21 October 2022
If you want a Land Rover to off-road regularly, you may think the only option is a Defender. Alisdair Cusick discovers there’s a smarter choice, possibly better in every respect
When you think of a base vehicle to use for regular off-roading, our in-built compasses point to one vehicle: the Defender. Produced for decades, easy to work on at home, and with famous images of cars in the jungle ever present in our minds, it makes a strong – and obvious – case. But, it isn’t without a few caveats.
Never before has the Defender been more popular. Because of that, you will pay more than ever for a Defender, of any age or condition. When you do secure one, it is likely to need structural repair at the minimum, but more likely, a restoration and re-chassis before you can justify beginning the off-road modifications. The outcome is you’ve made a significant outlay in addition to paying a premium for a Defender. But there’s another way to go about it, which, actually, may be a better choice in almost every respect.
I’m talking of course about the Discovery 2. Think about the full picture and the humble Disco 2 has a great deal going for it. Long production run; drivetrains and technology are known, understood and DIY-friendly; and road manners, gearing, interior space and long-distance comfort are a league ahead of the Defender. Chiefly though, they are much more affordable than the Defender. Yes, chassis corrosion will be present, meaning you are likely looking at a galvanised re-chassis for longevity – in the UK, at least – but who thinks a Defender won’t need one of those? Balance everything out, and the Discovery might indeed be the wiser way to go.
Terrarfirma’s wares unlock the Disco 2’s full off-road potential
One man who understands this is Eddie Priscott of Terrafirma. Both names are well-known for many years in the off-road industry. The company has created perhaps the ultimate Discovery 2 off-roader to showcase its new-to-market Disco 2 product range, as if to prove the point of our feature. To represent a typical project car, Terrafirma kitted out a Td5 Metropolis, a 2002 Special Vehicles-built model. A used buyer’s choice of the range, along with the ES Premium, it is a good representation of a typical high-spec model someone might buy for a project car.
“The D2 is now the most affordable decent live axle Land Rover product,” explains Eddie, as we look over the mud-splattered car, off-road. With the price of Defenders ever rising, he thought about what people would like to modify. The D2 stood out, but there’s not that much proper kit for them, so Terrafirma set out to change that. “It isn’t cheap and cheerful, but having a low outlay in a D2, there’s budget to invest in quality kit, whether you want to expedition, greenlane or pay and play.”
The parts list for the car is a veritable menu of off-roading extras, each rich in Terrafirma DNA. Any live axle off-roader relies on good, capable suspension, and if there’s one thing Terrafirma has experience of, that’s it. “It isn’t about lift, it is about wheel movement,” Eddie reveals. “By keeping even weight distribution, there’s equal weight on all four tyres, which gets you the best traction.”
Terrafirma-modified suspension is a balanced system, as good on-road as off
With this in mind, medium-load front springs and heavy-load rears don’t just raise the car two inches, they also have spring rates matched to the extra load from off-road kit at each end of the car (+50kg front, +500kg rear). The fronts use Terrafirma’s dislocation cones, skeleton shock turrets and securing rings, but the rears reverse that idea, using inverse relocation cones. There, to cope with extreme axle drop, Terrafirma retain the spring at the top instead of the bottom, which means a shorter locating cone and reliable relocation every time. Shocks are the latest version of its well-regarded eight-stage adjustable +5 inch long-travel models, with remote reservoir. Eight stages aren’t just for a road tune and off-road tune: “They are because the car performs differently with different spring rates,” Eddie explains. “With high spring rates, you are able to dial higher damper rates. The shocks though, can be adjusted to match any individual spring and vehicle set-up.”
The D2 has a different rear axle set-up to a Defender, and uses a Watt’s linkage above the rear axle. Basically two small Panhard rods above the axle centre, the factory set-up can bind under extreme articulation. Terrafirma offers a pair of long-travel Watt’s linkage rods to alleviate this issue. Combined with the company’s extended anti-roll bar links, you have the best of both worlds – maximum axle articulation is ensured, even with large tyres, but the precise road holding we know the Disco 2 for, is preserved. “If I was being picky, I’d fit our caster-corrected radius arms, for precise high-speed handling,” admits Eddie, “but this car is for development, so it’s always changing as we test new products.”
Alloy winch thimble as practical as it is attractive
Terrafirma spotlights are well-protected on the winch bumper
Most obvious visual changes to the car are the front and rear bumpers. Close-fitting and tubular in construction, Eddie tells me they are inspired by those seen on rally raid vehicles. “We all love the intricately fabricated Dakar cars, so I wanted to do a similar treatment,” he says. Lots of development work went into balancing high protection and improved approach angles, but offsetting those against a desire for lighter weight. Infill panels have Dakar-like swaged holes to save weight where strength isn’t needed, whilst the bumpers are designed with provisions for beefy swivel recovery eyes and Terrafirma spotlights. Usefully, it doesn’t require complicated exterior bodywork cuts to fit, either. The winch bumper was designed to pair with Terrafirma’s new M12.5S electric winch, a wirelessly controlled 37.5kg unit with a 6.6hp motor.
Rear Raid-style bumper integrates well
Rear bumper accommodates a receiver hitch. Holes save weight
The matching rally raid rear bumper has similar intent. Pre-drilled for recovery points and Terrafirma receiver hitches, by cleverly accommodating the original D2 rear lights it has the neat appearance of a standard D2, yet contains every recovery aid you could need. Eddie points out the in-built locations for optional spare wheel carrier and prospector’s carrier – a jerrycan, shovel and hi-lift jack are currently in development. For side protection, Terrafirma has developed Baja raid rock sliders, fitting equally closely, with a beefy, yet discrete design. They incorporate a bulging tree bar under the rear passenger doors, designed to push any obstacles out and away from the rear of the vehicle, though I’d wager little ones will love it as a step to climb in.
Baja Raid rock sliders are neat and practical
Return-to-centre steering damper lightens steering input force when using larger tyres
No-one off-roads with standard wheels and tyres, so Eddie shows me the company’s spaced rear wheel carrier, designed to accommodate beefy 33 inch rubber – as fitted to our test car – right up to 35 inch diameter. Speaking of which, to reduce the steering effort created by larger tyres, it also sports Terrafirma’s return-to-centre steering damper, so you don’t need so much muscle when manoeuvring.
Greasy incline with a hint of side slope? No problem
On the photoshoot at the Quarry Off-road Centre, I’m sure you expect me to say the Disco copes admirably. Actually, it absolutely monsters everything thrown at it. So sketchy are the conditions – a thawing top surface layer of up to two inches of slippy clay – that LRM ad manager Steve and I stop more than once to check we’re happy to commit to some areas of the site. The central bowl area is reached down a long, steady incline, on a slight side slope. Once down, you can only leave via the same, slippery clay track. My concerns are almost laughed off, for not only does Eddie get down the greasy track without incident, he then spends 20 minutes showboating around side slopes, cocking wheels up rock steps in the bowl and making routes though foliage off the main routes, all the while on clay I’m struggling to stand up on.
When the time comes to leave the bowl area, the discussion involves mention of a tractor before committing the car to the exit hill. Tractor-less, with LRM staff nervously watching, the D2 romps straight up. As he reaches me photographing at the top, an unflapped Eddie calmly asks if I want him to repeat the feat. Needless to say, Steve and I, both experienced off-roaders, are flabbergasted. It’s enormously impressive.
No centre diff lock, but that doesn’t stop this car
That done, an even steeper incline is attempted. Even though the Metropolis base car doesn’t have a centre diff lock, it drives straight up the slope first time, axles jiggling, four wheels spinning and Eddie working the wheel equally hard to find traction. “You’ll be surprised exactly how far this thing will get you,” enthuses Eddie, highlighting the capabilities of the modified Td5.
As capable as it is, there are still improvements to come. “The next stage is fitting the rear axle diff lock, so you don’t need full throttle [to trigger traction control], giving you more low-speed control,” explains Eddie. “But that’s the joy of the product range, you can pick to suit your needs with the car.”
There was once a time when off-road modifications meant the family Land Rover ended up with an air of a Mad Max film prop about them. Now, though, we have quality kit, tastefully styled, that you know will work harmoniously, thanks to the experience of companies such as Terrafirma. We all love a Defender, and yes, you might get an extra few feet into the gloop in one of those, but take a Discovery 2 and add the right kit, and you’ll have everything you want, including increased comfort, for a smaller financial outlay.
In fact, I’ll be bold and claim that if you took a Disco 2, did a re-chassis, rebuilt what was needed, then added Terrafirma’s kit, and then compared the cost of doing likewise with a Defender, the Disco would leave you enough spare cash to fund a trip to the Dadès Gorge and back. Possibly more than once. And I know which car the family would rather travel the autoroutes of France in…
If you’re in the market for an extremely capable off-roader that also has to serve duty as your family wheels, then a Terrafirma-modified Discovery 2 is a very smart choice.
Terrafirma Wheel carrier takes up to 35 inch tyres
• Medium load front springs +2”
• Front spring dislocation cones
• Heavy load rear springs +2”
• Eight stage adjustable +5” long travel shocks
• Rear axle inverse relocation cones
• Extended anti-roll bar links
• Front & rear spring retainer plates
• +30mm frontshock turrets
• +5” stainless steel brake hoses
• Cranked watts link arms
• Extended bump stops
• Polyurethane bush kit
• Return to centre steering damper
• Baja Raid rock sliders
• Raid winch bumper
• Raid rear bumper
• Raised air intake
• M12.5S electric winch
• 8x16 steel wheels
See Terrafirma's latest catalogue, encompassing its full range for the Discovery 2, at terrafirma4x4.com
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