New Car Reviews

1994-2004 Land Rover Discovery

The 2003 Discovery went on sale in July with all its past charms and foibles intact. As before, the Disco looks great inside and out, and its off-road prowess continues to be its raison d’tre. Yet the cabin is an ergonomic nightmare, ingress and egress are a challenge, and overall refinement and build quality are lacking. This year, all those Land Roverisms are propelled down the road by a new 4.6-liter V-8, and the path is made brighter by new, Range Rover-style headlights.

The engine actually is not new but a departing gift from the Range Rover, which chucked it aside as part of its recent complete overhaul, wherein it gained a BMW V-8. The Discovery won’t be comprehensively remade itself until the 2005 model year, when a Jaguar-derived V-8 might find its way under the trademark square-shouldered hood.

The Discovery received 368 engineering changes, including tweaks to the suspension, steering, and brakes. At 217 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque, the new engine improves on the previous 4.0-liter V-8’s 188 horses and 250 pound-feet, putting it on par with the V-6s in the Mercedes-Benz ML320 and the Lexus RX300 in terms of horsepower and surpassing them in torque. Passing is slightly less leisurely than before, but the four-speed automatic transmission and the engine work hard to keep this 5000-pound brick moving. (The 0-to-60-mph time is now 9.5 seconds.) Naturally, the Discovery makes all the right moves off-road, as we proved at the Land Rover Driving School in Vermont.

Aside from the bigger V-8 and the new crystal eyes, the 2003 Discovery gets free scheduled maintenance. Prices are up slightly from 2002 but reflect more standard equipment. The lineup includes the $34,995 S, the $38,995 SE, and the new, $40,995 HSE. Cough up an extra $1000 for seven-passenger seating and a 7 suffix for your Disco’s badge. Whether the 2005 Discovery will undergo the wholesale reengineering that transformed the Range Rover from an aging queen to a party princess is an open question. All we know for now is that the Disco is ready for Act II.