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.