Since its debut here in the 1995 model year, the Land Rover Discovery has been like a longtime lover-so attractive, so charming, and so capable at times yet utterly unreliable, unpredictable, and disappointing at others. But we sure did like the Discovery name, which we promptly shortened to Disco. Why Land Rover insists on changing it to LR3-and only for the North American market-remains a mystery, despite all the obfuscating explanations we've received from company officials (see News, page 14). But life, like lovers, moves on, and so shall we.
The all-new LR3 is undeniably handsome, a crisply drawn, seven-eighths evocation of the big Range Rover, which is without question the finest sport-utility vehicle on earth. We have not yet driven the newest Land Rover, but we are fairly confident that when compared with the outgoing model, it will be akin to a jockey getting off a plow horse and onto Smarty Jones. With a monocoque body structure, four-wheel independent suspension with active damping and adjustable ride height, a reengineered, 4.4-liter version of Jaguar's silky-smooth AJ-V8 engine, and a six-speed automatic transmission, we suspect that the LR3 will join the BMW X5 as one of the better drivers in the segment. Naturally, with permanent four-wheel drive, the LR3 will be prepared for any sort of road surface, and its new Terrain Response system allows the choice of five modes (street, slippery, dirt, sand, or boulders).
With a wheelbase more than a foot longer than its predecessor's, the LR3 has plenty of room for an optional third-row seat, which expands capacity to seven. The trademark stepped roofline affords good headroom and visibility even for the rearmost occupants, and the cargo area is accessed by a split-folding tailgate. Things are even more swell up front, with an attractive and modern instrument panel, sumptuous seating, and exquisite detailing.
All in all, the new Land Rover is indeed changed so much for the better, maybe the new name wasn't such a bad idea after all.
ON SALE: October 2004PRICE: $44,000 (est.)ENGINE: 300-hp, 4.4-liter V-8BOTTOM LINE: This could be the first no-excuses Discovery.