The slickness of the hand can often deceive the eye and such is the trick performed very cannily by the designers of the new generation of the Land Rover Discovery for this hugely successful 4x4 has been greatly revamped yet it looks the same - almost - as before. If a design is very popular, an icon of it’s times as the Disco has become, there seems little point in changing it but the technology moves ever on and the Disco needed to keep up so while it looks the same quirky design that has become so fashionable in fact nearly every body panel is new and about 90% of the underpinnings are also new. The result might indeed be "the best 4x4 by far" of the ad man's claim.

In the years since the launch of the Discovery it has become a huge seller for Land Rover and latterly Rover owner BMW, hundreds of thousands being exported to some 89 countries world-wide, a success story that was undoubtedly one of the features that attracted BMW, it’s certainly the only bit of the Rover Group acquisition that has been profitable. Driving the car again it's little surprise that the Discovery has caught on in such a big way, not only is it cheaper than the prestigious Range Rover which has moved steadily upmarket each year, it offers all of the abilities of that car in a size acceptable to a wider audience, it’s probably now more fashionable than the bigger offroader.

Although the overall body shape has not greatly changed almost every panel is new and the Discovery is now longer to the considerable benefit of both interior comfort and overall load area, more people plus more luggage in more comfort. Inside and under the skin there are even greater changes with better soundproofing making even the diesel very quiet. The interior now has bigger, more comfortable, seats, the spacious cabin is much quieter than before, there are many improvements to the dashboard and instruments and there is that high driving position which gives such a commanding view of the road. Such a spacious cabin allows vast amounts of head and legroom, notably improved in the rear seats, and still more cabin stowage, with the rear seats all folded down there is a huge load space. 

One of 2 engine options, the test car was powered by the new 5 cylinder 2.5 litre turbo diesel engine, a quieter and more refined power plant than before. It’s now a very smooth drive and feels quite sprightly, more like a petrol engined version, with 138 bhp and a massive 220 lbs/feet of torque available. Available with a choice of 4 speed automatic gearboxes or 5 speed manual gearboxes power is transmitted to the permanently engaged 4 wheel drive system via a hi-lo ratio transfer box with differential lock for real pulling power - it can tow a massive 3.5 tons  - and Hill Descent Control as pioneered on the Freelander makes progress on steep angles safer than ever. The V8, now grown to 4 litres, and the 2.5 litre Turbo Diesel are the 2 engine options in the range which comes in 5 doors only, in 4 trim levels, from the S I drove at £25,500 through the numerous 5 and 7 seat combinations, to the V8 ES at £35,070.

The entry level TD5 S I drove has a very impressive standard features list which includes tilt adjustable steering, driver airbag, remote central locking, an alarm and immobiliser system, power steering, power windows and mirrors and a good 4 speaker stereo with wheel mounted controls, from the options list it also had aircon at £1,250. With many detailed suspension improvements, the ride is now much smoother with better handling and much improved roll characteristics and the steering is meatier with better feel than I remember it before. Braking is very substantial with an all disc set-up with ABS and Traction Control and EBD - a brake balancing system - are all standard.

Off or on road the Discovery is a winner, it's as happy on the motorway at speed as climbing a 31 degree incline or fording a steam up to half a metre deep, it's as easy to drive as a family car and with a footprint of a similar size yet can fight it's way through the roughest terrain as easily as carry the family shopping home or fetch the kids from school. With a Discovery anything and anywhere seem possible.

  • PRICE   £26,750 on the road
  • TOP SPEED    98 MPH
  • 0-60 MPH     14 SECONDS

First Published 1998 - Article © Graham Benge 2007

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