New Car Review

1996 Land Rover Discovery

by John Heilig

SEE ALSO: Land Rover Buyer's Guide

    
SPECIFICATIONS

    ENGINE: 4.0-liter V-8
    HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 182 bhp @4750 rpm/233 lb-ft @3000 rpm
    TRANSMISSION: Four-speed automatic
    FUEL ECONOMY: 14 mpg city, 16 mpg highway, 15.2 mpg test
    WHEELBASE: 100.0 in.
    OVERALL LENGTH: 178.7 in.
    OVERALL HEIGHT: 77.4 in
    OVERALL WIDTH: 70.6 in.
    CURB WEIGHT: 4465 lbs
    FUEL CAPACITY: 23.4 gal.
    LUGGAGE CAPACITY: 45.8/69.8 cu. ft. (rear seat up/down)
    TIRES: P235/70R16
    INSTRUMENT: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature, digital clock.
    EQUIPMENT: power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, cruise control, air
    conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio with cassette and CD changer, dual powered sunroofs,
    anti-lock braking, dual air bags.
    STICKER PRICE: $30,575

One of the advantages of a sport utility vehicle is the added view it gives you of what's going on in front of you. This extra vision is made possible by the higher riding position afforded in the SW, most of which are built on truck chassis.

The Land Rover Discovery gives you a high riding position. In fact, someone who rode in our tester the week we had it said the Discovery rode as if it was two stories tall. It has a high riding position and the seats themselves seem to ride high. It is definitely not a car-like vehicle. And that's probably the major flaw with the Discovery, it's too truck-like and not car-like enough. But even truck-like in American cars still gives some of the feeling of driving a car. While in the Discovery, you know you're driving something unique, and maybe this perceived "flaw" is actually an asset because it sets the Land Rover apart.

All the standard features are there. Discovery is powered by a 4.0-liter V-8 engine rated at 182 brake horsepower. This is a modern iteration of the old Buick V-8 design that Rover bought many years ago. The engine drives the rear wheels through a four speed automatic gearbox. There is a transfer case on the console that will help you shift into four-wheel drive mode, low or high. Full-time four-wheel drive is also available. The console also holds the switches for the power windows and has a nice storage compartment in the middle. So those features are car-like.

Instrumentation is even more car-like, with just the basic four--speedometer, tachometer, fuel level and water temperature. Among the other amenities are power windows, cruise control, power mirrors, a nice sound system that didn't have particularly good range with the antenna, digital clock, and dual powered sunroofs for front and rear passengers.

The console in the Discovery seems fairly wide, but having driven a Hummer, it's not really that much wider than the average SUV console. The seats also seem hard and more rigid than many softer SUV seats. Because of this hardness added to high ride height, you don't feel as if you're sinking , down into the Discovery seat, you're definitely riding on the seat. The seats are powered, with the three-dirnensional switches mounted on the center console rather than the doors.

There are unique arm rests in the doors that help you hold on. There are assist handles over every door to help you enter the Discovery. Many SUVs don't have the assist handles over the driver's door, -figuring that the driver can always grab the steering wheel. But when I entered my big van this way, I always felt as if I was dislodging the wheel a bit. We never had problems in over 125,000 miles, but I felt as if I was doing wrong.

There are interesting storage compartments over each sun visor. This flat area has room enough for slim books or maps and tour guide books of certain areas. I haven't seen anything like this in any other vehicle and I like it.

For the rear passengers, there are mesh storage bags mounted in the roof, which can be used for small article storage. When you don't have passengers in the rear, the seats can be folded flat to increase storage capacity to almost 70 cubic feet. My daughter the teacher used the Discovery to clean her classroom at the end of the school year and had plenty of room in the vehicle. When there are passengers back there, they have good leg room and a higher seating position than the front passengers. Land Rover calls it stadium seating. Those rear passengers also have their own heating/air conditioning controls.

Unlike most truck-based SUVs the Discovery is fairly quiet when it's going down the road. There is some tire noise and a little bit of wind noise, but relatively little engine noise. It's a comfortable vehicle to drive with a fat steering wheel that gives you a good grip.

I said at the beginning that the Discovery drives as if it's tall. You have a constant fear that it may tip over, but it never does. It is well balanced. It's an uncomfortable driving position when you first get into the vehicle, but I had been driving tow sports cars in the weeks before. It's solidly built and from what the people at Land Rover have shown us about the chassis, it's a safe vehicle as well. It's the type of vehicle you have to drive a couple of times before you develop a fondness. Like oysters and Jeep Wranglers, the Discovery is a vehicle that requires an acquired taste. Once you like it, though, you never want to give it up.

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