04 April 2018
Increasing numbers of Defender owners are switching their allegiance to the Discovery 3. LRM investigates why…
They’re calling it the new Defender – and no wonder. Some enthusiasts are switching allegiance to a Land Rover that’s every bit as capable as a 90 or 110, but twice as comfortable, even more versatile and half the price (even though it doesn’t go rusty).
We’re talking about the Discovery 3, of course. When it was launched in 2004 , Land Rover fans were bowled over by its good looks and advanced specification, but were worried about all that electronic technology. What would it perform like a few years down the line, we wondered?
We needn’t have worried, because 14 years later it is going stronger than ever. So much so that folk who would once have considered no vehicle other than a Defender are now enjoying the advantages of D3 ownership. This includes seasoned off-roaders and dedicated adventurers, who are eager to embrace the benefits of the third-generation Disco.
What are those advantages?
• Value for money: Back in 2004 you could have bought two Defenders for the price of a Discovery 3. These days you could buy two D3s for the price of a Defender. This is because collectors are snapping up Defenders, pushing prices skywards, while a glut of secondhand Discovery
3s in the marketplace means values have fallen to an affordable level.
• Towing: Discovery has long been the world’s best tow car and the D3 is no exception.
• Off-road: Traction-enhancing technology keeps the Disco going where Defenders would struggle – and you don’t even have to be an expert off-roader. Just dial in the conditions on the Terrain Response and the D3’s electronic brain will do the rest.
• Power: The TDV6 diesel engines are a revelation. Plus you get the option of an automatic gearbox (something you don’t get with Defender).
• Versatility: You can seat seven adults in the three rows of forward-facing seats or you can fold down the rear rows and enjoy the carrying capacity of a Transit van.
• Comfort: Even the Defender’s greatest fans will admit that their favourite vehicle is lacking when it comes to creature comforts. Not so with the luxurious Disco.
Meet the Cooper family
But don’t just take our word for it, meet a family who are about to entrust their lives to a Discovery 3. Ivan and Jen Cooper, along with their two young children, have just left their home in Cape Town, South Africa, for an epic road trip to Northern Europe, which will include driving the length of Africa. After a lot of deliberation, and the ownership of several Land Rovers, a dramatic event helped them decide that the Discovery 3 was the vehicle for the trip.
Ivan, 49, served in the Royal Marines for 30 years, driving a lot of Land Rovers in the process. “I joined the Marines in 1986. The military uses all sorts of Land Rovers from 90s, 110s and a few Forward Controls in some places,” he recalls. “I have driven most types over the years – mostly 110s, but also a number of ‘pinkies’ (Pink Panthers).
“Jen and I met in Cape Town in 2012 after I had moved back to South Africa following my time in the military. Jen was studying for her law degree. We kept in touch after she returned to the US and then she decided to come back to South Africa at the end of 2012. From there, we decided to backpack from Cape Town to Europe in 2013, which started our love of overlanding.”
The couple were married in 2013 and have two children: Edmund, now three, and daughter Alandria (nicknamed Landi), who is about to celebrate her first birthday.
“As a family we have owned a Discovery 2 4.6 V8, Discovery 2 Td5, a Defender Puma 110 2.4, Defender 110 Td5 110, a Discovery 3 V8 HSE, a Range Rover V8 and our present Discovery 3 V8 HSE.
“Our favourite Defender was the 2003 Td5, which we extensively upgraded and travelled across Southern Africa, including a four-week long overland trip to Namibia, towing a one tonne trailer. It was unstoppable and returned us all home safely, including Jen who was six or seven months pregnant with Landi.”
A life-changing event
In fact, the Coopers may well have chosen a Defender for their current overland adventure if had not been for a dramatic event in 2016, when Jen was pregnant with Landi. The couple were driving in convoy, with Ivan leading the way in his 110 and Jen following in her Discovery 2, when Ivan suddenly lost radio contact with his wife.
Ivan takes up the story: “For some reason, I got a seriously bad feeling, so I spun the 110 around and bolted back to ensure that they were okay. As I came over the crest in the road I saw total devastation before me: the Disco 2 was lying in the road with two of its wheels broken off around the hubs, rear springs popped out, and the roof rack off the car. I could see that the body of the Disco had taken a pounding and was severely misshapen, although still intact.
“To be honest, as I looked at the car, I began to wonder if my family had made it out alive. Suddenly, as I jumped out of the 110, I saw Jen staggering around the Disco carrying Edmund and then dropped down to the ground upset that she had crashed her beloved Disco.
“Edmund looked at me and said ‘Daddy, can you fix the Landy?’ ‘Not this time, son,’ was my reply.
“It turned out that the Disco had got into a pendulum effect on its back end on the corrugated road surface. When Jen tried to correct it she over-corrected and hit a sand bank on the passenger side of the car. The sand slowed the rear end of the car dramatically, causing it to dig in and roll three times from side to side down the road.
“Of course, my biggest worry at this point was Edmund, Jen and our unborn daughter. Jen was rushed to the hospital to check on the baby and, fortunately, everything was fine with her. The only injuries any of them sustained was to Jen, namely a few seat belt bruises and a little stiffness. Edmund was secure in his five-point child seat and was absolutely fine, with not even so much as a scratch.
“At the hospital, while we were waiting for the results of various tests, it suddenly struck me that perhaps we should call our unborn daughter Landi, as we had not yet decided on a name. Jen was adamant that we were not naming our daughter after a car, but a few days later, after she’d had time to think about things a little, she suggested that we call her Alandria, which meant of course she would almost certainly be nicknamed Landi! For us, the Disco 2 had saved all of their lives and it was, in my opinion, destiny that our daughter would be named accordingly.”
Finding and prepping the expedition vehicle
When it came to replacing the written-off Disco 2, there was only one choice of vehicle.
“The Disco 3 is incredibly strong,” says Ivan. “I was reliably informed that it was probably ten times stronger than the Disco 2 that Jen had rolled. Our thinking was that if the Disco 2 kept the family safe in that accident, then the Disco 3 was the best option for us if going on overland adventures.
“Also, the Disco 3 is internally much bigger than the 110 and, obviously, much more comfortable for the children.
“Jen is from the US and only drives automatics so by having a Disco 3 with auto box she can share the driving on our adventures.
“So we purchased the Disco 3 about 18 months ago, at a local car dealer. I wanted a V8 petrol as opposed to the diesel. In its previous life, it had been a Chelsea Tractor, ferrying its previous owner’s children to and from school. It had 70,000 km on the clock and was immaculate in every way. It had also never been off-road and so was the obvious choice for us. It was a standard HSE-spec model, but with the addition of a rear TV set-up for the children. This was one of the reasons we purchased it.
“Together, Jen and I planned the project, taking into consideration the enormous capability of the vehicle. This allowed us to significantly increase the scope of the trip so that we could do so much more. We’ve changed a lot of the vehicle to make it suitable for overlanding.
“Starting at the front, I installed daytime running lights into the headlights. Then we had a heavy-duty steel bumper and 12,500 lb rated winch installed. We also fitted Johnson Rods to lift the vehicle automatically by about two inches for normal driving and then wheel-spaced it two inches to cater for the additional height, giving greater, wider track on the vehicle, thus improving stability. This also allowed us to fit 18-inch wheels with Cooper Discovery S/T Maxx 275/65 tyres, ensuring that they do not touch the arches or parts of the vehicle.
“We also upgraded the vehicle air suspension pump from the Hitachi to the much stronger AMK pump. The additional lighting, some 610 watts of LED light, aids night-time off-road driving enormously. The dual battery system that I installed is manufactured by HBC and we run two 658C batteries in the car to cater for the fridge and additional light loadings and USB installations. A long-range tank was fitted and we now have 230 litres (50.5 gallons) of fuel capacity, thus giving us significant range.
610 watts of LEDs should help with off-roading at night
“The winch is fed with a 95 mm power cable, distributed on 50 mm power cables, thus ensuring very little voltage drop and ample current to supply the winch.
Heavy-duty steel bumper and 12,500 lb winch
“We took out the middle centre seat to install a drinks fridge. The sixth and seventh seats were also removed to utilise as a storage area for tools and spares.
“A steel rear bumper was installed with high-lift and recovery points. I then built, and installed, rock sliders. A snorkel was fitted too, along with a roof rack, additional lighting and accessories. We installed a racking system in the boot, together with a dual battery and inverter system, all of which I designed and built myself. We retained the Harmon Kardon integrated audio system.
Accessories include a snorkel and roof rack
This Discovery 3 is both immensely capable off-road and incredibly comfortable too Ivan designed and built a racking system in the boot, as well as a dual battery and inverter system
“We also had tinted rear privacy glass added to keep the sunlight out, for the children’s comfort, and had Disco 4-spec Terrain Response mapped into the vehicle to enhance its off-road ability.
“Finally, because of the extra weight of the vehicle and trailer, we had the ECU re-mapped to provide more torque and a little bit more power. This improved the vehicle’s performance significantly. The end result is an immensely-capable off-road and overlanding vehicle.
Remapped ECU provides more torque and power
“Even in standard form, the Discovery 3 is an immensely-capable off-road vehicle, and probably more so than a Defender, due to its rear difflock and traction control systems. Add to it what I’ve done and we now have a vehicle that is pretty much go-anywhere and one that has retained its greater comfort level to cater for us as a family on the long journey ahead.
“Also, the reality is that with Defender prices now going through the roof following Land Rover’s decision to stop building it, the natural transition is to use the Disco 3 or 4 for overland adventures,” concludes Ivan.
Why should you buy one?
Of course, not everybody who favours the Discovery 3 over the Defender can claim such a dramatic conversion. Here on the LRM team, advertising manager Steve Miller is the biggest advocate of the Disco 3, but his reasons are more pragmatic.
“Discovery 3 ownership was a natural progression for me, after previously owning and running first and second-generation Discos,” says Steve. “Opinion among my friends was divided. I had as many people tell me to avoid a D3 while others say it’s one the best models available and to go for it. I inevitably took the plunge after being convinced by my friends in the Discovery Owners Club.
“I know I made the right decision, even though its first trip to the garage for replacement glow plugs ended up with a bill for £1757. But I soon forgave it when we were hit with the Beast from the East blizzards in early March. There isn’t a vehicle I’d have preferred to drive in through snow drifts, icy lanes and the like.
“The Discovery 3 feels like it’s in a different league to other Land Rovers. It serves us very well for family use, along with the dog in the boot. The ability to tow comfortably has its advantages, too.
“If you’re thinking of buying one, my main piece of advice is to go for the very best you can afford, either from a reputable specialist or an enthusiast you trust. Be warned that there are a lot of used Disco 3s, often with high mileages, sitting on used car lots with lots of undisclosed problems. It really is a case of buyer beware!
“Why should you buy one?
• There are literally hundreds for sale at any one time and prices are only going one way – and that’s down! The D3 is becoming more accessible by the day for enthusiasts as people trade them in for newer Disco 4s or even the all-new Disco.
• I’ve never seen a rusty one (unlike many Defenders).
• A Disco 3 will comfortably sit at 70 mph-plus on the motorway and waft along effortlessly. The air suspension forgives Britain’s pot-holed roads, soaking up every imperfection or sleeping policeman. The refined 2.7-litre TDV6 diesel offers silky smooth, luxurious driving, and is much nicer in automatic, rather than the manual gearbox, in my opinion.
• D3s are just as good off-road, thanks to Terrain Response, with the ability to raise the suspension, and turn a dial for the terrain you’re encountering. With all-terrain tyres fitted, I’d love to see how far one will go before getting stuck.
• D3s can be adapted and modified almost as well as Defenders. As time goes on, more and more aftermarket accessories are being designed and manufactured for these models – everything from underbody protection to expedition equipment. If you like doing your own servicing and maintenance, you can buy handheld diagnostic equipment to find out what’s wrong. The D3 is the perfect platform from which to start your personalisation.”
Steve adds: “The Discovery 3 has a reputation for faultless running and seldom going wrong, which is just as well because the only downside of D3 ownership is that most parts are more expensive than Defender parts and, as the vehicle is more sophisticated, it is also more complicated, which can rack up labour costs if you take it to a garage. My advice is to always have a buffer in the bank for such eventualities.”
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