14 Oct 2012

Living with - Land Rover Discovery Series II V8

This will be the first in a series of articles written by people about their own cars.  It is intended to give an insight into owning and running the car in question.  If you would like to submit your own 'Living with -' please get in touch.

The car - Land Rover Discovery, Series II, 4.0 litre V8, 1998
Owner - Matt and Sarah Hubbard


We bought the Discovery 18 months ago when the clutch popped on my wife's Freelander.  It just wasn't man enough for the job of towing a 2 tonne horse trailer (with occupants).  So we set about finding a replacement with enough power and weight but that would also be a comfortable and useable day to day car.

We decided the TD5 was just too slow - so plumped for the V8.  We also wanted a manual which would be better for towing.  Manual, V8 Discos are a pretty rare commodity but we found this one for sale in Bristol, on the Autotrader website for £3500.

The car is unmolested.  It has no modifications other than a set of Land Rover running boards and wind deflectors around the windows - that do work.


If you've never driven a Discovery - or any 4x4 before - then throw your misconceptions away.  Tales of body-roll round corners and dreadful handling are wrong.  Sure, it's a heavy old beast but the handling and road-holding are pretty much as good as a cheap little hatchback.  It'll never match a car that is actually intended to handle well but the handling is good enough.

In fact the suspension is set up pretty hard.  This was quite a surprise when we first got it.  Speedbumps are felt just as much as in any other car.  There's a very abrupt little humpback bridge over a stream near the house and the Disco can be taken at the same speed as any other car - it just makes more noise (creaks and rattles abound).

The chassis and body are pretty stiff so cornering at any speed is predictable and precise-ish.  You've just got to allow for the weight which will start to induce tiny amounts of understeer if pushed too hard.

The engine is powerful and torquey.  A Land Rover such as this can never be described as fast but 0-60mph is achieved in around 10 seconds -  which isn't bad - and the wave of torque allows for overtaking when required.  This often shocks the occupants of the drivers being overtaken, who expect such a machine to be sluggish.

In fact it barrels along at a fair old pace.  Twisty country lanes can be fun but the steering isn't set up for such pursuits so you'll be sawing away at the wheel which does take away some of the fun.  On the motorway it will get up to speed and cruise all day at 70mph.  Above 70mph and it's thirst will bankrupt you in minutes.

It will drive off road, although we don't frequently.  It has driven down farm tracks where almost any other vehicles apart from a tractor would flounder.  The Discovery is considered one of the best off-road vehicles in the world with good reason.  It will go off the beaten path with ease and with the V8 engine doesn't even need the low ratio gearbox much.  Seriously steep and rutted tracks can be taken in 1st gear with no problem at all.

General ownership experience

The controls are reasonably well laid out and easy to reach.  Being a 1998 model it hasn't suffered from Land Rover's increasing prevalence of adding more and more buttons and switches to the point where a kind of blindness sets in and you can't work out what does what.

The seats are extremely comfortable and the electric adjustment still works so can be adjusted to any size of driver or passenger.  The electric windows still all work, albeit sometimes with a clunk.  A Discovery is designed to be used in dirty and muddy conditions and as such the floor slopes slightly towards the door.  There is no lip where the floor meets the door so any dirt just falls out over time.  We've only cleaned it out once in 18 months and it still looks in better condition most of the time than our other car.

The gearbox is good.  The ratios are quite close (3rd is needed by the time you get to 45mph) but the actual spacing of the gears on the gearstick are pretty far apart.  Going up and down the ratios gives your left arm a good workout.  Pedals are perfectly placed and are slightly further apart than in normal cars - meaning it can be driven in wellington boots.

The stereo was a good quality one when the car was new but time hasn't treated it too kindly.  The CD selector, under the driver's seat, doesn't work anymore so it's a choice of tapes (!) or radio.  The sound quality is reasonable enough but not as good as in VWs or BMWs.

Driving a Discovery can give one an air of aloofness.  You are bigger than most other cars.  You look down on most other drivers.  You normally win the battle of wits when approaching a narrowing of the road.  Being an older vehicle, and being tough as old boots, you tend to drive it with an air that other drivers will move out of the way.  It is large so small spaces at the supermarket carpark can be a squeeze but given that you slide down from your seat to the ground the door doesn't need to be opened quite so much as in a smaller car.

Servicing and costs

I service all my cars and give the Disco an oil and filter change once every six months.  I did the spark plugs six months ago.  This is more expensive than in most cars purely because 8 plugs and 5.5 litres of oil are required.  It uses some oil, probably half a litre every 2,000 miles.  Unusually for a Land Rover the patch of oil on the drive under the engine is quite small.

Tyres last as long as in any other car and cost £90 each for a set of Goodyears.  It has passed two MoTs in our ownership without any problems at all, other than a failure on an emissions test.  The garage just tweaked something in the engine, retested it and it passed.  And that's it.  We have spent nothing else on servicing and maintenance.

Now onto the achilles heal of the V8 Discovery - fuel consumption.  It drinks fuel like it's going out of fashion (which it is).  We did a 400 mile round trip to the Welsh coast in the summer.  Three people, one dog and a boot full of luggage.  60% motorway, 20% A-road and 20% winding country lanes.

At the final fuel stop before home I filled it up to the top and worked out the average consumption over the whole trip.  16mpg.  Which is poor in an epic way.

Reliability and Faults

This is where the Land Rover falls down.  Before I reel off the list of faults let me say that none of them have ever stopped the car by the roadside, prevented us from using it, or even caused an MoT failure.

The sunroofs leak.  It has two (all Discoverys do) and they leak.  Like a sieve.  Basically Land Rover cut holes in the roof and fitted sunroofs with the worst sealing material they could find.  If you buy a Discovery that hasn't had bathroom sealant applied to seal up the sunroofs it WILL leak.  If it gets really bad I put duct tape over the sealant for an extra bit of waterproofing.  And still we get the odd drip.

The passenger side rear door sometimes won't open.  Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't.  Sometimes, when you lock the car, that door doesn't lock.  You have to check every time.

The warning lights come on and sometimes stay on.  This is known as the 3 Amigos and is a familiar experience for all Discovery II owners.  Three warning lights come on intermittently.  Sometimes they stay on for ages, sometimes they don't.  Sometimes they just tease you by flickering slightly.  It doesn't matter though - there's nothing actually wrong with the car (I've checked with my OBD2 scanner).  It's just the 3 Amigos.  Go figure.

The steering groans at low speed.  That's it.  It isn't notchy.  It isn't unsafe.  It just groans quite loudly - which can be embarrassing sometimes.  But it's a Land Rover.  And they do make strange noises.

The passenger side back seats won't stay upright.  I have to tie it in place with zip ties.  The only solution is to buy another, but that would cost a fortune.  It isn't a massive problem - just annoying.

All of the cup-holders are broken.  When new the owner would have four well designed, retracting cup holders.  Now, we have none because they were made from cheese and have fallen apart.

The remote central locking sometimes only opens the drivers door.  Passengers can be left standing in the rain whilst you are dry and cosy in the car, furiously trying to unlock the passenger side.

But it's a Land Rover so all of the above is acceptable.  And expected.

The 3 Amigos

Would I buy another and would I recommend it to others?

Yes.  We love our Disco.  It is hugely accommodating for all our needs.  It goes anywhere and does anything in comfort.  We affectionately call it The Tank.  We use it and abuse it and it never complains or breaks down.

It is great fun to drive and a pleasure to see it parked on the drive.  It is a handsome vehicle.  It is practical and ownership is much easier than we ever expected.

We just have to accept its appalling drink problem and the occasional drip of water on the head.