Car Test   R0308
April 2003
  Land Rover Discovery
Printer Friendly Page Featured model: 2.5 Td5 ES
It obviously matters not a jot that 90 per cent of 4x4 off-roaders and sport utility vehicles will never venture off tarmac; theyíre on an irrevocable roll and none of the major makers dares to be without one of them in its line-up. Owners like sitting high, feeling safe and enjoying at least a sense of the Ďlifestyleí image that such vehicles seek to project.
   Land Rover has, of course, been satisfying these requirements with the Discovery since 1989. Itís growing old gracefully now, but has last yearís mild makeover given the old girl a new lease of life?
   Well, not as far as the unchanged 2.5-litre turbo-diesel engine is concerned. We like this Td5ís easy-going affability, but its lack of urge below 2000rpm is really frustrating, and itís only in the narrow 2000-4000 rev band that is gruffly gets its head down to produce some semblance of urgency. Itís at its best on a motorway as, indeed, is the Discoís general demeanour.
   The way that the Active Cornering Enhancement keeps the body virtually level when cornering briskly is impressive, however, but although there have been minor mods to the clever self-levelling air suspension and steering, these arenít significant enough to quell the jostly, shuddery ride on bumpy B-roads. You get a much better ride in the best of the latest MPVs or in an executive estate.
   All is forgiven, though, when the going gets tough. The ride over rocks and ruts is excellent, while on gooey gradients the low-ratio 'box, traction control and ingenious hill descent control really come into their own. There are no sudden kicks through the steering, either, but on the road, the worm and roller system is too low geared and has a whopping turning circle. That said, the mechanism is precise enough to give reasonable confidence when aiming for narrow country road gaps.
   High seating makes it quite an effort for shorter and less-agile people to climb aboard, but it does confer that much-loved commanding driving position, aided by the multi-adjustable electric front seats. Theyíre comfortable, but on the firm side. Annoyingly, though, seatbacks and (removable) head restraints spoil what would be excellent all-round vision. Some of the switches could be better placed, too, while the clutch and gearchange are a bit Ďmanlyí. Nevertheless, thereís a reassuring feeling of quality about the interior, with (in this case) leather, Alcantara and wood trim lending an up-market aura to things.
   Narrow rear door openings make entry and egress awkward (and mind that mucky wheelarch!), but once inside, back seat passengers are given lots of headroom and adequate Ė though not exactly over-generous - kneeroom. The fixed-angle backrests will prove too upright for some, though.
   Stiff catches release the 60/40 divided back seats that tumble-fold easily to open up a usefully big, cubic cargo area with a flat, carpeted floor. Itís no problem to load over the well-protected bumper, but heavy, side-hinged tailgates like this one arenít ideal.
  considering size, price and rivals
Overtaking Ability
Fuel Economy
Security, theft of
theft from
  • big windows, sunroofs, Arctic lights brighten cabin
  • numerous storage areas: pockets, shelves, boxes
  • rear centre headrest lowers when armrest raised
  • no sills mean easy brushing out
  • rubber mats on trays and shelves prevent rattles
  • impossibly stiff rear seatback release catches
  • electric seat controls lack a memory
  • gear lever too close to applied handbrake
  • no A-pillar handle to help passenger aboard
  • small interior door-release triggers
Although thereís life in the old Discovery yet, this evergreen, tackle-anything favourite is in danger of being eclipsed by some outstanding new and stylish all-wheel drive 'soft-roaders' that offer better performance and a smoother tarmac ride. To be honest, they demand fewer compromises and feel generally more comfortably car-like to drive.

Itís a very different story when the mud hits the fanbelt, though. There arenít many that can outdo the Discoís legendary mud-plugging prowess. The sad thing is that so few owners will ever experience even a fraction of its formidable capabilities. Itís a funny old world.

engine 2495cc, 5-cylinder, turbo-diesel, 137bhp at 4200rpm, 250 lb ft at 1950rpm; belt-driven single overhead camshaft, 10 valves   transmission 5-speed manual with high and low ratio transfer 'box and permanent four-wheel drive; 25.4mph/1000rpm in 5th, 19.5 in 4th
suspension front: beam axle with coil springs, Panhard rod, dampers and ACE (active cornering enhancement)
rear: air-sprung beam axle, Wattts linkage, dampers and ACE; self-levelling
  steering hydraulic power assistance; 3.5 turns lock-to-lock; 13.4m diameter turning circle between kerbs (20.1m for one turn of the wheel)
brakes ventilated discs front, solid discs rear, with electronic ABS, brake force distribution and traction control   wheels/tyres 8in alloy with 255/55R18H tyres (Goodyear Wrangler HP on test car); full-size alloy spare

size and type mid- and premium-priced all-terrain/off-road 4x4   trim levels E, S, GS, XS, ES (choice of 5 or 7 seats)
engines petrol: V8 cylinder/4.0 litre/184bhp
diesel: 5/2.5/137
  drive permanent four-wheel drive with high and low ratio transfer 'box;
V8: four-speed stepped automatic
Td5: five-speed manual (4-speed stepped automatic optional)

Commanding driving position, but accelerator and weighty clutch have longish travel. Gearchange meaty but manageable. Wheel only tilt-adjusts and hides some switches. Instruments and displays gloomily indistinct.
Disco handles, steers and rides impressively off road, but on tarmac feels ungainly when pressed, partly because low-geared steering lacks car-like precision. Huge turning circles make manoeuvring a chore.
Frequently fidgety ride becomes shuddery and lumpy on bumpy byways. Electric (heated) front seats comfy, rear three too upright for some. Two sunroofs, climate control and decent hi-fi are a boon. Low road noise.

Growly Td5 diesel is hopeless below 2000 revs, so frequent cog-swapping needed to stir it into life; feels gutsy but, in fact, performance is unexceptional. Tractable, though, and not bad at motorway cruising.
  acceleration in seconds through gears 4th gear 5th gear
  20-40mph 4.8 11.2 20.3
  30-50mph 6.0 9.4 15.9
  40-60mph 8.0 9.6 13.6
  50-70mph 11.0 11.3 16.2
  30-70mph 17.0 20.7 32.1
  max speed in each gear (* using 4300rpm for best acceleration)
     gear      1st*      2nd*      3rd*      4th*      5th
     speed (mph)      23      40      60      84      97 (3820rpm)

Varies enormously, of course, depending on conditions. Our 26mpg overall is about average for a big off-roader on tarmac, with a best of almost 35, driven gently. Huge, easy-filling tank give a long range.
    AA test results (mpg)  
    urban (heavy traffic) 20  
    rural (gentle driving) 32.5  
    overall mpg 26  
    realistic tank capacity 86 litres  
    realistic tank range 490 miles  
    official figures (mpg)
    urban 24.6
    extra urban 34.4
    combined 30.1
    CO2 emissions 262g/km
    car tax band E

Good brakes, 4WD and a wide range of electronic wizardry (including traction control, centre diff lock and hill descent control) are valuable safety aids. Side curtain and passenger airbags should now be standard, though.
  from 50mph (with ABS and EBD)
This model has not yet been
tested by EURO NCAP
pedal load     stopping distance
unhurried 10kg     35m
sudden 29kg     26.5m best stop
+ 4kg ie 33kg     27m
fade resistance/consistency    
Euro NCAP = European New Car Assessment Programme: independent crash safety tests evaluating protection for occupants and pedestrians in an offset frontal collision, side impacts and pedestrian strike conditions
click here for more NCAP details/test results etc.

Seven seater (with two fold-out rear chairs) costs same as 5-seater. Passenger space not over-generous and doors don't open wide enough, but side-hinged tailgate does, to reveal spacious, carpeted load area.
  in centimetres (5-door ell-terrain/off-road 4x4)
  length 471
  width - including mirrors 195
    - mirrors folded 219
  height (inc roof bars) 198
  load sill height (inside/outside) 0/76
  turns lock-to-lock 3.5
  turning circle (metres) 13.4
  easy to park/garage?
  front - legroom 84-105
    - headroom 94-100
  rear - typical legroom 102
    - typical kneeroom 76
    - headroom 101
    - hiproom 141
  load area(all seats in use)
  load space
(litres/cu ft)
  load length 84-134
  load length to facia 252
  load width 114
  load height (to shelf/to top of aperture) 47/104

Conventional handset operates deadlocks, alarm, immobiliser, but poor NCSR result. No global closing, but two-stage unlocking and self-locking on drive off are options. Tailgate-mounted spare wheel on show.
central locking  
remote control  
remote window closing  
alarm (perimeter + interior)  
self-locking (static + drive off)   
two-stage unlocking   
attack-resistant glass   
'se-me-home' headlamps   
AA load area security rating
=standard    =option    =not available
NCSR - "theft of"
NCSR - "theft from"
NCSR = New Car Security Ratings: a 1 to 5 star system which rates anti-theft protection, both of the car itself and the theft of valuables from within the car
Visit for more details
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