The Discovery (now known in North America as the LR3) is a comfortable 4x4 vehicle (SUV in American-English) from Land Rover which is now owned by Ford. There have been three generations of the vehicle, which is somewhat less expensive than the company's top Range Rover model. The Discovery was introduced in the late 1980s and is the most popular model of Land Rover. It is not as utilitarian as the Defender, but it is very competent off road.
On 2 April 2004, owners Ford Motor Company introduced a new Discovery 3 (or LR3 in the US) for the 2005 model year.
The Series II Discovery was long over-due for replacement. Although still a capable and popular vehicle, its chassis, coil-spring suspension and beam-axle layout had changed very little since the launch of the original Discovery in 1989. In turn, that vehicle used essentially the same underpinnings as the original Range Rover, launched in 1970. The Discovery II was beginning to lose sales to more sophisticated 'working' 4x4 vehicles from Japan (such as the Toyota Land Cruiser and Mitsubishi Shogun) and 'sports' 4x4s from Europe (such as the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class). A replacement vehicle had been planned for many years, but the project had been delayed many times due to the break up of the Rover Group in 2000 and the need to replace the Range Rover in 2001.
The Discovery 3 (LR3 in North America) was an entirely new design, sharing not a single component with the outgoing model. Its styling is still traditional Land Rover, with function dictating the look, rather than fashion, and with lots of horizontal and vertical lines. It retains the key features of the Discovery, such as the stepped roofline and steeply-raked windscreen.
Construction-wise, Land Rover developed an all-new method which they called 'Integrated Body Frame'. The previous Discovery models had used a traditional, strong ladder-frame chassis. Whilst tough in off-road use, these are heavy and detract from the on-road handling of the vehicle. Monocoque vehicles are more rigid, giving improved high-speed handling, but can be damaged by the stresses involved in heavy off-road use. In the IBF the body, engine bay and passenger compartment is built as a monocoque, which is mated to a basic ladder-chassis holding the gearbox and suspension. It claimed to combine the virtues of both systems, but does make the Discovery 3 uncommonly heavy for its size stunting on-road performance and off-road agility.
Another big change was the fitting of Fully independent suspension. Like the Series III Range Rover, this was an air suspension system, which allowed the ride-height of the vehicle to be altered by simply pumping up or deflating the air bags. The vehicle can be raised to provide ground clearance when off-road, but lowered at high speeds to improve handling. FIS has been seen as inferior to the older beam-axle when off-road due to its tendency to make the vehicle ground out. Land Rover developed 'cross-linked' air suspension to solve this problem- when needed, the suspension mimics the action of a beam axle (as one wheel drops, the other rises). In the UK and European markets, a coil-spring independent suspension system was offered on the base model. This model was unique in the range by having only 5 seats and only being available with the 2.7-litre diesel engine. This model lacked the Terrain Response system (see below).
All this was designed to make the new vehicle suitable for a changing 4x4 market. Ultimate off-road ability was becoming less important compared to refined on-road manners. Land Rover was determined that the Discovery 3 would retain the brand's reputation as a top-performing off-road vehicle, whilst also being a good road car. Whilst the Discovery 3 was not as good in the handling stakes as some of the competition, it was much improved over the previous models and its off-road credentials remained intact.
The engines used in the Discovery 3 were all taken from Land Rover's sister company, Jaguar. A 2.7-litre, 195 horsepower (145 kW) V6 diesel engine (the TdV6) was intended to be the biggest seller in Europe. For the US-market and as the high-performance option elsewhere, a 4.4 litre petrol V8 of 280 horsepower (209 kW) was chosen. A 4.0-litre V6 petrol engine taken from the Ford stable was available in the USA and Australia. Before launch, there were rumours that Land Rover may introduce the diesel unit to the American market, but the use of high-sulphur diesel fuel, for which the TdV6 is not designed in that market made this fitment unlikely.
The gearboxes on the Discovery 3 were also all-new. For the diesel engine, a 6-speed manual gearbox was standard. As an option, and as standard on the V8 engine, a 6-speed automatic transmission was available. Both came with a 2-speed transfer box and permanent 4-wheel-drive. A computer controlled progressively locking central differential ensured traction was retained in tough conditions. A similar differential was available on the rear axle to aid traction.
The Discovery 3 was fitted with Land Rover's full armoury of electronic traction control systems. Hill Descent Control (HDC) prevented vehicle 'runaways' when descending steep gradients and 4-wheel Electronic Traction Control (4ETC) prevented wheel spin in low-traction conditions. An on-road system, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) prevented skidding when steering and braking at speed.
Arguably the biggest feature of the new vehicle was the innovative 'Terrain Response' system (this system won a US Scientist award in 2005). Previously, off-road driving had been a skill that many drivers found daunting. A wide-ranging knowledge of the vehicle was needed to be able to select the correct gear, transfer ratio, various differential systems and master various techniques required for tackling steep hills, deep water and other tough terrain. Terrain Response attempted to take away as many of the difficulties as possible. The driver selected a terrain type on a dial in the cab of the vehicle (the options are 'Sand', 'Ice/Grass/Snow', 'Mud/Ruts' and 'Rock Crawl'.) The on-board computer systems then select the correct gearbox settings, adjust the suspension height, adjust the differential lock settings and even alter the throttle response of the engine suitable for the terrain. For example, in 'Rock Crawl', the suspension is raised to its maximum height, the differentials are locked, Low Ratio is engaged and the throttle response is altered to provide low-speed control. The driver retained some manual control over the off-road systems, being able to select the Transfer Box ratio and the suspension height manually, although use of the Terrain Response system is needed to allow full use of the vehicles capabilities.
As well as new mechanical and electronic systems, the Discovery 3 introduced much more advanced and modern design to the interior and exterior of the vehicle. The original 1989 Discovery's looks had been determined by limited funds and the consequent use of first-generation Range Rover components. These continued to influence the Series II. The Discovery 3 was able to have a fresh, minimalist style. The interior was much improved, with a highly flexible 7-seat layout. Unlike the older models, adults could comfortably use all 7 seats. Passengers in the rearmost row now entered through the rear side doors, instead of the tailgate as in previous versions. The driver benefited from a modern satellite on- and off-road GPS. When in off-road modes, the screen showed a schematic of the vehicle, displaying the amount of suspension movement, angle the front wheels were steering, the status of the locking differentials and icons showing which mode the Terrain Response was in, and what gear was selected on automatic versions.
The vehicle was very well received by the press on its launch, with the Terrain Response system, vastly improved on-road dynamics and clever interior design being selected for wide praise. The new look was disliked by some (descriptions such as 'van-like' were used), and the large, blank rear panel, now devoid of the spare wheel, was a controversial point. Others pointed out that the diesel engine still lagged behind the competition in power (especially given the weight of the vehicle), but overall the vehicle scored highly. A high-point in the new Discovery's launch season came when Jeremy Clarkson of the BBC's Top Gear motoring show drove one to the top of a Scottish mountain, where no vehicle had previously reached.
In Australia, the vehicle managed to be awarded '4WD of the Year' by virtually all of the 4WD press, impressing the often conservative journalists of the 'hard-core' magazines when it effortlessly ambled where the traditionally highly-rated Toyota LandCruiser and Nissan Patrol had to scramble. It was widely hailed as the first time that electonics actually out-performed trusted mechanical systems, although most sounded a note of caution about long-term reliability and serviceability. Despite these reviews, and a price tag very similar to the LandCruiser, it did not set the market alight.
Amongst the off-road driving and Land Rover enthusiast community, the all-new Discovery has gradually gained acceptance. Given the improved road-going qualities of the vehicle, many were worried that the vehicle's off-road abilities would be comprimised, and others expressed doubts about relying on electronic systems in extreme conditions. However, by 2006, 2 years after the vehicle's launch, the vehicle's abilities and reliability have been proved both by the press and private owners. Land Rover and many aftermarket companies have developed off-road equipment such as winch, bull-bars, under-body protection kits, snorkels and roof-racks for the new Discovery, to optimise its off-road use.
In 2006 Land Rover will use the Discovery 3 in its G4 Challenge, alongside the Range Rover Sport. The vehicles used are all in standard mechanical form, and are fitted with equipment from the standard Land Rover brochures.
The LR3 was nominated for the North American Truck of the Year award and won Motor Trend magazine's Sport/Utility of the Year for 2005.
The first all-new model placement since the Freelander, the Range Rover Sport is based on the Discovery 3 platform, rather than on the larger Range Rover.