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2003 Land Rover Discovery Road Test Review

by Denise McCluggage

It might be said that Land Rover for 2003 has simply jacked up the 13-year-old Discovery name and driven last season's Range Rover under it. With some up-dating and refinements and strictly Disco touches, of course.

Pretty good deal, considering the Range Rover is priced in a $70,000 neighborhood and the Discovery lives more around the $30,000s. Such is the steady march of enhanced value.

Whatever has transpired this third-generation Discovery is more a pleasure on the highway than it ever was. And in keeping with Land Rover's intention to maintain its position as king of the off-road the 2003 Discovery is probably as adept at the muddy and miry, rough and rocky, steep and oozy, as it ever was. (And will be even more so with the likely addition of a locking differential in the nonce.)

However, as an owner long ago (mid 1960s) of a Land Rover I am of mixed emotions over the progressive gentrification of the vehicle's four square utilitarian appearance. But then my favorite feature - the so-called safari roof, an elevated second roof leaving about an inch of ventilation space between the two roofs, had long since been discontinued.

Some more recent Land Rover owners might also miss the extreme-games look of the Camel Travel Discos, but surely these loyalists will be beguiled by the smoother, quieter, more powerful, nicer-mannered Discovery of 2003. And, too, there's the definite improvement in build quality and reliability gained as Land Rover passed through the stewardship of BMW on its way to the Ford stable where it resides today.

The 2003 Discovery has full-time four-wheel-drive with a two-speed transfer case for the demands of serious off-roading. Interior capacity is five seats with an option for seven.

The Land Rover folks, for the precision minded, claim 368 changes in the new Discovery. Among them a power boost of 17% and a torque increase of 20%. The performance improvement is thanks to the new engine - a 217hp 4.6-liter electronically fuel-injected V8. The engine, late of the Range Rover, means a top speed capability of 116 mph and, of more real-world significance, a 0-60 time of 9.5 seconds, handy for safer merging and passing.

The standard four-speed automatic transmission operates in a useful dual-mode, one for quick and precise gear changes in Sport mode for general use, and an automatically engaged Manual mode in low range for steady crawling over tough terrain. Another welcome feature for those who hate touchy throttle pedals in rocky climbs is the Discovery's way of smoothing that to a controllable touch. Neat.

Land Rover wants its name to mean go anywhere, rough or smooth. Only an estimated 5% or so of SUV owners actually aim their machines into serious off-road territory. Land Rover can claim some 25-35% of its owners seek out the adventures of serious backcountry driving rather than just using their vehicle for bad-road and bad-weather security.

One reason that Land Rovers really rove the land is that the company sponsors organized adventures into the near-wilds. (True wilds are out-of-bounds to all motorized vehicles.) Buying a Land Rover can mean joining a club of active users accenting the "sport" of sport utility.
The Discovery can thank an alphabet soup of special features for its new aplomb - ABS, ETC, HDC and ACE.
ABS you recognize as "anti-lock brakes" and these work on or off road, high or low range.

ETC is "electronic traction control" which means no worrying about slipping wheels because the power simply transfers to a wheel that has a grip on things.
HDC is "hill descent control" and is a device to keep a plunge down even steep hills eerily controlled, slow and steady, as long as drivers keep the faith and keep from fiddling with the brakes while the landing is in process.
ACE is "active cornering enhancement," another clever device that accounts for the relatively flat, roll-free progress on curving highways even with a moderately heavy foot on the go pedal. Quell pleasure.

Anyone considering something priced around $30,000 range well-equipped in the crowded SUV market has got to have a Land Rover Discovery prominent on the list of look-ats. It is distinctive and capable. Grinning good fun, with mud on its handsome new face, too.