Sunday, November 29, 2009

Land Rover Discovery - A reliable Overland Vehicle?

Is the Land Rover Discovery a capable trans-continental overland vehicle?
Throughout decades of overland travel the Land Rover Series and Defender have been successfully crossing continents. In this post, I provide examples of the Land Rover Discovery and its role in Trans-Africa overland trips. I focused specifically on independent overland websites which opted to use a Land Rover Discovery as the preferred vehicle.

  Wikipedia describes the vehicle as:

The Land Rover Discovery is a mid-size SUV, with off-road capabilities, from the British car maker Land Rover; a subsidiary of Tata Motors. There have been three generations of the vehicle, which was first introduced in 1989.

Key Points
In my opinion, gone are the days where the dominant 4x4 vehicle was the Land Rover Series or Defender model, as a result there are a number of key points on why the Discovery is becoming more popular with the independent overlander.   The Discovery offers the following:
  • Superior comfort compared to the Land Rover Defender.  Majority of Discovery's include sunroofs and air conditioning.
  • Similar size to the Defender (physically less rear load space but extra width is beneficial)
  • A raft of overland equipment - roofracks, fuel tanks, bullbars and every other possible modification available
  • In the UK, the Discovery is very affordable compared to the Defender. 
In each of the examples below, the Overlanders have opted for various modifications -  from the standard roofrack and tent, to a fully plumbed in fresh water tanks and long range fuel tanks.  

First introduced in 1989, the Land Rover Discovery launched in a market that was ready for a medium size 4x4. Similar to the Defender, this vehicle offers excellent offroad capability plus the interior offered comfort and airconditioning.

My first Discovery, as pictured below, was a 200tdi (2.5 Turbo Diesel), five door model.  The vehicle had a five speed gearbox, with a central locking diff in either high or low range.  

Here are a few overland prepared examples:

In April 1999, Scott and Renee headed South from Spain en route to South Africa.  The Discovery chosen for the trip was the 200tdi, 3-door edition.  

The additional benefit over the LR Defender was the wide rear door which enabled easy access to rear of the vehicle as seen in this photo.

Prepared to the n'th degree, Andrew and Jacqui spent plenty of time and effort in kitting the perfect vehicle.  The Discovery had access to the rooftop tent (via the front sunroof).  The rear seats were removed and cupboards fitted to contain all the travel equipment.  A long range fuel tank, and two water tanks were fitted.

Additional photos from an afternoon spent at the UK Land Rover Billing show:

Land Rover Discovery 300tdi
Launched in 1994, this Discovery had the new 300tdi engine (2.5L TD), facelift headlights and interior.  Additional changes included a new gearbox and a few extra chassis modifications.

A few examples of trips...

Taniya and Clive are currently heading South from the UK and have a good website with excellent photos and videos.  

A short YouTube video clip shows the vehicle:

Peter Strong bought a fully kitted Camel Trophy Discovery and headed South and eventually North again.
Peter journals:
The Camel. 300TDi Discovery (P244 KAC) that was factory built for the Mongolia Camel Trophy Competition in 1997. I found the Camel in the care of Simon Pitchford in Gibraltar. Simon was gutted to lose one of his favourite toys - I was delighted to find a vehicle that was capable of taking the journey on.

Colin and team headed South from the UK in a Discovery.

Wayne and Tracy write the following about their Discovery 300tdi:
We decided on a Land Rover for our trip and bought a 1998 Land Rover Discovery 300TDi in early 2008.  The Landy was partly modified from a previous trip but we felt that it was not adequately prepared for our needs and still needed a lot of work and TLC to get it ready for our trip.

Launched in 1998, the Discovery II was the first vehicle to use the new 5-cylinder diesel engine (TD5) plus the new 'fly-by-wire' electronics which controlled fuel injection, traction control, and Active Cornering Enhancement (ACE) which prevented body roll. 

Paul and Jacinda headed North in their TD5 - their website offers an excellent vehicle prep page, including updates on equipment used.  

Quote from the website:
The most important accessory in my opinion for a diesel 4wd is a snorkel. Get water in a diesel and given the high compression ratio you can say goodbye to your engine. Apart from keeping water out they do a reasonable job of keeping the dust out and suck cooler air to boot. Combined with a K&N air filter, Truckasaurus breathes at its best.
This Discovery launched with a totally new design, including the innovative Terrain Response system and 6-speed gearbox.

The World Off Road
Akis and Vula have a superbly modified Discovery 3.  They are yet to reach Africa (Nov 09) however as they are currently travelling, I will include them.  As stated above, the criteria to be included is an independent website detailing their Trans-Africa overland trip.

Big Adventure
Jen & Noam are heading around the world in their overland prepared Discovery 3 (2.7 diesel)

Land Rover Discovery 4
Launched in September 2009, this Discovery introduced a new 3.0l twin turbo diesel engine, smoother body lines and new interior trim levels (to match the Range Rover).  This Discovery is still relatively new and attracts a price point that most independent overlanders tend to avoid.

In summary, the first Discovery offers a fantastic overland vehicle - engine reliability, ability to easily modify and the 'Good Look' feel about it.  The benefit this vehicle has is the 2nd hand price point, the expedition kit availability and the lack of electronics.
Moving to the TD5 version introduces the electronics - however, with the right computer, diagnostics will be a breeze.  Additional spares will also need to be carried in advance of any breakdowns as remote areas will probably not have the latest diagnostic equipment.

As time moves on and we look back in ten years, I expect to see more electronics in vehicles and easier diagnostics which should make the newer Disco 3 & 4 available as an overlander.

Additional Reading:

10 Reasons why the Discovery makes a good overlander


  1. Hah! Just found this & delighted to see Itchy, our Disco, featured! Cheers Martin!

    Having now completed the first 45,000 km to Cape Town through West & Central Africa we couldn't recommend the Disco I 300Tdi more highly. She performed wonderfully & we did our best to challenge her - crossing 600km into the Sahara in Mauritania (no piste) & some pretty severe off the beaten tracks in Cameroon (amongst others). The perfect 2-person overlander in our opinion & we wouldn't change a thing.


  2. wow, how wonderfull

    love to do something like this

    i am 63 and ready to do it.....with antisipation


Comments always welcome...