Five Classic Trials
The halfway house between the rugged utility Land Rovers and luxury Range Rover gives you the best of both worlds – cheaply
Land Rover Discovery
The first-generation Discovery was designed to work its socks off during the week, take the family on muddy adventures at the weekend, and come back begging for more. It’s a workhorse, a comfortable bus and a hairy-chested plaything all rolled into one characterful package, and one that has at last earned some classic respect.
Sportiness was not on the agenda when Solihull’s engineers developed the original Discovery. Arriving in 1989, it occupied the yawning gulf between the farmyard Ninety/ One Ten and elegant Range Rover, cleverly retaining the ruggedness of both, while offering a practical and family-friendly interior with seating for up to seven people. Land Rover’s mission with its new ‘ lifestyle’ 4x4 was to woo buyers away from the new influx of Japanese competitors, and that’s exactly what it did.
It was a bold and lucrative new direction for the company, but the Discovery’s old-school Land Rover principles are obvious the moment you get behind the wheel. You have a lofty view over the bonnet, with big glass areas and unobtrusive pillars offering a superb driving position, very much like that of the original Range Rover. The seats are shaped to cosset your posterior for many hours of driving over the rough stuff and the gearlever is perfectly positioned to use while resting your elbow on the centre cubby box. The plastic around the dash can be a bit fragile, but the layout is easy to navigate. It even has a pop-out cup holder.
The Rover V8-engined models are lovely but frighteningly thirsty, but the 200Tdi and post1994 300Tdi diesel engines offer impressive longevity and fuel economy that modern big SUVs struggle to beat in real-world driving.
Open-road performance is just about adequate, but it really proves its mettle when you give it some tough work to do. This is a proper Land Rover after all, with 3.5 tonnes of towing capacity. Stick a boat on the back or point it up a mountain and you’ll instantly fall in love with its gutsiness and all-terrain abilities. It’s just as capable as a Defender in most off-road scenarios, which is perhaps unsurprising when you consider that they share their engines, transmission and much of their running gear. Like a Defender, the Discovery offers permanent four-wheel drive, assisted by a manually selectable locking centre differential, plus a low-range transfer box that delivers extra low gears for load hauling, mountain climbing, deepwater wading or rock crawling. It’s the ideal combination, so it’s hardly surprising that the Discovery 1 has been the vehicle of choice for countless intercontinental expeditions and circumnavigations of the globe.
It’s also been the go-to budget option for Green Oval enthusiasts looking for a cheap toy to modify and thrash around an off-road course for years, but that’s starting to change. Survivors have halved in number in the past five years, their underbodies usually clogging with mud and corroding long before their drivetrains give up the ghost. The good news is that spares are still mostly plentiful, and new panels can be found for most of the body’s common failure areas.
The bad news is that original vehicles in good condition are becoming harder to find, and not many runners sell for below £1000 these days.
Discovery is competent, if uninspiring, on the road, but masterful off it.
it’s comfortable in here, hard-wearing, and packed with neat storage ideas. after all, land rovers were traditionally built with usefulness in mind.