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2003 Land Rover Discovery - Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

SEE ALSO: Land Rover Buyer's Guide

Manrico Delcore & Mary Beth Debicki

The introduction of the New 2003 Discovery to the North American press was a hands on affair. We, together with 50 of the top automotive journalists from across the US, Canada and Mexico flew to Albany New York where Bob Burns, Land Rover off road driving guru, handed each of us the keys to a 2003 Discovery, a road map and with a wave and a smile sent us on our way to the Equinox Hotel.

The Equinox hotel, the granddaddy of American country hotels, is located in the scenic Green Mountains of Vermont. The hotel was established in 1769 and sits on 2,300 acres of woods, meadows, and ponds. The Equinox exudes country elegance and pampers guests in its country splendor, but best of all, it is home to one of two Land Rover Driving Schools in North America.

The choice of the Equinox as the venue for the introduction of the 2003 Discovery and Bob's presence meant we were in for some good off roading. But first we had a 3-hour on road drive from the airport to the Equinox. Sitting inside the vehicle, we instantly felt at home. After all the interior isn't that different from a Series II (the gauges have a more "contemporary" letter font).

Befitting a car with less than 50 miles on the clock, we gently eased it into traffic. Just as we were entering a wide intersection, the traffic light turned to red. Instinctively I floored the throttle. WOW, was this a Land Rover? We were actually pushed into the seatbacks as the vehicle downshifted and accelerated. We knew all 2003 NAS Discoverys have the old Range Rover 4.6 L motor(instead of the 4.0 L), but we never expected it to make that noticeable of a difference. After all, on the old Range Rover unless you looked at the badge, you couldn't tell whether it had the 4.0 or 4.6 motor. But in the Discovery, the 4.6 makes a world of difference.

We did our best to impersonate teenagers on a Friday night, and 'burned rubber' at a couple of stoplights. And although we didn't actually leave skid marks, the vehicle continued to impress us with its acceleration. Once on the motorway, the vehicles acceleration continued to impress us. We no longer needed 2 football fields to pass another car. Checking the vehicle information pack that had been thoughtfully left in the car, we noticed that the 4.6 L engine delivers 15% more power (217 Hp), 20% more torque (300 ft-lb) which peaks at a very useful 2600 RPM, and 0 to 60 time that's 15% quicker (9.5 seconds) than the 4.0L motor it replaces.

Following the map Bob had given us, we soon found ourselves driving the winding and hilly back roads of the New York-Vermont border. Being familiar with the roads, we 'pushed' the vehicle a bit harder than the speed limit recommended. And here was surprise number 2.

The car handled, well, like a car. If we didn't know better we would have thought the 2003 Discovery had, like the Range Rover, lost its solid axles and body on frame construction. The handling was that refined. Steve Haywood chief engineer for the 2003 Discovery, would later tell us that the improved handling was due to revised suspension geometry and shock absorber damping, changes in the pan hard rod, draglink and front springs, as well as tighter tolerances on a host of vehicle components.

The braking system also received a host of improvements, from pads to the master cylinder, which among other things reduced pedal travel, and makes the brakes more responsive. All in all this Discovery was just plain fun to drive on winding mountain roads. Heck we were having a ball driving!

After a delightful mid afternoon stop at the Cambridge Hotel the birthplace of pie a-la-mode, we pulled into the Equinox a pair of surprised and impressed journalists. Day two was scheduled as the off road day, somewhat to the chagrin of the 'car' journalists. We first drove to Driving School's 80-acre training site where Bob's crew of driving instructors put us through 2 hours of off road driving instruction. Proper gear selection, left-foot braking, approach and departure angles and throttle control were all covered.

After our 'lessons' we were turned loose, with a road map, and told to proceed to our lunch stop atop a nearby ski area. The route once again allowed us to enjoy the car's much refined highway manners. Even when driving on a rough and heavily corrugated winding gravel road the Discovery handled very well. The afternoon treat was a very rocky, muddy, slippery mountain trail. All the off road prowess we have come to expect from a Land Rover was there. Some of us felt the electronic traction control was more aggressive than on Series II, meaning that there was less wheel spinning. Unfortunately, the vehicles did not have Center Diff lock, as overseas models do. Discovery lost its manually operated center differential lock with the introduction of the Series II. Even with electronic traction control, locking the center differential reduces wheel spin thereby maximizing traction. Having driven Discovery Series II that have had CDLs, we know first hand what a big difference CDL makes. We hope Land Rover North America decided to make CDL an option.

After 2-days and nearly 100 miles of on and off road driving the bottom line is: if you liked the Discovery Series II, you'll love the 2003 Discovery, and if the lack of performance and handling had kept you away from a Discovery, give the New 2003 Discovery a try, we guarantee you'll be very impressed.


Separate steel body mounted to ladder frame at 14 rubber-insulated points.
Aluminum-alloy hood, quarter panels and rear door.
Zinc-coated (galvanized) steel roof and doors.

Type: all-aluminum 90-degree OHV V8
Displacement: 4.6-litres (278 cu. in.)
Horsepower @ rpm: 217 hp @ 4,750 rpm
Torque @ rpm: 300 lb-ft @ 2,600 rpm
Fuel management: Sequential multiport fuel injection.
Performance, 0-60 mph: sub- 9.5 sec.

Drive system: Permanent four-wheel drive.
Traction control Four-wheel Electronic Traction Control
Transfer case: Two-speed transfer gearbox.
Transmission: ZF (4HP24) four-speed electronically controlled automatic with locking torque converter. Sport/Normal modes in High Range. Manual/Normal modes in Low Range.

Front suspension: Solid axle with long-travel, single-rate coil springs.
Rear suspension: Solid axle with long-travel, multi-rate coil springs.

Type: Power-assisted worm-and-roller.
Turning circle: 39.0 ft.

Power-assisted four-channel disc brakes.
Four-wheel, all-terrain Anti-lock Braking System (ABS).
Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD).
Hill Descent Control (HDC).

16 x 8-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, 255/65R16, mud-and-snow (M+S) radial tires.

18 x 8-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, 255/55R18 mud and snow (M+S) radial tires.

18 x 8-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, 255/55R18 mud and snow (M+S) radial tires.

Overall length: 185.2 in.
Overall width: 74.4 in.
Overall height: 76.4 in.
Wheelbase: 100.0 in.

Seating capacity: Five (seven optional)
Head room, front/rear: 40.4/40.1 in.
Leg room, front/rear: 42.3/37.3 in.
Shoulder room, front/rear: 58.3/57.3 in.
Usable luggage capacity: rear seat up: 40.5 cu. ft.
rear seat folded: 63.3 cu. ft.

Ground clearance
Under differential: 8.2 in.
Under frame: 10.0 in.
Angle of approach: 31 degrees
Angle of departure: 21 degrees (25 degrees with SLS in High Mode)
Ramp breakover angle: 27 degrees (excluded angle)

Curb weight: 4,576 lb. ­ 4,630 lb.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating: 6,064 lb. ­ 6,229 lb.
Maximum trailer weights On-road: Off-road:
Trailers without brakes: 1,650 lb. 1,650 lb.
Trailers with brakes
High Range: 5,500 lb. 2,200 lb.
Low Range: 7,700 lb. 2,200 lb.
Maximum tongue weight: 550 lb.