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2003 Land Rover Discovery

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2003 Land Rover Discovery
Available in 3 styles:  Discovery Series II shown
Asking Price Range
Estimated MPG

12 city / 16 hwy

Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 3 of 3
2003 Land Rover Discovery 3.8 24
$ 310-14,486
August 14, 2002

MANCHESTER, Vt.--Miles down a rutted Revolutionary War trail, the first 2003 Land Rover Discovery in a long convoy bogs down amid twisted tree roots and deep mud. Our guides jump out of the SUVs, shovels in hand, and begin resculpting the road.

A short time later, the stuck Discovery surges forward.

Earlier in the day, Land Rover spokesman William Baker characterized the redesigned, British-built mid-size SUV, which is on sale now, as 'no shopping-mall dilettante.'

Despite that claim, we encountered more Discoverys at the designer outlets in this upscale New England town than on the challenging Green Mountain trails. And plenty of opportunity for us to gauge the reaction of Discovery owners to the 368 tweaks Land Rover made to the SUV that longs to be both an image vehicle and a macho off-roader.

First stop, the exclusive Herend china shop, where the most expensive piece of Hungarian porcelain costs $30,000 and shop owner John Yeager, 44, parks his black '01 Discovery in a prominent spot to catch attention from passers-by on the main drag. The Discovery serves as kind of a Yuppie sandwich board, with Herend logos plastered on the rear windows.

Yeager says he loves his 'funky' SUV, but has a couple complaints: Lousy gas mileage and too many squeaks. In fact, he's stuffed a white rag between the rear seat and the side door to quiet a noisy one. And this SUV stays on pavement.

"I don't believe in driving beautiful vehicles off road," he said.

At closing time, Yeager jumped into our base 2003 model, which had several options and was priced at $38,745, to offer his impressions on the changes to this third-generation Discovery.

Halfway down Wide Awake Road, Yeager summed it up: "It's definitely quieter. The brakes are perfect and there's a big power change for the better."

This owner has homed in on the high points. The new Discovery has a larger 4.6 liter engine that makes 217 horsepower, 15 percent more than the previous model. Land Rover improved the brakes with more responsive pedal feel and the cabin is now relatively free of noise and squeaks.

But both Yeager and Kennedy Prentiss, a 22-year-old horse trainer from Warrenton, Va., who was in town with her bright yellow 1999 Discovery -- complete with I AM A VEGETARIAN sticker -- had to squint to detect any exterior changes. Those boil down to basically a new look for the headlights.

Inside the cabin, changes are subtle, except for the mammoth cupholders, which dominate the center console.

The redesigned Discovery has gone more high-tech in terms of amenities, which should please its elite audience that makes a median income of $150,000 a year.

For the first time, the uplevel Discovery model has a standard navigation system -- a strange little device that's only an inch tall and four inches wide. It has no map function. Instead, directions are verbal or in small writing scrolled down the screen. The navigation system, b undled with a Harman Kardon sound system, is a $1,550 option on the mid-level SE model. It is not available on the base model.

Discovery also gets its first rear-seat entertainment system, a factory-installed DVD model priced at $2,000.

Land Rover is part of Ford Motor Co.'s Premier Automotive Group, so it seemed surprising that the new Discovery has a range of standard safety features, including all-terrain' antilock brakes, which even work on wet grass, along with traction control. But there are no side air bags. It seems a serious oversight, especially when side air bag protection is offered on such prosaic Ford models as the Explorer and Expedition.

Owner Prentiss said her biggest complaint with the old model is lack of space in the second-row seat. That hasn't changed. And there is no graceful way to wriggle out of the rear side doors unless you have the body of Calista Flockhart.

However, the second-row seat is among the better ones we've been in. It sits up slightly higher than the front seats, in what Land Rover describes as "stadium seating," allowing passengers to see the road. It is flanked by "Alpine" windows, narrow windows in the rear cabin near the roof that bring in lots of light and create an airy feeling.

From the driver's seat, the 4-low and 4-high shift lever on the 4X4 system was stiff and balky. Shifting into 4-high invariably required male assistance and left me wishing for a pushbutton system.

And while the increase in horsepower seems to be a plus with Discovery owners, it resulted in even poorer gas mileage than the old model. Discovery now gets 12 miles in city driving and 16 miles on the highway, according to the EPA, compared to 13 and 17 on the old model.

Prices have risen on Discovery. The 2003 model ranges in price from $34,350 to $40,350. Expect to pay around $45,000 for a well-equipped HSE7, the top-of-the-line edition with $1,000 optional seating for seven and options like $500 heated front seats and heated windshield, and $750 rear air conditioning. Scheduled maintenance is now included in the sticker price.

Land Rover says it expects to sell about 20,000 Discoverys a year, making this SUV an exclusive niche player in a wildly popular segment.

Back at the china shop, owner Yeager says he's glad Discovery's character hasn't changed much with this redo.

"Land Rover is smart enough to leave the best things about the vehicle alone," he said. "Major change for the sake of change is sad."

    Expert Reviews 3 of 3

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