Fleet News

2003 Land Rover Discovery

Land Rover

Review

THE new Range Rover may have been grabbing all the headlines, but subtle revisions have made the 2003 model year Discovery a better drive, both on and off-road. Julian Kirk drives the new contender.

I feel quite sorry for the boys and girls at Land Rover HQ who have been involved in refreshing the Discovery range for the 2003 model year. They have toiled for months and spent the best part of £25 million on the new version yet no-one really seems to give two hoots.

Why? It certainly isn't because the new Discovery isn't any good, because it is. No, the reason why is because the Discovery's big brother, the awesome and unnecessarily large Range Rover, has stolen all its thunder by being launched just a couple of months earlier.

So while the world's collective motoring press has gone into enthusiasm overload for the RR, the poor Discovery has been ignored.

This is rather a shame because not only has a mild facelift made it look much better, but its on-road handling is excellent, and (whisper this) is better than the new Range Rover (see Behind The Wheel).

In total there are 700 major and detail changes for the 2003 model year Discovery, the most notable of which are the adoption of Range Rover-style front headlamps and redesigned rear lamp clusters and the re-appearance of a second gear lever on the transmission tunnel which controls the low ratio gearbox for off-roading.

You might well be saying that is not much for £25 million-worth of redesign. But the 2003 spec model also adds 'prestigious' interior colours, the most notable of which is the availability of an all-black fascia, thicker roof bars and a new front bumper with increased step height.

General work has also been carried out to improve noise suppression levels (a definite success) and beef up the suspension and braking set-ups (also a success).

Part of the development cost has also included re-engineering the model to accept a 4.6-litre V8 engine for those cube-crazy Americans, the Discovery's biggest market. But for the majority of buyers (myself included), the changes almost go by unnoticed. Yes, you can't fail to notice the redesigned front end, but the technical improvements will make little difference to most.

About 30% of Discovery's annual 11,500 sales are bought with company cash - not a huge amount and that is for two reasons. Firstly, Land Rover says many people will have a company car and then use their own cash to buy a Discovery for the family, and secondly, the Discovery's carbon dioxide emissions are very high.

In 4.0-litre V8 petrol guise, CO2 emissions are 397g/km - so far above the benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax band ceiling of 265g/km that it is not worth worrying about. But for any 40% tax-payers out there, a top-spec V8 Discovery will cost you about £400 a month.

Things are slightly better for the diesel models, although with CO2 emissions of 262g/km in manual mode, the driver will only just scrape into the second highest BIK banding for 2002/03 before being subjected to maximum tax from 2003/4.

Behind the wheel

MY drive in the new Land Rover Discovery coincided with time spent behind the wheel of a Jeep Grand Cherokee and the new Range Rover.

All three are firmly in the four-wheel drive/sports utility vehicle mould, which means a high seating position, big wheels and a high centre of gravity.

As a result, all three suffer from body roll during cornering, but of the three it is the Discovery which handles the best, thanks to the ACE system fitted.

ACE stands for Active Cornering Enhancement and this system electronically reduces body roll, giving the vehicle a much more secure feel when driving on twisty roads.

Other electronic goodies include traction control and the excellent Hill Descent Control which is a bonus for off-road driving by braking the wheels to offer you the most grip on the slippy stuff.

Another new feature for off-roading is the re-introduction of a low-ratio gearbox in the cabin with differential lock to help drivers make the most of the Discovery's off-road prowess.

It works well, even in my inexperienced hands, and allowed the Discovery to traverse the worst that Eastnor Castle's muddy off-road course could throw at it. But the majority of Discoverys will spend their time with all four wheels planted firmly on the Tarmac, a situation where some 4x4s/SUVs feel like fish out of water. Not so with the Discovery, which is in my opinion the best vehicle of this type to drive on the road (BMW X5 included).

Power comes from either a 2.5-litre turbodiesel or a 4.0-litre V8 - both of which are more than up for the task of lugging this heavy piece of off-road kit about.

I drove both engines with the automatic gearbox fitted and, to be honest, either will do as both offer enough performance, although the Td5 struggles on outright acceleration but recoups things by being more frugal than the big V8 engine.

However, for some the glorious V8 growl will be more than enough to tempt them, despite its disastrous fuel economy performance.

Bob Dover, Land Rover's managing director, said the company had 'built on the Discovery's well-known strengths in road handling and off-road capability to re-assert its class-leading position'.

And I could not agree more. All Land Rover must do now is ensure build quality and customer service improve to lift it from its lowly position in the annual JD Power customer satisfaction survey.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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