LAND ROVER DISCOVERY 1 REVIEW

If you’re looking for charismatic adventure on a budget, the first-generation Discovery 200Tdi offers on-road comfort and near-unstoppable off-road practicality in one classic design.

As Land Rover’s answer to the onslaught of Japanese 4x4s invading Britain throughout the 1980s, the Discovery 1 is fast becoming the default choice for budget off-road enthusiasts in search of a bona fide classic.


Introduced at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1989, the Discovery made use of existing Range Rover underpinnings. This included the suspension, axles and drivetrain while power choices were between the beloved 3.5-litre Rover V8 or a torquey 200Tdi diesel engine. Initially available only as a sporty three-door model, mainly to protect the Range Rover, the Discovery was marketed towards a younger, less-conservative driver with Jasper Conran-penned interior trim a A five-door version arrived for 1990, with new engines close to follow.


The design was critically acclaimed and improved Land Rover’s reputation with an assortment of prestigious awards, including US publication Four Wheeler Magazine’s ‘Four-Wheeler of the Year’. Sales boomed, with the five-door 200Tdi in particular proving to be extremely popular. With seven seats, the Discovery quickly became a fashion statement for young families and by the time the second-generation model arrived in 1998, the Discovery had established itself as a global class-leading SUV with a cult following.

 

VITAL STATISTICS

ENGINE 2495cc/4-cyl/OHV

POWER 111bhp@4000rpm

TORQUE 195.2lb ft@1800pm

MAXIMUM SPEED 92mph

0-60MPH 17.1 sec

FUEL CONSUMPTION 25-29mpg

TRANSMISSION 4WD, five-spd manual

 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

IS THE ENGINE HEALTHY?

Depending on how the 200Tdi has been treated, engines can be on their last legs with very little warning. Any telltale signs of impending disaster can be found upon start-up. Look for white smoke or loss of coolant, and check all pipes are intact with appropriate pressure build up. If the pipes are hard then you could be walking into a world of woe. A loss of coolant could also mean that the head gasket is on the way out, a common occurrence at around 150,000 miles.


GEARBOX IN TOW

Check that gear-changes are free from sluggishness and that the correct gearbox oil is being used - for LT77 manuals before 1993, it should be auto transmission fluid.  Listen out for whining which could be due to heavy towing. A key indicator that the transmission has been worked hard is crunching between second and third gear. If there is a slight banging or feeling of hesitation coming off the power, you could have severe mainshaft wear. 

KEEPING YOU IN SUSPENSE

If the car has been used off-road or lugged frequent heavy loads, the suspension may have taken a bashing. Worn suspension bushes will result in clunking from the underside of the car when travelling over uneven ground, or if operating on full lock. Rear radius arm bushes can suffer badly, being a prime cause of skittish handling. 

TAKING YOU ROUND THE BEND

If cornering is sloppy or the steering wheel wobbles, the suspension could be seriously worn, or the power steering box is on its way out. Worn components can mean vague communication through the steering wheel, with culprits ranging from front swivels to leaking power-steering mechanisms. A worn-out Discovery will generally handle poorly, but can be improved easily by replacing two or three minor components.

 

WATCH FOR BATTLE SCARS

Many a Discovery has been used for weekend fun or heavy work. Check for off-road damage on the underside, brake disc wear and injury to the exhaust system. Brake flexipipe can deteriorate if chafing against the chassis while paintwork and body structure points can be impaired from hefty use off the beaten track - this can start or aggravate rusting issues.


THE INSIDE MATTERS

In typical Land Rover fashion, leaks are very common. Sunroof rubbers can perish and allow Mother Nature in, while the top of the back door can weep.  Interior wear can also be heavy depending on what the vehicle has been used for. Because of various rust and water traps, front inner wings can perish spectacularly, rotting from the A-post right through to the headlights. Rear floors and wheel arches also rust, while hinges and seatbelt mounts can rot badly. Again, if used off the beaten track or damaged, rust can be rampant throughout the entire vehicle.

 

OUR VERDICT

Cheaper than granddaddy Defender yet just as capable in the rough stuff, it’s arguably better looking than the contemporary Range Rover and far more DIY-friendly. There are plenty of specialists and sourcing parts isn’t tricky, and ownership means you can go off road with the scores of Land Rover clubs across the UK. Above all, it’s good fun and if you find one that’s been well looked after, not only have you got a prime investment on your hands, but also a tough, roomy and dependable British work horse.

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