2003 Land Rover Discovery
This 2003 review is representative of model years 1994 to 2004.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
The plucky Land Rover Discovery 4.6 is much improved with such things as additional power from a new V8 and more attractive front styling. There's no topping the Land Rover name for snob appeal in affluent areas.
Like all Land Rovers, the Discovery has goatlike off-road prowess and legendary ruggedness. Few Discovery owners—especially those in pancake-flat areas of the Midwest—are likely to use this sport-ute's off-road abilities. The fact that it exists is part of its charm.
Ford-owned Land Rover says the 2003 Discovery doesn't just shine if tackling rugged, mountainous terrain. It says this vehicle is "equally at home on the motorway as it is on the mountainside." However, similarly priced sport-utilities provide better on-road behavior.
The Discovery fits between Land Rover's entry Freelander and new Range Rover models. The well-equipped Discovery S base version costs $34,350. The $38,350 SE adds such items as leather upholstery, wood trim and dual power sunroofs. The $40,350 HSE throws in a power front passenger seat and navigation and upscale sound systems. A new rear-obstacle detection system is exclusive to the HSE, as well.
There is standard seating for five, and the $1,000 third-row seats raises occupant capacity to seven, but those seats are suited to children.
Major extras include $1,500 dual power sunroofs for the S, a $2,000 DVD rear-seat entertainment system for the SE and $750 rear air conditioning.
The Discovery was introduced in America in 1994, after being launched in Europe in 1989. It became 85 percent new in 1999, when it was made longer, lower and wider, and given a bit more power, although it still was underpowered and retained the silhouette of the original Discovery.
New front styling replaces a bland-looking face, although the tall height, distinctive "stepped" roof and large windows remain.
This quiet aluminum engine is from the last-generation Range Rover and is put only in Discoverys sold in the North American market. It replaces an old-style 4-liter, 188-horsepower V8, which provided sleepy mid-range response.
The Discovery weighs 4,576 to 4,908 pounds, so the new V-8 doesn't make this sport-ute a fireball, but it does 0-60 mph in a respectable 9.5 seconds and provides acceptable 65-75 mph passing times.
Cruising is relaxed because the engine loafs at highway speeds. It's hooked to a stout 4-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with normal, sport and manual shift modes.
Low Fuel Economy
Helping make the Discovery adroit during all sorts of off-road conditions are a rugged boxed-steel chassis, tight 100-inch wheelbase and a deftly engineered, permanent 4-wheel drive system with low-range gearing. There's also 4-wheel electronic traction control and a patented Hill Descent Control system to limit speed down steep grades.
The coil-spring/solid axle setup can be ideal for adventuresome off-road use, but might lead one to think that the Discovery rides like an old truck. Generous suspension travel helps provide a comfortable ride, although some rough roads elicit choppiness.
Steering is nicely geared for such a high, heavy sport-utility; handling on paved roads is more responsive with improvements to the 2003 model's suspension geometry and shock absorber damping. There is also more control during off-road driving.
Desirable Suspenion Package
That package replaces conventional anti-sway bars with hydraulically actuated roll-control modules. It makes the Discovery the world's only sport-utility with optional active suspension. It electronically keeps the body more level in curves and turns and includes a self-leveling rear suspension for the SE. Such a suspension is standard for the HSE, which is why the package only costs $1,700 for that Discovery version.
The Discovery has 4-wheel disc brakes with an all-terrain anti-lock brake setup and an electronic brake force distribution system. The brake system has been improved and the pedal has a nice progressive action.
A high step-in and narrow door openings call for extra effort to get in and out of the quieter interior, but occupants sit high, with a good view of surroundings.
Awkwardly placed controls
Large rear headrests partially block vision through the back window. However, a new instrument pod has easily read gauges, and front seats offer good support.
There isn't much cargo space with the folding-removable third row seats in their normal position, but the cargo area is large when they are out of the way. The tailgate opens to the right and thus blocks curbside loading.
No Side Airbags
The Land Rover has a storied nameplate and British character that is hard to put a price on. It's the only sport-utility some folks would consider, especially in the Hamptons.