From £46,800
Has the reborn Defender made the Disco feel obsolete? Cropley's final report reveals all

Why we ran it: To see if there is still a place for a big, capable 4x4 like the Land Rover Discovery, or find out if newcomers have elbowed it out

Month 3Month 2Month 1 - Specs

Life with a Land Rover Discovery: Month 3

Has the reborn Defender made the Disco feel obsolete? Our final report reveals all - 23 November

If my recent 12,800 miles of Disco driving is anything to go by, there’s one important class of Land Rover driver who’ll be mystified by all this talk of “finding a new identity” for the impending sixth generation. That will be the happy breed who have been busily putting miles under the wheels of current, fifth-generation Discos since they hit the market in 2017.

The JLR hierarchy see it as a Land Rover priority to reposition the forthcoming Discovery because they reckon it now flies too close to the glamorous new Defender, whose do-it-all persona has brought huge sales success.

The next Disco, they say, must be more “family-oriented”, whatever that means. However, if my ownership experience is any indication, such a move can really only extend to the styling.

My D300 R-Dynamic HSE fitted so brilliantly into the life and times of my family, just as Discoverys have done in five generations since 1989. True, this latest iteration was a bit slow out of the sales blocks in its first months, but now it seems to be subject to the same sort of long waiting times as the rest of the Land Rover line-up. The D300 came to us with around 4500 miles on the clock from Land Rover’s launch press fleet, pointing out the options its own experts considered mattered most.

The Discovery options list is long and complex, and ticking every box can produce a vehicle of eye-watering price. This car’s £75,120 price (it would have been £67,290 with no extras beyond the chosen packs) struck us as quite enough.

The key highlights were the deep HSE options set, the 300 mild-hybrid diesel engine and the R-Dynamic chassis (complete with sensibly sized 21in alloys). After several months of extensive driving, every one of those choices stood the test. The chassis was surprisingly sharp for handling on road, where the car spent 99% of its driving life. The engine – good for an impressive 6.8sec 0-62mph sprint time – was unobtrusively perfect for the job.

The 21s ran tall-enough Michelin all-terrain tyres to protect the alloy rims (we were able to give this hard-worked car back with its wheels unmarked). The HSE equipment pack worked perfectly: I’m one who admires the capability of JLR’s latest infotainment set-up. And our car was distinguished by no-extra-cost suede-cloth seat inserts that suited the well-equipped but not quite plush persona of the rest of the interior.

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Is this a triumph of style over substance, or is the fifth-gen Land Rover Discovery the best yet?

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The only spec change I’d have made after living with the Disco would have been to ditch the funky black alloys for a silver set, a simple personal prejudice. However, none of this spec talk tells the real Disco ownership story. Two adjectives I’d choose to describe it are ‘serene’ and ‘carefree’. The Disco was simply equal to every occasion. Whatever people think they know about the state of Land Rover quality, this car’s standards were exemplary.

The £895 Hakuba Silver metallic paint was lustrous, the trim quality was excellent and it never rattled. All of the complicated stuff, such as the folding mechanisms for seats six and seven or the tailgate retraction system that also pulled up the ever-handy lower seating loading platform, worked with imperious ease. Like all true enthusiast’s cars – and I believe this is one of them – it was the driving that provided the pinnacle of enjoyment.

That powertrain was barely there: the Disco usually felt as propelled by the proverbial giant piece of elastic attached to the horizon. The steering felt calm but alert – massively different from the way Discos used to be, especially around the straight-ahead – and with the active roll control at work, body roll simply wasn’t a factor, however energetically you attacked corners.

The true joy was gliding about almost noiselessly, the engine never doing much more than murmuring and the eight-speed transmission so deliciously smooth that picking gearchanges was a pursuit only successfully practised by a Disco expert.

The car isn’t slow across the ground but, like all heavy cars, there is more pleasure in choosing a ‘best’ speed, and concentrating on using momentum to hasten your progress. By practising this, it was easy to beat the best official combined fuel consumption figure of 33.9mpg. I often posted 35mpg – measured independently of the lightly optimistic trip computer – and sometimes saw 40mpg.

There will be a sixth Disco soon, and it will probably look better than this one, especially if they correct that ungainly rear numberplate location that was pig-headedly maintained for facelift models despite widespread market disapproval. But looks will be the least of it: if they can make the next Disco a markedly better ownership proposition than this, that will be the real achievement.

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Second Opinion

These days, the Discovery feels like a fully-fledged luxury car, particularly in terms of its interior, cushioned ride and refinement. However, my overwhelming sense the whole time with it was worry about its bulbous body and giant rims. How people buy these for busy cities is beyond me.

Kris Culmer

Love it

Seven-seat space Sure, it’s very big outside, but the payoff is plenty of space even for seven decently sized occupants.

All-round refinement The powertrain is nearly silent, the ride is brilliant, yet the big old thing still handles nicely and hardly rolls.

Better build quality Land Rover has tried hard with quality and here it shows. The Disco matches up to decent opposition.

Loathe it

Body width Sorry, but it’s too wide for many British suburban streets. Designers like to spread but need to get a grip.

Daft rear numberplate If the clientele say this looks wrong, it is wrong. Should have been sorted during the mid-cycle changes.

Final mileage: 17,188

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Life with a Land Rover Discovery: Month 2

The Disco's rear end has grown on Cropley - 19 October

The big thing non-Disco people never seem able to stop talking about is the visually unsatisfying nature (to them) of the offset rear plate. In my earlier association with the D300, I was a bit bothered about it too, but now I’ve got used to it. In fact, it’s one of the car’s relatively few quirks, and I find it quite endearing. Well done, Gerry McGovern. 

Mileage: 16,295

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Superb visibility diminishes the Disco’s considerable bulk in town - 12 October

Weeks spent with long-termers come in all shapes and sizes. Some weeks you drive nothing else, do lots of miles and settle into them so thoroughly that you practically stop noticing their strengths and weaknesses.

Other weeks you’re in and out of lots of contrasting cars that help highlight their special qualities in ways you don’t even notice in road tests. Last week, I spent as much time in a Vauxhall Astra and our family Dacia Duster as the Discovery, and one Land Rover advantage stood out above all others: visibility.

In the half-century since the original Range Rover’s panoramic ‘command’ driving was discovered (almost by accident) by the engineers who created that original body (and the Discovery soon followed on behind), nothing else has come close. Other tall cars abound now, but Land Rovers still place you above the sills and the body line in a special way.

This came to light on a particularly testing trip through dense city traffic. On my arrival at the outskirts, I was rather apprehensive about my car choice (I’ve written before about the Disco’s ‘generous’ body width), but we sailed through little streets and around oblique corners, aided by my excellent view of ever-present kerbs, my decent view over the roofs of hatchbacks ahead, the straight sides of the body (which allow you to counter the width by confidently shaving obstacles with inches to spare) and the decent turning circle (and well-chosen steering gearing), which lets you turn tightly quickly.

Only when it comes to getting into tight parking spaces in narrow streets does the car’s disadvantage show, but on this sojourn there was reserved parking at my destination. Small wonder a Disco works so well for so many people.

However, my time with this one is rapidly ending. One more big road trip and it will be over. What I will remember best is its sheer utility – a characteristic that goes particularly with its HSE R-Dynamic spec, which I’ve observed is very popular.

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The 21in wheels are just right, with enough tyre wall to avoid kerbs and quell bump-thump. The excellent fabric upholstery has been so durable and comfortable that were I buying one of these cars, I would opt for it without hesitation.

The mild-hybridised diesel engine is always refined and matches the automatic gearbox so perfectly that on the rare occasions when you ask the car to deliver its 6.5sec 0-60mph capability, it comes as a nice surprise.

I could quibble about the still funny rear numberplate position and one or two other details of even less consequence, but I’ve become so fond of the old thing that I’m simply not inclined to. Departure day beckons, and it won’t be good. 

Love it 

Always an answer

The Discovery’s versatility continues to impress me. No matter what I need it to do, it willingly provides it in spades.

Loathe it

Worryingly wide

The visibility helps considerably, but I’m not entirely unperturbed by the Discovery’s great width. It’s really not fun to park in a multi-storey.

Mileage: 16,282

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The Discovery's tyres are still going strong - 5 October

At mileages like this (we collected the Discovery at about 1000 miles), you should be looking for significant tyre wear, but my examination by eye says the wear has only reached 35-40% and that it seems to be very evenly distributed front to rear. In short, there’s still plenty of meat on this heavy 4x4’s tyres after a very busy few months 

Mileage: 16,077 

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Rear bench is a fine feature - 21 September 2022

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One of the Disco’s best features is the trimmed black shelf that provides secure, spacious picnic-style seating for three when the lift-up door is opened, but also acts as a handy ‘fence’ when it’s closed, preventing loose stuff in the back from falling out when you open up. Everything retracts neatly when you press the ‘tailgate close’ button. 

Mileage: 15,900

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In few other cars will nearly 10,000 driven miles be so effortlessly amassed - 14 September 2022

My mileage in the Disco has climbed rapidly to around 8500 in just a few months, and in all that distance I’ve given very little thought to the engine. 

I guess it’s because it’s so refined and unobtrusive – and because Land Rover slipped the 2996cc straight-six version of its mild-hybrid diesel into the range with only a fraction of the fanfare that greeted the original Wolverhampton- made Ingenium range.

Even so, I see from lots of time spent following other people’s full-sized Land Rovers that the six-cylinder has become a popular choice – and I’m rapidly learning why. 

It idles smoothly and quietly. It pulls strongly from low revs (assisted no doubt by the MHEV’s integrated starter-generator). It is very smooth when operating in its maximum torque band (1500-2500rpm), and it easily supports a very tall top gearing. I continually find myself rolling smoothly along at 1500rpm in seventh or eighth gear, which helps deliver the Disco’s other overarching characteristic – effortlessness.

Hustling this car doesn’t always suit it, both because of its sheer size (width can be a problem in tight urban driving and on single-lane country roads) and its rather supple, luxurious low-speed ride. But when I do boot it, I find that the suspension tightens and the powertrain shows it can deliver 0-60mph in around 6.5sec (impressive for a 2.4-tonne car) while still yielding MPG in the late 30s.

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Ac   ww 22   lt lr discovery hello   20220801 1650

That’s a cool 10-12mpg – or a hefty 40% – better than the V6 diesels in Discoverys made a decade ago, and the fact that the manufacturer gets scant credit for this improvement gets on my nerves. Better still is the touring range of 650-ish miles I’m promised when I fill the Disco’s mighty tank, admittedly at a current cost of £150- plus. There’s enduring satisfaction in knowing I can cruise a long way without stopping, especially in a vehicle so obviously built for long distances.

The comfort matches the long legs: the fabric-covered front seats are supportive over many miles, with the front-seat side bolsters especially effective at locating occupants against the side forces that sometimes go with fast progress in such a high-riding SUV.

Talking seats, there’s good space in the second row, especially since the vertical seating position ahead means front passengers don’t have to use much fore-and-aft movement. Second-row room is okay, too, though a mite claustrophobic for those of smaller stature, especially if the car has a black interior like ours. The third row is tolerable for two average adults, but not for too long.

The ride quality is often on my mind. There are times when I reckon the primary ride (the overall body control) could be better: the Disco can buck about quite a bit on bumpy roads taken fast. But the secondary ride (the way it absorbs ripples and deals with coarse surfaces) gets close to a Range Rover level, which gives an overall impression of luxury.

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So what’s wrong with the Disco? Recent constant sun showed that, at least the way I sit in the car, there is often distracting glare from the shiny steering-wheel spokes. And because it’s my habit (perhaps not a good one) to jump into the car and get going quickly, there can be an uncomfortable period while the air suspension, which adopts a lower access mode when stationary, catches up with the driver’s intentions.

Last thing: that T-bar gear selector. You have to depress an oblong button at its leading edge to move out of Park or select Reverse, and the action is neither convenient nor intuitive. I’ve had 8500 miles of driving to think about this, and it’s not getting any better. What’s more, it’s the second time that JLR has adopted an ergonomically poor transmission selector. Please do better, Land Rover, but don’t change the Disco’s fundamentals. They’re terrific. 

Love it

All-round ability 

Whatever I need (comfort, cabin or load space, off-road ability or motorway competence), the Disco can provide it 

Loathe it 

Wider than a mile

The problem is its body width. It’s hard to park at the supermarket and won’t slip easily down a country road or a tight suburban street. 

Mileage: 15,355

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Steering wheel spokes shine a bright light... into Cropley's eyes - 7 September 2022

A recent long run of bright days has thrown up a Disco foible: a dazzling reflection off the shiny steering wheel spokes that goes straight into your eyes when the sun is overhead. It’s an unusual fault in a car that will have been tested endlessly in the world’s hottest climes. Not much you can do about it either, apart from hoping clouds will soon roll by

Mileage:

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Life with a Land Rover Discovery: Month 1

It's quicker than it looks - 17 August 2022

I’m still getting used to our D300 Discovery’s poke. It’s a natural-born cruiser, with soft suspension and not much noise, so there are times when you forget that, if pressed, it will eat a column of dawdling cars on the Fosse Way for breakfast before setting back into its usual calm gait. Given the fuel consumption, which usually shows 40mpg on a trip, this is a surprising asset. 

Mileage: 13,939

Welcoming the Land Rover Discovery to the fleet - 10 August 2022

Over five distinct models since 1989 (but only three different generations), the Discovery has played a surprising number of different roles in Land Rover’s line-up.

The first edition presented Landie lovers for the first time with a family-oriented model they could drive every day. It was pricey but not prohibitive. However, the coming of the smaller Freelander (now the Discovery Sport) and then the Range Rover Sport and Range Rover Evoque complicated things. Sophisticated, capable Land 

Rovers positioned below the top price fllagship became common currency.TheDiscoverystarted running into own-brand competition.

The situation was further complicated when the current Disco 5 appeared in 2017, because its styling didn’t go down especially well with Discovery stalwarts (who to this day reserve warmer words for the tougher-looking Disco 4). And then came the 2020 debut of the new Defender, which offered similar powertrains and prices, plus a gigantic halo.

Ac   ww 22   lt lr discovery hello   20220801 1670

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Disco sales struggled for a year or two with the arrival of a modernised mid-life model. But buyers came to realise that the model was (a) still a good thing and (b) the one you can buy, whereas the Defender is subject to a long waiting list and stock models are vanishingly rare.

That’s the basis for this story: what’s it like to run the full-sized Land Rover that you can actually get? Even our test car has followed the ‘what’s available' principle: it was initially specified as a short-loans demonstrator, so it has already done 8000 miles. As with most things, this has good and bad aspects. Among the positives, there’s no need to run it in.

Among the negatives, there was no chance to deliberate over its specification and, of course, no showroom-fresh feeling, even though it came to us in perfect condition. Mind you, that ready-specified aspect can rapidly be turned into an advantage. How company people equip their own cars can be very telling. They know what matters – where the value is and what to leave out.

Thus our Disco 5 is a D300 R-Dynamic HSE, which makes it telling. They know what matters – where the value is and what to leave out. Thus our Disco 5 is a D300 R-Dynamic HSE, which makes it a fast and powerful, road-oriented seven-seater on the plush side of par – but with a relatively modest (for a Landie) suite of options that enhance its off-road capability and make it a great tow car. That’s the recipe for most people’s ideal Disco.

I’m hard to impress when it comes to specifying options, but I almost completely approve of this vehicle’s spec. The only things I would have left out are a £1900 heating system for the third row of seating (I will never use it) and the £490 privacy glass, because I happen to dislike the way black windows make cars look.

I have to acknowledge that they make life harder for those who nick stuff from cars, though. This is my third Discovery (I had a 3 and a 4 as well), and although it started its life less popular than the others, it has displayed exactly the same attributes as its predecessors during the 2000 miles that I’ve put under its wheels in barely a month.

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First among them is unimpeachable practicality. It’s huge inside and very comfortable. The tailgate is vast but opening it is easy, and there’s a fold-out seating platform (less ritzy than the Bentley Bentayga edition, but arguably handier).

Tie-down turnbuckles are where you need them. The third-row seats don’t seriously impede carrying space and spring from the floor at the touch of a button.

Ac   ww 22   lt lr discovery hello   20220801 1664

But for me, the joy of the Disco is always going to be the driving. Once you get used to it, the size is usually a delight. There’s special enjoyment to be had in placing a big, stable car with nicely weighted, accurate but ever so slightly ponderous steering on narrow roads. Only in a car park does it become a serious bind.

If it didn’t sound so completely counterintuitive, I would say it was also even a pleasure to drive in the inner city, because of its great driver view, straight sides and the low-speed suppleness of the all-independent air suspension.

The last of those is a special treat: this car has active roll control, so it can afford to have relaxed ride rates, and they make it special. Of course, it’s a great road cruiser. It has terrific directional stability and plenty of road presence, so other road users mostly let you get on with doing what you want.

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The Disco 5, with its integral body structure, isn’t quite as immune to motorway road noise as its two separate-chassis predecessors, but it’s still close to the top of the class. That modernised structure hasn’t helped much with the kerb weight: it’s still 2.35 tonnes, and you feel it on turn-in to tight corners and when you use the brakes even moderately hard.

Disco edit

Still, the fuel consumption has been a nice surprise, courtesy of its latest-tech 3.0-litre diesel with a discreet mild-hybrid system to help mostly with step-off from rest. I will usually see 40mpg on the trip computer (whose accuracy I’ve yet to check) anywhere but during extended town use. And when I fill the mighty 89-litre tank (which can cost £150 at present), I’m presented with a prediction of 740 miles. That’s a strong argument for the old ways.

Off-roading? I haven’t done any yet, but plans are afoot. Will it be any good? You might as well ask if a duck is watertight. I will report from one of the mud holes of the UK – if it ever rains again. 

Second Opinion

I’m with Steve on the Disco’s dynamic appeal. So well matched is the silky steering to the generous roll rates that these cars are often more satisfying to flow down B-roads than overly firm and all-too-serious performance SUVs. I also like how unassuming the Disco is, relatively. The Defender is a bit of a fashion accessory now and the Range Rover an S-Class on stilts. The Disco feels more authentic and usable.

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Richard Lane

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Land Rover Discovery D300 R-Dynamic SE specification

Prices: List price new £67,290 List price now £70,550 Price as tested £75,120 

Options: Metallic paint £895, black roof £900, leather steering wheel £450, heated third-row seats £1900, active rear locking diff £1080, electrically deployable towbar £1130, privacy glass £490, wireless phone charging £300, Off-Road Capability Pack (transfer box, All Terrain Progress Control, configurable Terrain Response 2) £685 

Fuel consumption and range: Claimed economy 31.9-33.9mpg Fuel tank 90 litres Test average 36.9mpg Test best 41.0mpg Test worst 29.9mpg Real-world range 731 miles

Tech highlights: 0-62mph 6.8sec Top speed 130mph Engine 2996cc, 6-cyl turbocharged diesel Max power 300bhp at 4000rpm Max torque 650 lb ft at 1500rpm Transmission 8-spd automatic, 4WD Boot capacity 1574 litres Wheels 9.5jx21in Tyres 275/45 R21 Kerb weight 2362kg

Service and running costs: Contract hire rate £810 CO2 220g/km Service costs None Other costs None Fuel costs £2516 Running costs inc fuel £2516 Cost per mile 20 pence Faults None

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Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

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catnip 13 December 2022

I love the way motoring journalists fix on the positioning of the rear numberplate as being responsible for the poor reception of Disco 5's appearance, its nothing to do with it. The problem is the basic proportions of the vehicle, the (very well paid) designers obviously lost interest, or ran out of time with the back end, with the result that it looks weirdly profiled,  bloated and too heavy for the rest of the car.  The after market central plate kits don't make a scrap of difference, and after all the offset plate hasn't been an issue on previous generations. I'm sure Disco 5 is a very capable and impressive machine in many ways, as it should be after all these years of refinement, but come on Land Rover, give your  customers something better looking than this for their 60K plus. (or maybe £46,800 as it says in the article).