With a complicated suspension system, thirsty great motors and more electronics than you can shake your proverbial stick at, Land Rover’s Discovery 3 is categorically not a bargain buy for the faint-hearted, but go in prepared and you could bag a convincing alternative to the new Defender for a tenth of the price.
Launched in 2004, the Disco 3 was a stark departure from the model’s utilitarian roots, pioneering an innovative monocoque construction method, Range Rover-aping air suspension and a raft of electronic traction control systems to bolster the SUV’s revered and well-established off-road prowess while bringing welcome enhancements to its on-road behaviour. Engine options in the UK included a torquey 2.7-litre diesel developed by Ford and the PSA Group and a 4.4-litre Jaguar V8 with 295bhp, both of which were more than potent enough to capably, if not frugally, shunt this 2500kg tank wherever it needed to go.
The improvements were met with critical and commercial acclaim. The Disco 3 was resoundingly hailed by the motoring press as one of the best all-round 4x4s in recent memory and the model’s continued prevalence on UK roads is testament to how well received it was by buyers. The new Terrain Response drive modes were credited with making off-roading accessible and the modernised chassis set-up made for a much higher degree of rolling refinement than the Discovery Mk1 and Mk2.
However, the Disco 3’s increased dependence on electrical components has lent it a somewhat dubious reputation for reliability. Major known faults with the gearbox, handbrake, suspension, interior and engine itself can often be traced back to wiring irregularities and the specialist nature of such repairs can soon turn a bargain buy into a troublesome money pit.
A number of factory recalls in the first few years of the Disco 3’s production cycle cured some of its more worrying potential weak spots, including fuel and coolant leaks, fragile flywheels and even misshapen seat cushions, but the forums are still awash with reports of blown EGR valves, misbehaving handbrakes and poorly gearboxes, so it’s well worth making friends with your nearest Land Rover specialist before bringing a Disco 3 home.
There are hundreds of examples to choose from on the UK marketplace, ranging in price from £4000 for battle-scarred farm haulers up to the mid-teens for showroom-fresh facelifted cars. Trim designations changed over the car’s five-year life cycle, but lower- to mid-spec cars were badged S, GS, XS or simply TDV6, and leather-clad and tech-heavy HSE cars topped the range. The HSE variant holds its value particularly well, but bear in mind that more gadgets often mean more headaches, and a bog-standard Disco is still a treat to drive daily while spending less time at the garage.