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Land Rover Discovery 3 V8 | The Brave Pill

We can think of eight reasons this might be a Discovery worth making

By Mike Duff / Saturday, December 14, 2019

There are two ways to look at the minority interest variants that make up a tiny percentage of a model's total build. The first, more cautious approach, is to believe that these are oddballs that were likely shunned with good reason when new, and which are best avoided once heavily used. Here, however, we prefer the alternative, glass half full perspective: that these are the rare gems which will rise furthest and fastest when the collectors start to pile in.

It's a point that's been made by cars like the Ford Cortina 2.3 Ghia - fit for nothing more than banger racing 20 years ago, now a tidy little nest egg if your Uncle Norbert has left one in his lock-up. And while the Land Rover Discovery 3 is still several country miles away from even near-classic status - the sort that Capitalizes Advert Text and gets vendors talking about "custodianship" - there's no denying that the brawny V8 fitted to the very blunt end of our Pill makes it a rare curio in the UK.

It's never been hard to see the rugged appeal of the square-rigged third-gen Discovery, a car that pretty much took over its bit of the market the moment it was launched in 2004. Earlier Discoveries had used the ladder frame chassis still associated with proper off-roading, but the rest of the company's non-Defender range had already switched to monocoque construction. With the Disco 3, Land Rover hedged its bets with what was described as an "integrated body frame" structure effectively combining both. The result was a hugely tough vehicle, but also a serious porker - two and a half tonnes in its socks and undies.

What to pit against all this pudge? Land Rover's then-parent Ford opted to limit diesel choice to what was then the spiffy new 2.7-litre V6 unit it had jointly developed with PSA. 195hp and 361lb ft might sound like plenty, but the Disco's bulk (and the automatic gearbox that many owners opted for) meant acceleration was both leisurely and loud. Sadly the more muscular and interesting 'Lion' TDV8 diesel that was created for the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport was never offered with the Discovery, although there is no doubt it would have fitted in that vast bay. Instead buyers in search of more muscle were steered towards a 4.4-litre version of Jaguar's long-serving AJ-V8 engine, this making 300hp and 315lb ft of torque.

The V8 was intended for those parts of the world where fuel was cheaper than bottled water, which definitely wasn't the case in the UK back then as the Blair government's 'fuel escalator' started to bite. Officially it scored 18.8mpg combined economy, although that figure was a best case scenario rather than an indicator of what buyers could expect day-to-day.

From the memory of what was probably the only Discovery 3 V8 press car that Land Rover ever registered, pushing hard enough to experience the muscular-if-muted eight-cylinder soundtrack quickly dropped the trip computer to the sort of mpg numbers normally only experienced by torpedoed oil tankers. And while it was the quickest Discovery, it still wasn't exactly a rocketship. Land Rover quoted an 8.6-second 0-62mph time, which would be delivered at the sort of nose-up angle of a climbing Airbus. Like the diesel versions, the V8's height and bulk will make any attempt at faster progress feel like trying to waltz with an elephant.

Of course, these days fuel consumption is one of the lesser worries for a budget-conscious Discovery 3 owner. Against tough opposition it is now regarded as one of Land Rover's high watermarks for expense and unreliability. For bargain hunters prepared to go where the medals grow there are plenty of examples of the TDV6 with short MOTs, glowing warning lights and graunchy transmissions being offered for less than half the £5,000 of our petrol-fired Pill. So why even consider the V8?

Actually we can think of several reasons, beyond the sheer novelty factor of having one. The V8 is definitely a nicer engine to live with than the grumbly diesel. And although the compression ignition version has much better fuel economy when it is working, it is also much more likely to be proceeding, with a long list of potential failures - including the unfortunate tendency some have shown to snap crankshafts. Yet to judge from both the AJ-V8's reputation in the UK, and forum chatter in the parts of the world where it powers most Discovery 3s, the under-stressed petrol V8 is pretty tough.

There's still plenty of other stuff to go wrong, of course - this Disco's reputation for dropping atomic bills is based on more than just its powerplant. Pick from air suspension failures, electrical maladies, transmission faults and the infuriating tendency of the electric parking brake to stick on. But for limited mileage use the V8 might - just might - be the smarter choice. For one thing, it's London ULEZ compliant, more than can be said for any of its diesel siblings.

Our Pill has certainly scrubbed up well, looking considerably smarter than 14 years and 130,000 miles would lead you to expect. Darker colours always suited this Discovery better than the Resale Silver more buyers went for in period, with the button-strewn dashboard indicating the HSE's position at the top of the range tree.

Standard spec included leather and power seats, but our Pill seems to have had a fair number of options added, included twin sunroofs and proper factory second-row entertainment with infrared headphone connectivity: no elastic straps and trailing wires here. Beyond some trim wear, including what looks like a hole in the base of the driver's seat, it looks impressively fresh. Providing (most) things work, it should still be a thoroughly nice place to spend time.

Have you spotted what's missing yet? Unusually our Pill isn't sporting a tow bar - tugging things being the Disco's favourite pastime. Indeed, one of the caravanning magazines made it their tow car of the decade well before the 'noughties had even ended. It does seem improbable that such a brawny beast has never been used for hauling, so it's possible the ball has been removed to smarten it up. Yet nor is there any sign of the LPG dock that cheap, thirsty petrol cars like this often sport. Meaning any conversion to gas could be done on a new owner's terms, rather than by the last-but-one's mate down the pub.

The dealer selling our Pill promises some service history, but doesn't go into more detail. The MOT record suggests both regular use and some big mileages in recent years. It did nearly 20,000 miles between October 2017 and October 2018, then another 30,000 before the next MOT in March this year - the 17 month gap down to either a casual attitude to legality or a period of SORN. That must have made for an impressive pile of fuel receipts. Yet there's nothing of undue note in the published record beyond an entirely unsurprising tendency to wear out suspension and braking components. Strangely, the DVLA thinks that it's a Range Rover Sport - the same anomaly that struck the supercharged L322 Range Rover we Pill'd back in April. It seems somebody at Land Rover wasn't too hot at filling in registration documents back then.

Consider the sort of V8 Land Cruiser Amazon you could buy for this amount; you'd be doing well to find one with less than twice the mileage and without any visible bailer-twine repairs. Sure, the Toyota is tougher and better engineered and less likely to leave you sobbing by the side of the road - but is it really cooler or more interesting? We thought not.

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