss vignette off the old screen and transferred it intact to the new one, and the entire job was almost done by the time I'd made coffee. At the other end, concerns about the slopey tailgate cutting into bootspace proved unfounded when the Disco – to my surprise – swallowed a king-size divan bed split into two sections. The summer tyres are (finally) back on, the AdBlue has been topped up and with the mundane tasks and repairs taken care of, a summer adventure is planned.

By Ben Oliver

Logbook: Land Rover Discovery Sd6 HSE Luxury

Price £70,405 (£76,065 as tested) 
Performance 2993cc turbodiesel V6, 302bhp, 7.5sec 0-62mph, 130mph 
Efficiency 36.2 mpg (official), 26.9mpg (tested), 206g/km CO2 
Energy cost 19.1p per mile 
Miles this month 1098
Total miles 8702


Month 6 living with a Land Rover Discovery: a twin test

Check out Month 6 over on our Lexus RX long-termer page, as the two cars go head to head. Ben Oliver and Tim Pollard discuss which is the better family bus.

Logbook: Land Rover Discovery Sd6 HSE Luxury

Price £70,405 (£76,065 as tested) 
Performance 2993cc turbodiesel V6, 302bhp, 7.5sec 0-62mph, 130mph 
Efficiency 36.2 mpg (official), 26.9mpg (tested), 206g/km CO2 
Energy cost 19.1p per mile 
Miles this month 1114
Total miles 7604


Month 5 living with a Land Rover Discovery: a tailgate black hole

Land Rover's talk about the versatility of the Discovery isn't marketing guff. Just take this recent weekend in the life of my boot. On Saturday daytime the seats were all down and it was filled with its most random load yet: a carbonfibre racing bicycle plus tools and spares, olive branches and bags of grass cuttings from my mum's garden, and an overnight bag and a suit on a hanger for the wedding reception I was going to that night.

The floorspace is big enough to keep it all separate, and the cabin is durable enough that you don't feel bad chucking garden waste into it. The reception was so low-key that the newlyweds hadn't planned how to get back to their hotel, so I volunteered the Disco, the garden waste having been dumped, freeing space to get the middle seats up. A frenzied five-minute brush-out later and what had been a skip was now a £76k luxury car again, and suitable transport for a bride and groom.

By Ben Oliver

Logbook: Land Rover Discovery Sd6 HSE Luxury

Price £70,405 (£76,065 as tested) 
Performance 2993cc turbodiesel V6, 302bhp, 7.5sec 0-62mph, 130mph 
Efficiency 36.2 mpg (official), 26.9mpg (tested), 206g/km CO2 
Energy cost 19.1p per mile 
Miles this month 1201
Total miles 6490


Month 4 living with a Land Rover Discovery: musical chairs

Discovery Tesla

I spent three days last month driving four premium electric crossovers: Mercedes EQC, Audi e-Tron, Jag i-Pace and the now venerable Tesla Model X.

The Discovery, which competes with them on price, conveyed me between them and yes, each time I got back in it felt like what Elon once described to me as 'an explosion-powered death machine'.

I can't be too hard on the Disco for still having an ICE engine, though, and even the Model X can't match the Disco's village hall of a boot. But I can criticise my car's infotainment system, which feels clunky by comparison with the best. With a fill-up now regularly over £100, I wonder how strong my attachment to that boot is.

By Ben Oliver

Logbook: Land Rover Discovery Sd6 HSE Luxury

Price £70,405 (£76,065 as tested) 
Performance 2993cc turbodiesel V6, 302bhp, 7.5sec 0-62mph, 130mph 
Efficiency 36.2 mpg (official), 26.9mpg (tested), 206g/km CO2 
Energy cost 16.8p per mile 
Miles this month 1267 
Total miles 5289


Month 3 living with a Land Rover Discovery: to the Alps!

If everything goes to plan and Easyjet is actually running on time, I can roll out of bed in Sussex at 5am and be walking into the Geneva motor show just three and a quarter hours later. It takes a very appealing car to make me swap that for the 600-mile, 12-hour drive there. I’d recently taken delivery of this Discovery with its new 302bhp SDV6 diesel engine, and was of course professionally curious about its long-distance chops. But what persuaded me was what else the Disco would let me do.

I’d be able to bring two bikes and maybe ride a lap of the lake, or over the low mountain passes around Lake Annecy. The colossal boot meant I’d be able to carry both bikes inside the car – so no worries about theft or road grime – and throw in all my ski kit and head south after the show to join family members skiing in the French Alps. It would swallow cold-weather driving kit, a box of bike tools and an eight-day wardrobe of everything from suits to ski pants too. And once there, four-wheel drive and proper winter tyres ought to guarantee progress despite the heavy snow forecast, which can quickly cover the road into the resort at 1850 metres.

If you’re going to spend £76k on a car that’s over-specified for almost every situation, you occasionally ought to drop what you’re meant to be doing and head out to explore its abilities.  

Land Rover Discovery in the Alps

The excellent seats and driving position delivered me to Geneva feeling fresh. The new engine returned a reasonable 30mpg at a fast cruise and gave considerably better refinement and top-end flexibility than the old Td6. 

Stuff that I initially thought might be a gimmick proved its worth: the remote power fold function for the seats, for instance, and the powered fold-down internal ledge which replaces the lower part of the old Disco’s split tailgate: useful for restraining loads, for resting stuff on as you’re rearranging the boot and for keeping your arse dry and warm when bolting yourself into your cycling shoes or ski boots. The heated steering wheel was useful for thawing frozen hands. 

And those Pirelli Scorpions got me back down the looping, snowed-over hairpins from La Rosière with utter assurance. 

By Ben Oliver

Logbook: Land Rover Discovery Sd6 HSE Luxury

Price £70,405 (£76,065 as tested)
Performance 2993cc turbodiesel V6, 302bhp, 7.5sec 0-62mph, 130mph
Efficiency 36.2 mpg (official), 27.9mpg (tested), 206g/km CO2
Energy cost 23.8p per mile
Miles this month 1187
Total miles 4022


Month 2 of our Land Rover Discovery long-term test: meeting the Duke of Richmond's Landie

Remember when Land Rovers were humble farm vehicles? I parked my Discovery next to the Duke of Richmond's V8 Defender Works when I interviewed him for this issue. It would have cost him at least £150,000. You can spec a new Range Rover to close to £200,000 now, and the aborted SV Coupe would have been £240,000 before options.

Our Land Rover Discovery at Goodwood, meeting the Duke of Richmond's Defender

All this puts the reservations I had about my HSE Luxury spec Disco being rather too fancy into perspective. My kids love the rear-seat entertainment system which comes as standard, although I miss actually having a conversation with them. It's nicely integrated, with the DVD changer hidden behind hinged climate controls in the centre console. But inserting and removing old-fashioned physical media seems a faff in the age of downloading and streaming, and I suspect the system will seem antiquated by the time the kids are teenagers.

The first few tanks of diesel have returned around 27mpg against a claimed 36.2, which isn't disastrous. I'm writing this from an Alps trip which is giving me some motorway fuel figures, and more importantly letting me explore the Discovery's abilities as a versatile, all-weather, all-load vehicle rather than a luxury good. The scoop? It's pretty good, of course. There's a blizzard blowing outside right now, and if I don't make it back to write the next report, it won't be the car's fault.

By Ben Oliver

Logbook: Land Rover Discovery Sd6 HSE Luxury

Price £70,405
As tested £76,065
Engine 2993cc turbodiesel V6, 302bhp
Transmission 8-speed auto, front-wheel drive  
Performance 7.5sec 0-62mph, 130mph, 206g/km CO2 
Miles this month 396
Total 1964
Our mpg 26.5
Official mpg 36.2mpg 
Energy cost 22.4p per mile


Month 1 living with a Land Rover Discovery: kitchen sink included

Land Rover Discovery front tracking

I've been lucky enough to have used various versions of the Land Rover Discovery in some remote and difficult parts of the world, from southern Africa to the Arctic. But I haven't spent much time in a Discovery in the UK, and it wasn't until I got this one that I noticed how many there are on British roads. I mean, they're EVERYWHERE, and particularly outside Waitrose.

This is the Discovery's 30th anniversary, and it hit one million sales as long ago as 2012. The Discovery is the Land Rover that makes most sense for most buyers: it has more off-road ability than the Defender but infinitely better road manners, and 80 per cent of the image and luxury of the Range Rover at 60 per cent of the entry price. In an increasingly crowded range, Land Rover defines the Disco and Disco Sport as the 'versatile' ones, and for once it's not marketing bullshit. With seven proper seats and a hangar of a boot it replaces both my Mercedes E-Class All Terrain and a Renault Grand Scenic that performed van/bus duties.

Mine is the new 302bhp 3.0-litre Sd6 diesel; four-pot petrol and diesels are also available. While it was being readied, Land Rover loaned me a Disco with the 254bhp Td6 engine that mine replaces. A bunch of detailed revisions give the twin-turbo V6 the extra power, another 74lb ft of torque and palpably greater refinement and urge. Fuel efficiency stands at an official 36.2mpg, with CO2 emissions of 206g/km.

The loaner Td6 was in HSE trim, which brings the desirable panoramic roof, powered third-row seats (all grades get three rows) and adaptive cruise. This might well be the specification sweet spot. With the second-smallest rims, murdered-out black finishing kit, plain black cabin, fixed tow-hook and a permanent layer of filth I thought it looked great, and the very opposite of school-run specification.

Discovery LTT interior

But my Sd6 has arrived in top HSE Luxury trim, costing an extra £5200 over an HSE with the same engine. I don't think I'd have ordered my own this way. The Luxury adds the Terrain Response 2 system, which is worth having, but I'll be examining the value of the other Luxury additions: chiefly the opening sunroof, rear-seat entertainment and Intelligent Seat Fold, which lets you configure the seats via the front touchscreen or an app. I'm sold on the standard heated steering wheel, though, which did not feel like a bourgeois affectation at -4ºC this morning.

Another £5660 of options brings the total cost up to £76,065, which nudges up towards the entry price of the Range Rover that my Disco, with its many screens and fancy tan interior, now resembles. Asking for another £850 for metallic paint (Corris Grey in this case) seems a bit cheeky. The optional (£2120) 22-inch rims aren't shown: Land Rover offers a 'tyre hotel' scheme for owners who want to swap between summers and winters, so I had the car delivered on proper Pirelli Scorpion 3PMSF winter tyres on 21-inch rims.

The summer 22s may not be a good idea. This car lives on a farm, not a Fulham side street, and having destroyed two of the Mercedes' wheels in potholes on West Sussex roads I was looking forward to the protection afforded by the higher aspect ratio of typical SUV tyres. The 20s on the Td6 I borrowed offered deep sidewalls and produced a fine ride, but the standard Pirelli mud-and-snow rubber understeered and got the ABS firing early. In cold but not icy conditions the Scorpions seem to generate more grip but less feel: I'll give them a proper test in the Alps soon.

The promised versatility is already apparent, though. On day two the Disco swallowed a fridge and a large sack truck with its middle-row seats still upright. And while powered folding seats might seem less than macho, it's incredibly convenient to drop them all at once with a switch in the boot, and open up that vast 2406-litre loadbay. The spec may be fancy, but I already suspect that this Discovery won't need the distant or perilous locations where I used its forebears to prove its worth.

Our Land Rover Discovery: some choice options

Optional omniscience
The Driver Assistance package is a £950 option even on the top spec, but can spot risks before they've even exited the McDonald's car park. Rear Traffic Monitor has already proved useful.

Glass ceiling
Panoramic roof on HSE trim is a very good thing: adding opening function with Luxury trim seems unnecessary, unless you're planning to use Disco to bag big game. Privacy glass a £400 option and now mandatory in London.

Innervisions
HSE Lux gets rear screens as standard. Worried about their eventual obsolescence: wouldn't tablet holders make more sense? Kids totally sold on them already though, and I'm sold on ability to listen to 6 Music undisturbed in the front.

Tan my hide
Tan leather is a no-cost option, and charcoal oak veneer is £370. They look good but feel more Range Rover than Discovery. Pale leather interior versus farm life, dirty bicycles and nauseous children seems an unfair fight.

Tow curling
The Disco's a long car, so the retractable tow-hook that unfurls electrically from under the rear valance may be £1005 well spent – only £290 more than the fixed version that extends this car to Queen Mary length.

By Ben Oliver

Logbook: Land Rover Discovery Sd6 HSE Luxury

Price £70,405
As tested £76,065
Engine 2993cc turbodiesel V6, 302bhp
Transmission 8-speed auto, front-wheel drive  
Performance 7.5sec 0-62mph, 130mph, 206g/km CO2 
Miles this month 396
Total 1964
Our mpg 26.5
Official mpg 36.2mpg 
Energy cost 22.4p per mile

Check out our Land Rover reviews

By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features

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