I am a West Country boy born and bred. For the first 18 years of my life all I knew was the music of The Wurzels, scrumpy so strong it turned your eyes orange, and the knowledge that if you don't do your seed drilling in October, it's too wet or cold to do it until March.
So, as somebody who has been 'in the field' (literally and figuratively), I want to immediately get out of the way a hackneyed motoring myth dreamt up by cynical pollution-riddled townies about the Land Rover Discovery.
The Discovery is not just used by yummy mummies on the school run, with its biggest obstacle the speed humps in Sainsbury's car parks. Travel west of Hampshire into the wilds of Wiltshire and beyond and you will see lots of them in their natural habitat, the Great Outdoors: hoofing through mud, covered in cow dung, border collies hopping about on the passenger seat. Doing the job they were designed to do, in fact.
This is because the Discovery sticks to some pretty fundamental and well-proven tenets of off-roading. It has a strong, rigid ladder frame chassis, four-wheel drive, low and high ratio gearbox, lots of grunty low down torque, high ground clearance and plenty of wheel articulation (the 'travel' each wheel has available to adapt to uneven terrain).
Unfortunately, what this has meant in the past is that the Discovery, while king of the hill, was a beggar on the street. Steering was as unresponsive as a surly teenager and it had body roll that made the slightest bend a tottering crawl. And its reliability was not great, either.
Land Rover has spent more than £25 million on the 2003 model addressing some of its shortcomings, with hundreds of engineering changes and some minor aesthetic tweaks.
As I am already convinced of its off-road brilliance, I didn't bother heading off the Tarmac during my week with the car, and instead found the Discovery to be a pleasant enough motorway cruiser. The ES model on test comes fitted with active cornering enhancement, a type of active suspension that works to keep the body level when cornering.
And it needs it, because the Discovery is as high as a wardrobe and not a great deal more agile. The steering is still geared to ensure your thumbs do not get ripped off the minute it steps on to a rutted track, and this slowness obviously impinges on road driving. The turning circle is massive and under heavy braking the body will lunge over the front wheels, despite electronic brake distribution trying to level out some of that dive.
Body roll is contained pretty well by the electronics, but it takes an age to get to higher speeds once the lack of power (136bhp@4,200rpm) takes over from the plentiful low down torque (250lbs-ft@1,950rpm). However, a combination of cruise control and an automatic box means it is fuss-free once you get there.
Add in the high seating position, improved refinement and luxury items on the ES like leather heated seats and climate control, and you can reel off the miles with no trouble.
I still don't understand the appeal as an urban runabout, but the Discovery does a good job of covering two very disparate bases of track and motorway. I may be just be a hick from the sticks, but in my opinion the Discovery is a classy and practical way of travelling, if you need a vehicle to use in both environments.
Land Rover Discovery 2.5 Td5 ES auto fact file
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £34,305
CO2 emissions (g/km): 285
BIK % of P11D in 2002: 35%
Graduated VED rate: £160
Insurance group: 14
Combined mpg: 27.4
CAP Monitor residual value: £13,775/40%
Depreciation (33.17 pence per mile x 60,000): £19,902
Maintenance (3.12 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,872
Fuel (14.13 pence per mile x 60,000): £8,478
Wholelife cost (50.42 pence per mile x 60,000): £30,252
Typical contract hire rate: £710.90 per month
Three rivals to consider
The Discovery is expensive but comes with all the gadgets and luxuries. Unfortunately, it has the smallest engine combined with the highest carbon dioxide output. The Jeep matches it for luxury and badge snobbery, but is more than £3,000 cheaper on P11d price. That makes it £500 cheaper a year on benefit-in-kind tax for a 40% tax-payer in 2003. Second most expensive is the X5, though don't expect the same levels of equipment as the others. The new Toyota is mid-priced and mid-specced.
Land Rover £34,305
The Discovery provides an old fashioned 'cup upset' in servicing, maintenance and repair costs, as it is considerably cheaper than the others. The smart money would be on the Toyota to be the cheapest, but its finishes a disappointing third. The X5 is the most expensive on SMR, and over 60,000 miles would end up being nearly £1,000 more expensive than the Discovery. Has Land Rover laid its reliability demons to rest?
Land Rover 3.12ppm
The Toyota loses out here with its large 3.0-litre engine and weight. The Discovery's 2.5-litre engine is the smallest, but it runs a disappointing second last. The X5's 3.0-litre engine is the star of the show, as so often the manufacturer's diesel units are. Carbon dioxide emissions are low, and fuel economy is as good as anything here. It shares the best pence per mile accolade with the 2.7-litre Jeep. Over 60,000 miles, there would be a £600 fuel bill difference between best and worst.
Land Rover 14.13ppm
Perception of the Land Rover's reliability – real or imagined – and its age count against it when it comes to residual values, although the Jeep and Toyota do not lag far behind in ppm losses, despite their cheaper original cost. Unsurprisingly the X5, with its Home Counties image and flash cash badge, will win the day after three years. CAP reckons after 60,000 miles the X5 will be worth £2,000 more than the Discovery. Retained value for the Land Rover of 40%, according to CAP, makes it a pretty solid bet, though.
Land Rover 33.17ppm
Residual value is the main chunk of wholelife costs, followed by pence per mile fuel costs, and so it is no surprise that the winner of both - the BMW X5 - wins out of the four cars here. The new Land Cruiser comes a surprising last, while the Discovery and Grand Cherokee do a decent job considering these cars are never cheap to run. But wholelife costs are only one issue with off-roaders, and suitability for the intended role is probably a more important factor.
Land Rover 50.42ppm
Emissions and bik tax rates
In 2003/2004, all four of these cars will be in the highest tax band. If doing your bit for the environment is important, then the Jeep is the cleanest, by a few grams per kilometre. If money is the main concern, the Jeep is also the cheapest on tax, and for a 40% payer will be about £500 a year less than the dearest, the Discovery, which will cost £4,800 next year.
Land Rover 284g/km/35%
This verdict comes from the position of somebody wanting to use a four-wheel drive vehicle on and off-road. If it was from the standpoint of an urban family wanting something big and impressive, the X5 would probably win. But it's not: the Toyota is too expensive to run and has less kit, while the BMW cannot hack it in heavy off-road conditions. So it's down to the Discovery and Grand Cherokee: with similar running costs and matching levels of equipment, the Jeep sneaks it by virtue of a cheaper tax bill, though it's a pretty close call.