Think of Africa. No, dream of Africa, of giraffe and wildebeest wandering through tall grasslands, of lazy lions sulking in the sunlight. Now dream of an ideal vehicle for this idyllic land. Dream of a Land Rover, bounding over rocks and rills, fording creeks and rivers, thundering through the savanna.
A Land Rover is both legend and the real thing. It is the authentic 4x4 that can venture deep into the backcountry. Its suspension articulation, permanent four-wheel-drive system, and off-road technology must be experienced in extreme conditions to be truly appreciated. It also comes with retailers committed to customer satisfaction.
First introduced here in 1994, the Discovery brought the Land Rover experience to far broader range of American consumers. With its distinctive Land Rover styling and heritage, the Discovery is often thought to be expensive, yet it starts at just $33,350. Because of it, Land Rover's total sales climbed from 4906 in 1994 to 23,826 by 1997.
For 1999, the Discovery was significantly redesigned and re-engineered and was named the Discovery Series II. With no price increase, it boosted overall Land Rover sales another 30 percent. The new chassis and suspension made it easier to drive on the highway without sacrificing any of that legendary off-road capability.
Now, for 2002, Land Rover has invested $190 million in its Solihull, U.K. factory (and imported major know-how from parent company Ford) to dramatically improve quality control on all of its products, the Discovery included.
With its trademark alpine windows and utilitarian styling, there's no mistaking the Land Rover Discovery for anything else. Flat panels and straight lines give the Discovery a neat, no-nonsense look that's handsome, distinctive, classy. It looks at home in the African savannah, in Washington's Cascades, in Virginia's tweedy horse country, in Vermont's fly-fishing country, and in the American Southwest.
Many of the body panels, including the rear doors and quarter panels, are aluminum, to reduce weight and avoid corrosion. Others, like the hood and roof, are galvanized steel.
The Series II has a wider stance and a more confident look than the pre-1999 model, but its visual heritage still goes back through the original Discovery, all the way back to the first Land Rover of 1948. It is a look that suggests safaris, expeditions, and high adventure.
For 2002, Discovery will offer a limited-edition Kalahari model, distinguished by its Saudi/Gulf States front bumper and grille, black seating surfaces with Tetra technical fabric center panels, black steel wraparound brush bar and lamp guards, and black steel rear ladder and matching roof rack equipped with a steel mesh floor. Kalahari will be offered in three distinct colors: Borrego Yellow, Tangiers Orange and Bonatti Grey.
New 2002 paint colors for all Discovery models include Vienna Green and Zambezi Silver.
Step inside and you'll find the Discovery's interior is as distinctive as its exterior. Like the exterior, the interior was completely redesigned for 1999 with the aim of reducing British eccentricity.
British luxury abounds. The seats are nicely designed and fully upholstered in leather on SE models. The driver's seat affords excellent visibility, and there's lots of headroom. The top of the windshield is higher than on earlier models, but you may still need to duck a bit to see the light change. (Traffic signals are mounted on posts in England.)
Automatic climate control provides separate temperature adjustment for driver and passenger, and is easy to reach and to operate. Instruments include a compass, and a handy pointer on the fuel gauge reminds you which side the fuel filler door is on. An outside temperature readout is useful when traveling.
Note above that we said reducing, not eliminating British eccentricity. Some of the switchgear remains awkward to operate and requires the driver to look for the appropriate button. The audio system separates the AM and FM buttons instead of placing them alongside one another, for example. Window switches are located on the center console, rather than on the doors and it's easy to confuse them. The door lock button on the center dash is hard to find when you want to lock or unlock the doors quickly. And the small inside door handles are hard to find and awkward to use.
The step up to Discovery's interior is a big one, and getting into the back seat requires a squeeze through a narrow door opening. Kids don't have any trouble, but shorter, older folks find it challenging. Once back there, it's comfortable. Rear-seat passengers sit higher and can view the world through expansive side windows, upper alpine windows and their own (optional) sunroof. Interior stowage abounds with bins and pockets. There's a 12-volt accessory socket in the cargo area. Cargo nets, tie-downs, grab handles and a cargo cover come standard.
The SD7 and SE7 provide foldaway seats in the cargo area for two more passengers. These front-facing jump seats feature cleverly designed head restraints that drop down from the ceiling, along with three-point seat belts.
As mentioned, the Land Rover Discovery needs to be driven off road to be appreciated. Its suspension system performs unbelievably well in the mountains and in deserts, jungles, and grasslands.
The Discovery performs reasonably well on the road, but this is no sports car and should not be driven like one. It feels firmly planted in corners and can be driven through a turn hard once it takes a set. However, its forte is not quick transient response, such as what you'd experience in a double lane change maneuver or barreling down a country road. This is a tall vehicle that sways and yaws a bit.
Active Cornering Enhancement greatly improves the handling of the Discovery on the road. It's an expensive option, but does substantially reduce body lean in corners. It electronically measures lateral acceleration and then hydraulically applies torque to the chassis via two piston/lever units that replace the front and rear anti-roll bars. Essentially, it's an active suspension. If you like to drive quickly, you may really appreciate this feature. It can also add a measure of safety by enhancing stability.
It's in extreme conditions that the Discovery really shines. We've driven the Discovery through deep, unplowed snow, over icy roads and on treacherous primitive paths around the world. It always went places where other 4WD vehicles could not go.
Exceptional wheel travel and suspension articulation allow the Discovery to go where few vehicles have gone before. When the left front wheel drops into a big hole, for example, the right rear wheel is less likely to lift off the ground. To that, add a high ground clearance, generous angles of approach and departure, and the capability of wading through 20 inches of water.
A Panhard rod keeps the live front axle running straight and true, whether bounding over Borneo or cornering hard in Birmingham. A Watt's link performs a similar service at the rear. It's this precise control of axle geometry that makes it possible to allow the axles to travel so far, literally stepping over bumps and irregularities. The net result is a good ride on pavement and superior traction and stability where the pavement ends.
Hill Descent Control maintains a controllable speed during steep off-road descents: The system works in low range below 34 mph. Simply press a button and keep your feet off the pedals. Hill Descent Control automatically applies brake pressure and uses engine braking, so the Discovery confidently creeps down terrifyingly steep grades. It's a great feature and it works really well.
The Discovery's rigid body is mounted to a separate truck-style frame. It is a superb design for off-road driving. The frame is fully boxed, something other manufacturers are just starting to, uh, discover. Side-impact beams are designed into all four doors, rather than just the front doors, as is the case for many SUVs.
Land Rover's sophisticated traction control system detects wheel slip and automatically applies brake pressure to the spinning wheel, routing torque to the wheels with the best traction.
Electronic Brake Distribution takes the anti-lock brake system well beyond standard ABS. EBD provides quicker, safer stops by transferring braking force from the rear to the front as the vehicle stops, ensuring optimum balance and stability. Still, the Discovery's brakes could use some work. There's a fair amount of brake pedal travel. Slam the brakes down and the Discovery does not stop as quickly as we'd like.
Optional Self-Leveling Suspension (SLS) uses rear air springs to maintain optimum ride height whether the vehicle is heavily loaded, unevenly loaded or being used for towing.
Land Rover Discovery Series II offers the ultimate in off-road capability. It also offers panache.
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