1996 Land Rover Discovery

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1996 Land Rover Discovery

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Available in 3 styles:  Discovery shown
Asking Price Range
$619–$4,491
Estimated MPG

13 city / 18 hwy

Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 1 of 3

By 

Orlando Sentinel

You can drive a Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder or any sport-utility vehicle of that ilk and marvel at the carlike manners they exhibit.

But if you want a four-wheel-drive vehicle that earned its pedigree not by toting families around town, but by slogging through jungles, deserts and swamps, then you may want to take a look at the Land Rover Discovery.

You can feel the difference.

ALand Rover salesperson likely will encourage you to find the toughest, most inhospitable local terrain you can in order to test the Discovery's mettle. Some Land Rover dealers, such as Land Rover Orlando in Longwood, even have a factory-designed off-road test course meant to showcase the capabilities of Land Rover's vehicles.

The Discovery's superb off-road capabilities in no way mar the ease with which you can drive it in the city. And yes, the Discovery makes an excellent family vehicle.

Because it feels tougher, stronger and sturdier than the other vehicles in its class, the Discovery imbues you with a go-anywhere feeling that's not just a feeling: You really can go anywhere in this vehicle.

PERFORMANCE, HANDLING

The Discovery is the only compact sport-utility that comes standard with a V-8 engine. V-8s are optional in the Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee, but unavailable in all other compact American sport-utilities. Japanese automakers don't even offer a V-8 in any of their sport-utilities.

The 1996 Discovery is sporting a slightly larger, more powerful version of Rover's famous lightweight aluminum engine. This year the Disco, as it is affectionately called, gets Rover's 182-horsepower, 4.0-liter version of the V-8.

The 4.0-liter engine displaces the old 3.9-liter unit and was previously used in the Discovery's more expensive sibling, the Range Rover. It's a marvelous engine. The velvety smooth and quiet engine has a wide power band - that is, it pulls strongly all the way to the red line. Because the engine developsso much power, you don't have to shift as often as you might think.

Our Discovery came with a five-speed manual transmission, which is somewhat rare (most Discoverys are sold with the optional four-speed automatic). But I found the Discovery to be fast and fun to drive.

It may take a little time to get used to the clutch and shifter. Changing gears was not a particularly smooth operation. I was a bit dismayed at the uneven feel of the clutch pedal and how balky the transmission felt as the shifter clicked into first and second gears. I think there is room for refinement here.

Yet the Discovery's wonderful engine made me brush off any misgivings.

The Disco is an excellent performer at all speeds. It's especially pleasing to drive in the urban jungle, such as in heavy congestion and on the interstate. Potholes and large bumps do nothing to undermine the Discovery's rugged coil-spring suspension. And if you need a quick burst of power, it is available the i nstant you touch the accelerator.

Of course, off-road is where the Discovery really comes into its own. I took our test vehicle to an area where the soft sand on rural dirt roads would surely stop most cars and many other two-wheel-drive vehicles. The Discovery seems to float over such bad terrain. The driver feels no undue stress or strain, because the vehicle remains extremely easy to control. It doesn't bounce and lurch - it dips gently.

I particularly liked the thick, meaty feel of the steering wheel and the responsiveness of the power steering system. The Discovery comes with powerful four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes that bite hard.

FIT AND FINISH

Since Germany's BMW bought Land Rover a couple of years ago, the quality of Land Rover vehicles has improved exponentially. The Discovery felt as tight and well built as anything rolling out of Japan or Detroit.

The Discovery's interior is a nice place to be, but the dash is one area that could us a more streamlined look. There is an attractive set of large, easy-to-read analog gauges planted in a fairly unattractive rounded housing. There are numerous switches along the lower edges of the instrument panel - a very '80s layout. You have to reach around the steering wheel to activate the cruise control, fog lights or rear windshield washer.

The Range Rover has a much smoother, more integrated dash, and I think some version of that would give the Disco's interior just the right ambiance.

Everything else, though, is close to excellent. I asked Land Rover for the least expensive base model, but even the base Discovery has loads of equipment. It comes with power windows, mirrors and door locks, cruise control, fog lights, a powerful AM/FM/cassette stereo, tilt steering wheel, dual zone air conditioning and more.

The cloth-covered seats were comfortable and offered plenty of support on long drives and on short drives over rough roads. The 60-40 split rear seats can be flipped forward quickly and easily. With the rear seats folded, the cargo area is big enough to carry a full-size bicycle without having to turn the bike on its side.

Visibility and interior room also get high marks. Because you sit higher off the ground in the Discovery, you can see far ahead. Also, the Disco has a high roof and large windows; visibility is excellent at all angles.

The air conditioner cooled the interior quickly, even on days when the temperature soared above 90 degrees.

The Discovery's price can creep up to about $40,000 when you load it with options.

If you have more money to spend, you can add options such as two rear jump seats that face and fold down sideways in the cargo area, front and rear sunroofs, a rear air conditioner, leather interior, CD player and more.

I like the base-model Discovery. Because there is no mechanical difference between it and the most expensive Discovery (the SE7 at $37,400), I think the base modelis the smartest buy. And compared with other vehicles in this class, the base model Disco offers terrific value for about $30,000.

There isn't any other compact sport-utility at this price that offers the same level of equipment and off-road capability.

Specifications: Base price: $29,950 Safety: Dual air bags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, side-impact protection Price as tested: $30,575 EPA rating: 13 mpg city/18 mpg highway Incentives: None

Truett's tip: The classy Land Rover Discovery is a rugged but civilized four-wheel drive vehicle that offers excellent performance and - in base-model trim - unmatched value for the money.


    Expert Reviews 1 of 3

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