Land Rover Discovery (2000)



Land Rover Discovery(2000)

Land Rover

This--at its core--is a very old vehicle. Here's the story. A long time ago, Land Rover developed the Discovery, back when there weren't many so-called "Sport Utility Vehicles." Since there was almost no competition, it only had to do one thing well. It had to drive through crocodile infested mud bogs and over tree stumps without getting stuck. And it did that. It still does that.

But, here's the problem. The original Discovery also swayed around like crazy on turns, made a lot of noise, broke down on a regular basis, and rode like a truck. Once companies like Ford (which has since bought Land Rover) and BMW (which has since bought and sold Land Rover) started making really good SUV's, expectations went way up. Now people expect their SUV's to feel more like cars. So, Land Rover has tried to bring the Discovery into the modern era, with electronic suspension improvements, luxury add-ons, and other tweaks. But, it turns out that there's only so much you can do with an old dog. At least this old dog.

It still handles off-road terrain as well as anything out there... at least according to our Producer, Doug Berman, who successfully navigated his neighbor's prized rhododendron patch several times during the week we had the Discovery. But, how often do most of us go off road--on purpose? Unless you're Marlon Perkins, an SUV's real job these days is to allow you to schlep around kids, groceries and mulch--without forcing you to the indignity of driving a minivan. And, in that regard, the Land Rover falls short in comparison to the other SUV's in its price range.

Driving Experience

The Discovery has a 4-liter, 188-horsepower, V-8 engine, connected to a very smooth four-speed automatic transmission and permanent four-wheel drive with electronic traction control. This is what we, in the colonies, generally refer to as an all-wheel drive system.

All of those gears working away under the floor conspire to make the Discovery annoyingly noisy around town. On the highway, it's a different story--you can't hear the machinery over the roar of the wind and the drone of the tires. Think of the Discovery as a great car for a trip with your mother-in-law, or anyone else you really don't want to talk to. You won't be disappointed.

Power is just barely adequate for this ponderous, 4,735-pound vehicle. It's a little pokey on the hills, and should you actually find yourself being chased by a herd of ornery rhinos, you might wish for a bit more power.

Instead of independent front suspension, which civilized sport utilities have, the Discovery has a live axle in the front, meaning that if the left front wheel hits a bump, the right front wheel moves, too. (The only other SUVs still using this design are the Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee.)

The Discovery's handling was a mixed bag. Land Rover has bucked up the suspension with a whole bunch of electronically controlled gizmos, in an effort to improve the handling. The only time we noticed the improvements, however, was during turns. Where the previous version of the Discovery would have leaned to a scary degree, the new Discovery with the electronic handling enhancements was surprisingly flat on sharp corners. It's still not a Porsche, but the electronics keep your blood pressure well in check during cornering, which we appreciate. Otherwise, the ride and handling are about what you'd expect from a vehicle without the blessing of a modern independent front suspension. We couldn't help but think that the Discovery could become pretty annoying after a few thousand miles of wear and tear.

Assuming you're able to hoist yourself up into the driver's seat without splitting your inseam, you'll be looking right at that classic, flat Land Rover windshield. One nice aspect of the windshield design is that it doesn't expose the occupants to the blazing sun from nearly every angle, as do most contemporary windshields. In fact, while driving the Discovery, we didn't have to wear shades once. The visor was good enough.

There was a trade-off, however: the flat windshield does limit visibility. Otherwise, the view out of the Discovery was pretty good. Plus, there are little roof windows in the "way back," so passengers don't have to stick their heads out the windows to get a good view of the moon. Also, there are not one, but two sunroofs in the Discovery.

The driver's seat had eight separate adjustments, to accommodate every tuchus known to modern man. There are seats for seven, although it would be best if most of the people in seats three through seven were reserved for the Shoemaker family. The rear seats are rather short on legroom, and getting in through the narrow rear doors is a pain. In the way back, are two more forward-facing seats, accessible from the tailgate.

One nice touch: a very cool little hydraulically operated step that descends from the bumper to help you get in, and then tucks itself away again.

With a target price of $34,150, the Discovery includes dual-temperature air conditioning, power heated mirrors, cruise control, power windows and locks, leather upholstery, and dual sunroofs. All nice touches that most people expect in a $35,000 car.

The front seats have convenient armrests that inconveniently block the power seat switches on the side of the console. Bins and cubbies abound inside the Land Rover.

Everything is right out in front of you on the dashboard, even the little button to open the door to the gas cap, and all the controls are easy to use.

We did note several annoyances, however. First, to lower the fan speed, you first have to raise it to the maximum before you can start over again at the lowest setting. Pretty stupid, huh? Second, the cupholder blocks the controls for the heater and the radio, if you put anything larger than a Dixie cup in it. Third, while the radio supposedly can play CDs, the player must be hidden somewhere, because it's not in the dash. If this were our vehicle, we'd skip the factory radio and buy one that can load CDs up front.

Most irritating, however, was the ignition switch. Many times we had to make several attempts to get the key into the ignition. The switch is at an awkward angle, and the view of it is blocked by the steering wheel. In this day and age, there's no excuse for a manufacturer not to have worked out the location of something as simple as the ignition switch.


The design of the Discovery is the single most appealing thing about this car. It's different. It makes you feel as if you're going on an adventure. After twenty years of not changing its basic design, the Land Rover has stumbled into a wonderful, retro look, with a traditional, understated ruggedness that doesn't lapse into the muscle-bound machismo that's so common to SUVs these days.


We feel compelled to point out that the Discovery is screwed together in Jolly Olde England, which leads us to think that your mechanic won't be missing any more boat payments, if you feel like you've got to have a Discovery. If you simply must own a Discovery, it would be a good idea if your second car were a Toyota Camry.


Land Rover has a very limited dealer network, although we'll have to see if Ford's recent purchase of the company from BMW will bring about any improvement in this regard. Because the Discovery comes from England, parts supply could be problematic. And, unlike other companies, when Land Rover gets the order for your part, Nigel has to put on his blacksmith's apron, stoke the forge, and start hammering. You get the picture.

Fortunately, there's plenty of room for working under the hood, which is a good thing--because somebody's hands will be in there on a regular basis. There's even room for the larger engine that a lot of people are going to wish they could have bought.

Overall comments

Here's the question: Do you really need a vehicle that will drive over tree stumps? Or, to put it another way: Do you really need a vehicle that you know can drive over tree stumps, even if you, personally, would never do such a thing? If you answered no to both of these questions, you'd do well to shop elsewhere.

The Discovery, like the original Jeep Cherokee, the Jeep Wrangler and the Toyota Land Cruiser, is designed with off-roading in mind, and that dictates certain compromises that reduce its performance on pavement. The result is a very truck-like vehicle, which suffers from a bouncy ride and a noisy drive train.

If you really want SUV styling and utility with all-wheel drive and better handling, and you're not afraid to spend a few thousand more dollars, there are several, much better choices, such as the Mercedes M320 or the Lexus RX300.



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