The Landrover Discovery is well respected by four-wheel drive enthusiasts for its off-road ability, but others deride it for its poor build quality and lack of reliability.
The Discovery was launched overseas in 1989 and arrived here two years later. Since its arrival it has made steady inroads into the local market, winning over a loyal band of fans that have come to regard it as one of the best four-wheel drives around.
Owners quickly discovered the downsides of owning a Discovery. Early on their build quality was poor and anyone who had bought a thirsty V8 petrol model found themselves working doubly hard to repay their verdraft they'd taken out to fuel it.
But it has to be said that many of the problems, like poor build quality, electrical faults and oil leaks, were largely things of the past by the time the Discovery II was replaced by Discovery III in 2005.
The Discovery II was a sharp looking wagon with clean, tight lines that gave it a strong, tough look, one that suggested it was built for the bush. When it first landed here it was offered as a base wagon and an ES, both with a choice of petrol V8 or turbo-diesel engines.
In a major overhaul in 2002 the range was revamped and it became available in four levels, the entry-level Wagon, the S, SE and the range-topper HSE. Each was available with either a 4.0-litre petrol V8 that delivered 136 kW at 4750 revs and 340 Nm at 2600 revs, or a 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel that boasted 101 kW at 4200 revs and 300 Nm at 1950 revs and was the engine most buyers chose.
The base wagon could be had with either a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed auto, but the other models were only offered with a four-speed auto, with drive on all models through all four wheels.
The entry-level wagon was a comfortable well-equipped five-seater with the choice of petrol and diesel engines, and standard cloth trim, air, remote central locking, immobiliser, front fog lamps and as six-speaker sound system with CD player. The S was similarly equipped, but with seating with seven.
In the middle of the range sat the SE, also available with petrol and diesel engines, and in addition to the equipment of the entry-level wagon also had leather trim and steering wheel, walnut trim, auto dimming mirror, and 11-speaker premium sound with CD stacker.
Sitting atop the range was the HSE, the model with the lot, which had twin electric sunroofs, parking distance controls, heated fold-back mirrors, and a Harmon Kardon 11-speaker premium sound with CD stacker.
ON THE LOT
Dodge the V8 models, they not only will cost an arm and a leg to run, but everyone knows it and the trade-in value has slumped a result.
Pay $14,000-$22,000 for a 2002-2005 S, $18,000-$28,000 for an SE of similar vintage, and $21,000-$32,000 for an HSE.
IN THE SHOP
When shopping for a Discovery II it's important to have it checked by an expert. They are renowned for giving trouble in certain areas, but carefully selected and well maintained they can be quite reliable.
The areas to check are the auto transmission, which can be troublesome, and cars should be thoroughly test driven to pick any possible problems that might occur down the track. Electrical issues are fairly common. Oil can get into the injector harness causing electrical short circuits at the plug connections.
ABS Modulator faults in earlier models are well known, as are failures of front door window actuators. Check for oil leaks around the engine, as these are quite common.
Also check for a service record, and be prepared to regularly and thoroughly maintain them. Some Discovery's never leave town, but others are worked hard off-road by owners who appreciate their ability in the bush. Search out the much-loved cars and dodge the ones that have been given a hard life.
IN A CRASH
With dual front airbags for crash protection and ABS antilock brakes and EBD brakeforce optimization the Discovery was well equipped to handle a crunch.
UNDER THE PUMP
Long time owner Joe McGarry says he gets 10 L/100 from his turbo-diesel on the highway when not towing. When towing his caravan he still gets 12-13 L/100 km. New owner Allan Pope also gets 10 L/100 km on the highway. Petrol models gulp up to 40 per cent more than the turbo-diesel. Land Rover claimed the V8 would average 16.7 L/100 km, the turbo-diesel 9.4 L/100 km.
Grey Nomad Joe McGarry bought his 2002 Discovery II Td5 in 2003 with 19,000 km on it and is very happy with it having now accumulated 117,000 km. He mainly uses it to tow a 1.8-tonne caravan around the country for three to four months of the year.
The transmission was replaced when a vibration was diagnosed as a failed solenoid near the end of the warranty period, the driver's side window mechanism was replaced when a spot weld gave way and the passenger's side mechanism was replaced at the same time because it was noisy and thought also likely to fail.
Tyres and the front brake pads were replaced at 65,000 km. Joe says it doesn't leak oil at all. He hates the H/V/AC display that is located poorly and is hard to read. Allan Pope has only had his 1999 Series II Td5 for four weeks, but wishes he'd bought one years ago. He can't say anything bad about it at all and is impressed with the fuel economy.
Darryl Glover has owned his 2000 Series II Td5 for nearly seven years after owning a Series I V8 and says it has been very reliable. The odometer shows 270,000 km and it is still going strong. It was completely standard when purchased and had led a cosseted life in the leafy suburbs, but has been progressively modified over the years for use in the High Country and on extensive desert trips.
He says that while the Electronic Traction Control (ETC) makes the Series II much more capable than the Series I he has experienced a loss of steering control when reversing downhill when the ETC braked the front wheels and left him at a dangerously acute angle across a slope.
He has had problems with the injector harness, some reliability issues with the fuel block, and the premature death of the auto at 187,000 km. Apart from these issues the usual servicing has highlighted no problems.
Shane and Heather Davey have owned their 2000 Series II V8 Discovery for three years after owning a Toyota Landcruiser and are very happy with it. They say they're getting the same fuel economy out of the Discovery as they were getting out of the Landcruiser, but the Discovery is much more comfortable. Their only regret is not buying the turbo-diesel engine, it was more expensive, as the trade-in price of the V8 is now miserable.
Trevor Shearing has done 210,000 km in his 2001 Series II Td5 and says they are an excellent vehicle to drive on road and extremely capable off-road. They are very strong and tough and boast a lot of innovative features, but they do have reliability issues. Regular and proactive maintenance is essential to head off potential problems to avoid issues. Electrical issues are common, early models had problems with the ABS as well as window regulators.
. Townie look
. Very good off-road
. Comfortable on-road
. Seats up to seven
. Thirsty V8
. Diesel the best choice
. Can be unreliable
. Good service crucial
ALSO CHECK THESE
LANDCRUISER - 2000-2005 - The off-road king will cop a beating around the bush without taking a backward step, but it is a big bruiser and takes up plenty of space around town. The Landcruiser is a serious bit of kit for those living in the bush or in need to tow a heavy caravan, horse float or boat. Comes with Toyota reliability. Pay $14,000-$42,000.
NISSAN PATROL - 2000-2005 - Lives in the Landcruiser's shadow, but it well respected by owners for its toughness and build quality. Early Patrol's had serious issues with the turbo-diesel engine and these should be approached with caution, even avoided. Competent off-road and will tow a decent load. Pay $10,000-$32,000.
MITSUBISHI PAJERO - 2000-2005 - Reliable, hard working four-wheel drive wagon that gives little trouble. Pay $8000-$30,000.
THE BOTTOM LINE
A very capable off-roader, but reliability problems bring it back to the pack. 65/100