I have to admit that I am a Land Rover lover.
There's no good reason for it, on the face of it, like all big 4*4s they are the most inefficient way of getting from A to B you could imagine.
Despite their size the carrying capacity is in reality no better than a big estate. People carriers can squeeze more bods in than they all can, bar the 10 seater 110 counties, on the road they get out run by virtually any decent modern saloon, and on the kind of off roading 99.9% are used for a Subaru or Volvo XC would be just as good (Actually a 2CV would probably be more than adequate). Even when the heavens open and the snow drops, you would probably be just as well off in an Audi Quattro. So what's the point, well there is the serious rough stuff on which Landrovers are the acknowledged king. Though if you were seriously into that kind of thing a 90-inch defender would be your weapon of choice.
But I like many others still love the things; it may seem stupid, but no more stupid than a 180mph Ferrari.
Before the Discovery you had a choice of either the basic and still fairly agricultural defender or the ever more expensive and flash Range Rover. There was a big hole that many Japanese Marques tried to fill. The Discovery slotted sweetly into that hole, priced just above the crude defender but well below the Range Rover, Comfortable and Sophisticated enough for most without the overt excess of the Range Rover.
It was the car/truck that finally pushed Land Rover into the mainstream, Land Rovers are no longer the preserve of the farmer, horsy types and lunatics, but semi-sensible transport for executives and families.
Just price alone isn't enough to create a market hit. But Land Rover had one extra touch beyond the off road prowess to throw into the equation.
Say what you will but in 50 years Land Rover have come up with 3 out of 4 of the best styled off roaders. Try as they might no other marque has managed to develop a decent and lasting style without blatantly copying either Land Rover or jeep.
(Actually despite the fact that the Discovery is now almost Iconic in shape, it does bear a remarkable resemblance to the Matra Simca Rancho, all be it an inflated on steroids version. but the Matra wasn't a 4*4 so it doesn't count)
Land Rover always seems to manage to get the balance right between rugged good looks and elegant lines without resorting to cheesy tacky nasty bits, and unlike others I could mention it is thankfully restrained on the aerodynamic appendage front.
Driving a Discovery for the first time is a revelation and a shock for all those of us who aren't coming from Range Rovers. If your coming from Defender/Series Land Rover then it will feel incredibly sophisticated, if your coming from a modern saloon then it feels a bit large, vibratory and wobbly. Somewhere in between lies the truth, the Discovery is very sophisticated for what it is, a large tall pickup truck with a diesel engine.
Getting in for the first time is when you start to realise just how tall the thing is, there aren't many cars you don't have to stoop down into, this one you have to climb up into. Once you have taken your seat you realise that despite the height and width of the car leg room is still rather limited, not as badly as older landrovers, but it doesn't offer a stretched out driving position for taller drivers. The five doors seem to be a lot more popular than the 3-door version. Even though Access to the rear seats is at least as good as any other 2/3-door cars. But the 5 door does have a little more perceived practicality and is no worse looking, so personally I wouldn't lose sleep over choosing between the two.
Just as it was meant too, the Discovery's interior sits between the basic stripped out defender and the stuffed and loaded Top end Range Rovers. Its a nicely judged balance of Comfort and Practicality well laid out and loaded with storage spaces. From the drivers seat the cockpit imparts a good feeling too the driver, it may really be a large van with a vans driving position, but you never feel that way about it, as the interior layout and the fittings disguise it so well. The Discovery introduced new levels of practicality to the 4*4 market. Various cupboards, cubby holes, closets, pockets and roof nets give a real sense of usefulness. A large glass area including Alpine Roof lights, and twin sunroofs give the interior a large airy feel, but unlike older Land Rovers Cab ventilation is good and stops the whole thing turning into a large green house.
Leg room may be at a premium, but the discovery's width, does mean shoulder room is pretty much unlimited in the front, the back seat is hugely wide and considering how small a rear bench can lay claim to being a 3 seater, it seems slightly curious that the discovery is rated only for 3. Either way the optional two rear folding seats, so beloved by children, which sit in the boot area, transform it into a genuinely useful people carrier. The combination of folding rear seats and tall body also means that when pushed it becomes a useful gear carrier. The Roof rails and optional heavy duty Rack and ladders make it a truly enormous gear carrier.
Despite its size and weight and what you would suspect is a fairly small power to weight ratio with only 130bhp on tap translate in to surprisingly nippy flexible performance, backed up by a bucket load of torque the engine supplies adequate thrust so the discovery never feels underpowered or gutless. It's fairly remarkable to note that the tdi motor is only 5bhp shy of the output of the original low compression V8 Range Rover. The TDI may not be quite cutting edge in Turbo Diesel terms, but its still a decent unit in 4*4 terms and certainly upped the ante in the 4*4 engine stakes, it may not be quiet or the smoothest unit in the world but it is a responsive and willing unit.
The Discovery's gear shift is hardly of the hot knife through butter variety, but its requirement for a solid shove reinforces the vehicles impression of solidity and persuades you to make the most of the engines torque. The ratios themselves are well spread with quite large gaps between each, first is of course extra low, but for a 4*4 top is extremely leggy. This combined with the motors reasonable power and hefty torque probably explain why the outside lane of the motorway is awash with fast moving Discoveries going much faster than any square boxed shaped van ever should.
The discovery has attracted much criticism for it untoward handling, and when pressed you can see where that point of view comes from. Press too hard around a bend or twirl the wheel to fast and the tall body will lurch unceremoniously into the bend. Underneath the modern skin are still the old separate chassis and a pair of live axles. Land Rover is king of the off road and many other makers with serious off road intent still build there cars to the Land Rover design, all that modern technology like wishbones, mc pherson struts, etc cut no ice off road. If your to be taken seriously as a 4*4 maker, the old way is still the only way. Th trade off comes on the road as the separate chassis struggles to control two large heavy axles. If your pricing point doesn't give you suspension and ride height adjustability, then you're in even more trouble, as you need to make serious compromises. An off roader needs long soft suspension. This does mean the Disco rides pretty well, unless you're in the boot seats that is. In the boot you're behind the rear axle line and at the pendulous end of the wheelbase. If you're over 5,5 then your going too be making intimate acquaintance with the head lining.
Despite it size and dynamic limitations its still surprisingly fun to drive, It goes much better than the bald figures suggest. Its ability to hold decent speed on a motorway in relative calm and peace is excellent. The steering is direct enough not to bore your arms with twirling, light enough to park easily, but solid enough to inspire confidence up to the very end of its speed range.
A reputation of dubious reliability has haunted Land Rover of late, in truth they are more reliable now than ever before. On the Disco which is much simpler than the King of the Range.. Range Rover, The problems have pretty much been down to some build quality gremlins and an appetite for Gearboxes. To be fair the gearbox problem was attributed to Landrover Newbies, jockeying the Disco around city centres, like their previous company supplied sierra, loading the Disco up through the centre dif and destroying the gearbox. So take note engine braking not recommended on tarmac roads. Land Rovers explanation may be perfectly true but other 4*4 systems don't suffer from it, and as Land Rover claim to be king of the 4*4 its not really good enough.
All in all the Disco is a great car. It nicely encapsulates the best points from other Land Rovers. The ruggedness of the Defender, the comfort of the Range Rover, without stepping towards either Defender spartanness or Range Rover excess.
In the 4*4 schema the Disco represents the happy medium of perfectly formed off Roader. It's usefully bigger than most SWB off roaders, but not so big as to be a bear to drive around in traffic.
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