Model Year: 2005
Bought: May 2011
Current Kms: 155,000
OK, I’ve probably always wanted a Range Rover, but sadly they have only 5 dedicated seats. My family requires the extra couple these days. Initially my choice seemed stark and somewhat depressing. Was I really going to consider a Tarago? Did I really want to stoop to a Chrylser Voyager, quite possibly the worst vehicle ever built, save for British Leyland’s Allegro of course.
Well no, I didn’t have to because these days there are a number of interesting choices. The Volvo XC90 for instance, or Honda’s Odyssey, Mazda’s CX9, Hyundai’s Sante Fe, Nissan’s Dualis, I could go on. But none of these were dream cars. To come close to my vision, it needed to offer something outstanding, needed decent looks, and though I couldn’t expect a 7 seater to perform well around a race track, I would take a fire track or a beach instead.
Enter the Land Rover Discovery 3. A car that in Australia polarizes the population like no other. Even Ford and Holden fans can agree on it. Its looks for starters. I used to think it reminded me of an old-school bread van before it started to grow on me. I guess when Nissan started making its Pathfinder to look like it, particularly its rear end, is when its styling for me hit home.
Then there’s the internal space. Its seat configurations are second to none and, when all are flattened, the load space is simply cavernous. There’s no loss of space due to an after thought third row hanging on the sides. It is so large it swallowed up an oversized 3-seater sofa with room to spare.
Then there’s the engine. Granted it’s the older 2.7 litre turbo diesel that is perhaps not as powerful, refined or efficient as the new 3 litre in the series 4, but my word it’s a fantastic engine. Frugal on longer trips, sometimes returning less than 10 litres per 100 km for a car that weighs in at a tad over 2,400 kgs and fully laden with wife, 3 kids and all our camping gear. Around town it’s more like 13.5 but I can forgive it for that on Sydney’s clogged up arteries. And when you need to pull out sharpish the turbo kicks in and you’re away with a real shove in the back. Gone too are the days of a diesel sounding like something off a farm, certainly from within.
Then there’s the ride. The air suspension system has to be one of the most accomplished around and it is without doubt the most comfortable car I have ever owned. It’s so nice I almost forget my hatred for automatics as I waft here and there, serenely surveying the road ahead. Its all terrain system is a joy to use, as you simply select the setting for the road conditions ahead and let the car do the rest. Though so far I have only needed to use the sand option, I have witnessed others tackle every imaginable surface and it just works. I guess it is not an eight time winner of Australia’s best large 4×4 for nothing.
So then it’s a fantastic vehicle and it never goes wrong. Well not exactly and this is where Australia is polarized. Yes it does go wrong. Not smoking by the side of the road wrong, but its complex electronics are prone to gremlins. Take its suspension system for instance. Land Rover forums are full of problems with the car’s air suspension compressor. Warning lights and noises abound regularly it seems, particularly in the earlier models from 2005 to 2008. Mine being a late 2005 model is no different, but talking with the guys at Graeme Cooper, a wonderful Land Rover specialist I may add, its hardly surprising. The little compressor has the weight of the whole car resting gingerly on its shoulders and after a few years the poor thing wears out. A change costing around $1100 should sort it out, but others have not been so lucky. Diagnoses have included faulty wiring, faulty looms, corroded points and computer bugs. However, unlike the Disco 2, when such a problem would mean the car lowered on to its suspension rods and would become immovable, the Disco 3 merely continues at normal ride height and pings you incessantly about its problem. On the odd occasion that it does lower itself to its minimum, I have found that you simply stop, switch off, let it cool for a few minutes and the system rights itself.
I guess it’s a victim of its modernity. It knows when things are wearing out and tells you about it. Brake pads need changing, it pings you. Battery not charging, it pings you. Tyre pressures not perfect, it pings you. On long drives it sounds like you on a plane with the seat belt sign going on and off, and it becomes almost comforting. In other cars, say the Prado, there is no such system, and so you can be driving around without a care in world with the exact same problem as the Disco driver, the only difference being Prado man is ignorant of the problems and therefore thinks his car never goes wrong. Disco man is all too aware of them.
I’ve tried a friend’s Prado and I know it’s a great 4×4. It can go anywhere, like the Disco. It seats seven, like the Disco, but the sixth and seventh passenger had better be a person of restricted growth or a small child. In the Disco, fully-grown men of 6 feet or more can fit in the third row without a hint of discomfort. But as soon as the key was turned I knew which one I preferred. It was a case of: one is a tractor, the other is a limousine. The difference is that stark.
I bought a high mileage vehicle fully aware I was purchasing someone else’s problem. At 235,000kms it was very high indeed for a 7 year old car, but all of those kays were motorway miles meaning the engine would have been spared the stop start of city driving. The previous owner had also liked to go bush bashing, though you’d never guess externally. Internally the bull dust told a different story. So I was prepared to pay for a few repairs and at $27,000 it seemed a steal. I had ensured the timing belt had been changed and the transmission was in good spirits and off I went.
So far, over 2 years, I have needed to replace the sway bars, both front and back ($50 and $90 respectively), and the serpentine belt ($56). The alternator gave up the ghost not long ago as well ($850). Yet these should go after so many kilometres, so I don’t feel too bad about them. The suspension compressor needs to be changed but I have put up with this warning for over a year now and will do something about it when it suits me. It certainly doesn’t need to be imminent. Servicing is not cheap on Land Rovers, but talking to a Mercedes GL owner recently, I began to feel a little smug. Oh and the cable that operates the tail-gate snapped and meant the rear door would not open. Luckily that was only a $90 repair bill. There was a $250 charge for taking the ignition barrel apart, clean and replace it, but that had nothing to do with the car and everything to do with a small lego sword my son saw fit to insert and attempt to start the car. Needless to say his name was mud for a day or so.
Along with small boys, tyres, I read on the web, are also a bugbear, due the 18inch rims and therefore difficult to source. After a brief search I found a solution and can recommend Kumo Roadventura’s, fine for road and sand and a snip at $250 a corner, half the price of the more expensive all terrain tyres. That being said, if I were intending to go bush bashing I would probably source some 17inch rims and fit a Cooper or Wrangler tyre.
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