2004 Land Rover Discovery II: The most capable Land Rover?

Land Rover’s second-generation Discovery is largely ignored by those seeking a classic 4x4. Here’s why it’s the perfect blend of heritage and usability

The first-generation Land Rover Discovery broke new ground when it first hit tarmac in October 1989. Based on the well-proven underpinnings of Spen King’s Range Rover Classic, the Solihull new boy offered outstanding off-road capability and handsome on-road manners – without compromising comfort or practicality.

Some bemoaned that the fresh addition to Land Rover’s showroom line-up lacked the vagabond nobility and charisma of its plush brethren, yet they missed the point. Aimed at a younger, sportier demographic, the Discovery never intended to wage ‘luxury’ war. Instead, it allowed Britain to combat the worrying influx of Japanese competition. Suddenly the Suzuki Vitara, Nissan Patrol and Toyota 4Runner cowered by the hedgerow as Land Rover’s new creation prowled the streets.

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Initially available in only three-door form, the Discovery sold in record numbers and allowed the Range Rover to progress upmarket into more expensive, and more profitable, clientele segments.

Except something was forever looming at the back of Land Rover’s mind. The 4x4 arcade was booming and, to survive, the humble Discovery was going to require fine tuning and a dollop of extra finesse. For an encroaching millennium, Land Rover threw everything they had at the development team in a gamble to stay ahead of the market. The result was spectacular.

To the untrained eye, spotting the difference between a late Discovery 1 and a second-generation model is a tough game to play. Rear light clusters punctuate the D-pillar, those besotted British Leyland door handles have been deleted and stance boasts flash-fitting glass; but otherwise it’s all as before. Well, except for under the bonnet…

The choices remained steadfast for power within the brochures – a thrifty turbo diesel or hefty petrol V8. Normally, car enthusiasts would head straight for the eight cylinder, yet Land Rover had an ace card to play. The new Td5 diesel unit was revolutionary.

Whereas before a diesel alternative was cantankerous and slow, the new Td5 was smooth and punchy. The V8 boasted an expansive torque curve with 181bhp to utalise, but the Td5 wasn’t far behind. Only 3.5 seconds separated the two powerplants during a 0-60mph dash, yet the diesel squeezed an extra 12mpg from proceedings.

On-road handling was also improved for slicing through B-road undulations with utmost confidence, but the real enhancements lurked beneath the body. With a plethora of new technology, the Discovery II was practically unstoppable in the right hands.

For starters, the on-road anti-roll bar automatically disconnects once the sensors detect you are traversing off-road. Then there’s the rock-steady Hill Descent Control first seen in the first-generation Freelander alongside an electronic brake distribution system to provide each wheel with individual traction control. Not enough? Later models also had electronic air suspension alongside the age-old low range gearbox and locking differential set-up for when the going got serious.

Arguably, the Discovery II remains the most capable vehicle from Land Rover’s stable – and with the option of seven seats, the most practical, too. Not that the second-generation Disco enjoys the greatest reputation for reliability, embellished by swathes of battered and abused examples residing within the classifieds for alluring prices.

However, ignore what the keyboard warriors bleat on about. Buy a down-at-heel example and there will inevitably be a tidal surge of garage invoices swarming your hard-earned wage packet, but should you buy a solid example and maintain it properly, you’ve got an automotive force to be reckoned with.

Luckily, we’ve got just the example for that here. It’s gold, it’s got a full service history, 12 months MOT, seven seats and trumpets only one previous owner. You’d be mad to miss out.

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