17 June 2023
With greater availability and falling prices, the Discovery 4 is now ripe for upgrading. Alisdair Cusick reports on how one owner has modified his D4 to make it more practical and capable off-road
The hierarchy and status of Land Rover models is in a constant state of flux, the order changing as time and experience alter our perceptions. A Series I was once a simple agricultural tool for the farm, but who today would think to put a cosseted 80in to such use? Likewise, try to find a cheap Discovery 1 to take off-road these days. At the time of its launch the Discovery 4 was often cited as the most practical all-round Land Rover to date.
Tuff-Trek roof tents sits on ProSpeed rack. Terrafirma rear wheel carrier makes spare easier to access
Comfortable, economical, spacious for families or tip runs alike, eating motorway miles one minute, and lifting wheels off-road the next – except, of course, that a D4 was too expensive for most owners to consider venturing too far away from the tarmac. And with the car still in warranty, few folk would risk modifying one. Now, however, there are plenty of second-hand examples for reasonable money, and there’s a growing band of owners prepared to modify and personalise their Discovery 4s, and take them on off-road adventures.
Lucien Martindale enjoys heading off into the wilds of Wales with his family and faithful hound
One owner who epitomises this outlook is Lucien Martindale, who despite only getting interested in Land Rovers relatively recently, has built an enviable and capable D4. What’s more, he makes full use of his car’s many newfound abilities.
Unusually for a D4, the gearbox is manual. This early model features some Disco 3 mechanical parts
A lockdown purchase early in 2020, it was his first Land Rover, coming from a Nissan Pathfinder. Originally a bog-standard 59-plate Discovery 4 GS, the 164,000-mile car has the 2.7-litre engine, rather than the 3.0 TDV6. “Mechanically it is a D3, but electronically it is all D4,” Lucien points out. The centre display is plain, with no 4x4 information, though the dash binnacle is the D4-spec LCD. Of the manual gearbox, he points out this was his preference over an auto, but he appreciates the pros and cons of both. “Everyone knows D3/4 are good at what they do. After the Japanese car, these caught my eye, but I’d always liked the look of the D4 when they came out,” he explains.
ProSpeed hidden winch mount bull bar frames a pair of powerful Stedi Type-X spotlights
His first modification was the black grille and 30mm wheel spacers to make it look nice. All-terrain tyres came next, then a ProSpeed roof rack and ladder together with an ARB awning. “They fit so well with the contours of the car,” adds Lucien. “I’ve a couple of mates who are into fabricating so I’ve had a few parts made up, like brackets for the awning: stuff you can’t just buy – there are still are few gaps in the market.”
Side step and rock/tree sliders are from the ProSpeed catalogue
Further modifications came in the form of spotlights, where Lucien admits learning lessons – they were initially mounted straight to the bumper until he realised they looked like they were flashing when you had them on. Today they sit in a decidedly beefy ProSpeed hidden winch mount bull bar, complemented by a raised air intake, rock sliders, Devon 4x4 underbody protection and a ProSpeed rear diff guard. A Winchmax winch and swanky titanium winch hook mean he has extra peace of mind when venturing into challenging conditions.
18-inch Compomotive alloys are able to accommodate uprated Brembo front calipers
The wheels were changed to 18-inch Compomotive PD1881s around which were wrapped BF Goodrich KM3 Mud Terrain tyres (265/60 R18). A Terrafirma 4x4 rear wheel carrier was added, making the spare more accessible than its standard position beneath the rear of the car. Externally, the D4’s main feature is the roof tent, a Tuff-Trek Overland Series mk2, which Lucien rates highly. The overall effect is a neatly styled car, where a clean look is key. And looks matter, because owning a vehicle like this today increasingly means you’ll be photographing it for social media, something Lucien enthusiastically enjoys.
No more scrabbling under the car for the spare, thanks to the Terrafirma rear wheel carrier. Ladder is from ProSpeed
Second-hand Range Rover Sport front brake calipers appeared online, so he snapped those up and fitted them with drilled discs. “There’s a big thing about them not fitting inside 18-inch wheels, but they do behind these Compomotive rims,” says Lucien, who rates the performance as much as the look of the beefy calipers.
Clever electronic lifter overides standard suspension settings
Suspension is factory spec except for an XLifter, a neat electronic device that permits the factory height settings to be overridden, without issue. The car now rides 55mm higher standard because of the larger tyres, but the vehicle thinks it is normal, so doesn’t trigger any speed warnings or error messages. To preserve driving manners and tyre wear, he had a full geometry set-up at that height, too.
The D4’s original cloth seats have been replaced by leather chairs from a Discovery 3
The interior hasn’t been ignored either. Full leather seats from a Disco 3 replace the manual GS-spec cloth items, with Lucien explaining he wanted the grab handles on the sides of the headrests, over the plain-sided D4 design. The rear loadspace has the dickie seats removed, instead housing a leisure battery, and custom fabricated three-drawer storage system. A Direct4x4 fridge slider sits on top, meaning he has enough space to store all his goodies, with space behind the rear seats for his camping chairs and table.
Bearmach roof basket provides useful extra storage in the boot area
Much of the car has been built as parts have appeared at the right price, rather than simply having a shopping list. “I feel quite accomplished how it is set up at the moment,” Lucien admits. “This was a dream: things have just come about, and I’ve been lucky to come across some stuff,” he says, proudly pointing out how it all looks in keeping with the car’s original aesthetic.
A sliding drawer system enhances the D4’s practicality while still leaving room for the dog
It’s a family car too, so what does Lucien’s tribe make of it? “Come the weekend, we’ve got both kids in, the dog in the back: everyone’s in and we’re all happy,” says Lucien, who constantly anticipates the next trip off the black stuff. “I need my regular fix of the outdoors. If I haven’t been for a while, or it has been too long between trips, I just crave it more and more.” In case you hadn’t guessed he’s a keen greenlane driver, enthusiastically using the car’s talents on the classic lanes around his native Wales.
Lucien likes to get his D4 out on the Welsh greenlanes
As we head out to the photographic location, the car rides beautifully. Heated seats keeping us toasty, the only hint of the extra kit being the faintest of extra tyre noise from the Mud Terrains. Rather than a greenlane, we could for all the world be on the archetypal school run, so docile is the set-up. But that’s the key element of the model’s appeal: it does so much, so well, without compromise to any element of it.
And unlike a Defender it is more comfortable and roomier – vital for 6ft 5in Lucien. Then there’s the aspect of the premium you’ll pay for a Defender, and the extra attraction they have for thieves. As great as they are, they aren’t right for everyone, which is why the D4 has such appeal.
Lucien’s D4 looks pretty complete, but he has lots more plans for future mods
The Discovery 4 has always been a gem of Land Rover production, and right now the model sits in a real sweet spot – affordable and plentiful enough to be used off-road and modified, and supported by a large section of the aftermarket industry. Little wonder that enthusiasm for the D4 is growing. With relatively few modifications, Lucien has shown how you, too, could take the most versatile Land Rover and make it even better.
Thinking of buying a D3/4?
You can’t talk about D4s without the spectre of reliability coming to mind. “Touch wood, it hasn’t been that bad,” Lucien reveals. “I’ve had one of the horror stories: the electronic park brake, which anchored on at the end of the Strata Florida greenlane.” Unable to be recovered due to the location, he managed to drive the car – dragging the rear wheels – to the side of the track and left it overnight. Returning the next day with a mechanic pal, the pair stripped the handbrake off so he could drive it back home (with the electronics beeping away the entire time). “Two days later, it was all sorted, though I replaced the whole park brake module for peace of mind,” Lucien adds. As you’d expect on an off-roader, he’s on his second set of lower suspension arms and clutch.
If you’re thinking of buying a D3/4, he advises that mileage doesn’t really matter. “Look for a wedge of receipts,” he states. “These cars can be costly to repair, so if a seller doesn’t have them, or hasn’t kept them, it suggests he/she doesn’t care about the car.” Beyond that, Lucien recommends the old adage ‘look after the car, and it will look after you’.
Engine and transmission
• 2.7-litre V6 turbo-diesel, six-speed manual gearbox
• Remapped, EGR blanked, stainless exhaust with centre box delete
Wheels and suspension
• 18in Compomotive PD1881 wheels
• 265/60 R18 BFG KM3 Mud Terrains
• Terrafirma 30mm wheel spacers
• Brembo four-pot calipers, discs and pads from earlier Range Rover Sport
• XLifter lift module
• ProSpeed roof rack, rear ladder, rock/tree sliders with optional step inserts and fixed skid plates, rear differential guard, hidden winch mount bull bar
• Devon 4x4 front/sump guard
• Winchmax 13,500lb SL military-grade winch
• Factor 55 titanium winch hook
• Tuff-Trek Overland Series mk2 hard-shell roof tent
• ARB awning plus LED light
• ARB awning room
• Stedi Type-X PRO spotlights
• Terrafirma rear wheel carrier
• Land Rover Passion CB aerial mount
• Underbody treatment (Buzzweld for mixed black look, top coated with Lanoguard that dries clear)
• Rear drawer system, mainly DIY but with a fridge slider drawer on top from Direct4x4
• Bearmach upper boot basket
• Centre console retrofit coolbox
• Leather electric heated seats from a Discovery 3
• Thunderpole UK CB radio and aerial
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