by Sue Mead
Wider and packed with technology, it drives much better.
Base Price $34,775
As Tested $40,375
Land Rover has completely redesigned its Discovery for 1999. Though the overall look is quite similar to the previous model, 85 percent of its parts are new. To signify this, it has been renamed the Land Rover Discovery Series II.
Fresh styling and a wider stance give the Discovery Series II a more confident look. A host of new features improve safety, comfort and convenience. The interior has been thoroughly upgraded with more comfortable seats, refined switchgear and improved outward visibility.
But the most important change to the Discovery is in the way it drives. While the previous model felt tentative in transient maneuvers and leaned through corners, the new one feels firmly planted and tackles curves with confidence.
In spite of its refined roadworthiness, the Discovery Series II has not lost Land Rover's renowned off-road capability. It still features lots of suspension travel to climb over rocky terrain. It's still the ultimate off-road utility vehicle.
The Discovery Series II is 4 inches wider and sits 1 inch shorter than the previous version. The wheelbase remains 100 inches, but the rear overhang has been extended. As a result, the rear is 6 inches longer than before for greater cargo capacity.
Though it may not be obvious to the casual observer, every body panel on the Discovery Series II is new. Land Rover took an evolutionary (rather than revolutionary) approach to the design of this second-generation Discovery because owners and potential buyers said they loved the looks of the first-generation. So the Discovery Series II still sports a distinctive, utilitarian appearance. It looks ready for an African safari.
A new front-end treatment includes a restyled hood and fenders, deeper grille, and one-piece bumper with integrated fog lamps. Wider, contoured rear quarter panels feature new high-mount taillamp clusters that provide a more modern look and can be seen more easily. Range Rover-style door handles have been added that are easier to open and the doors have been reshaped to incorporate Discovery's new rising beltline. A new, electrically released fuel filler door eliminates the annoyance of manually unlocking it with a key each time. The full-size spare tire has been mounted lower on the rear door for improved visibility out back. Efforts to improve Discovery's aerodynamics are evident all around: Body gaps have been reduced, glass fit is more flush, and trim pieces are more integrated. All this results in a quieter ride.
The all-aluminum 4.0-liter Rover V8 employs a new Bosch engine management system and Thor intake manifold that increase power, efficiency and driveability. Permanent four-wheel drive means there's nothing the driver needs to do before plunging off road. Discovery comes standard with a four-speed ZF automatic transmission. A transfer case provides a low range for extremely steep or slippery terrain.
New this year is a sophisticated traction control system that detects wheel slippage and applies brake pressure to the spinning wheel, thereby directing torque to the wheels with the best traction. The system is completely automatic and requires no action by the driver. The long-travel, live-axle suspension has been revised for 1999 and boasts a wider track and new steering geometry for better highway manners.
New technology is a big part of what makes the Discovery Series II great: Hill Descent Control, a Land Rover exclusive, maintains a controllable vehicle speed during steep off-road descents. The system works in low range at speeds below 34 mph. The driver engages the system by pressing a button and keeping his or her feet off the pedals. HDC automatically applies brake pressure and, combined with engine braking, provides maximum control of the vehicle down steep grades.
The four-channel anti-lock brake system uses Electronic Brake Distribution to provide quicker, safer stops. EBD, which is standard, transfers braking force front to rear to ensure optimum balance and stability.
Active Cornering Enhancement uses hydraulic actuators to reduce body lean in turns. ACE works like an active anti-roll bar and Land Rover claims it is a "world's first" in volume production of a sport-utility vehicle. ACE comes as part of a $2,900 Performance Package that includes 255/55HR18 tires mounted on 18-inch wheels. (The Discovery comes standard with 255/65HR16 tires on 16-inch alloy wheels.) Anyone who spends most of their time on the road will benefit from this package; without it, the Series II is still a vast improvement over the previous model.
A new Self-Leveling Suspension keeps the Discovery level when carrying heavy cargo and can even be used to manually raise or lower the vehicle for off-road situations or for easing the attachment of a trailer. A remote control is offered for adjusting the system from outside. This $750 option is worthwhile only for those who do a lot of towing or off-road driving, however.
The Discovery's body-on-frame design is sturdy and functional and an off-road mishap is less likely to compromise the structure. Side-impact beams are designed into all four doors, rather than just the front doors, as is the case for many other SUVs.
Front fog lights are useful in the backcountry, while rear fog lights improve safety in adverse conditions on the highway.
The Inside Story
The interior of the Discovery has been completely redesigned for 1999, lowering British eccentricity to tolerable levels while increasing convenience and comfort. Window switches have been rearranged into a more logical layout. A new automatic climate control provides separate temperature controls for driver and passenger and is easier to reach and adjust than before. (Rear air conditioning controls are available for $750.) The steering wheel and instrument cluster have been redesigned. Optional seat heaters and windshield add warmth in the winter.
Interior stowage abounds with a center console bin, glove box, front and rear door pockets, overhead net storage units and map pockets and front-seatback storage pockets. There's a 12-volt accessory socket in the cargo area. A retractable cover hides valuables in the cargo area. Cargo nets, tie-downs, and grab-handles are everywhere.
The tall driver's position affords excellent visibility. The top of the windshield has been raised making it easier to see traffic signals overhead. There's lots of headroom. Rear-seat passengers sit higher and can view the world through expansive side windows, upper alpine windows and their own sunroof.
The Discovery comes standard with cloth, but nearly all come with the optional leather interior, which is part of the $1950 Appearance Package that includes wood trim, an 11-speaker harman/kardon stereo and special 16-inch alloy wheels.
The step up to Discovery's interior is a big one and getting into the back seats is a bit of a squeeze. Once back there, rear-seat comfort has been improved with increased legroom and a redesigned seat cushion. Optional foldaway seats provide room for two additional passengers in the cargo area; these are front-facing seats with cleverly designed head restraints and three-point seat belts with seatbelt pretensioners. They fold out of the way when not in use. With the optional rear seats, the Discovery can seat seven passengers. It's most comfortable with four.
Overall, the interior is luxurious with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, steering wheel-mounted cruise control, dual-zone climate control with outside temperature reading, power windows, mirrors and locks, keyless/remote security system, rear window washer and wiper, halogen headlamps with washers, a premium AM/FM/cassette stereo with weather band.
Ride & Drive
We drove the Discovery Series II on what Land Rover called "the world's longest new car test drive." To celebrate its 50th anniversary and to show off its capabilities, Land Rover organized a 20,000-mile trek around the globe. Automotive writers were organized into tag teams. My section was from London to Turkey, a journey of nearly 3,000 miles that us through 11 countries.
We drove down smooth highways, over busted pavement, through challenging off-road sections. We whisked down Germany's high-speed Autobahn, traversed Romania's high-altitude Carpathian Mountains and traveled along Bulgaria's single-lane dirt tracks on the first leg of this planet circumnavigation. Because this was an expedition, our Discovery was heavily loaded with cargo and gear and pulled a trailer loaded with even more equipment.
Our Discovery was a stock model right off the assembly line. It performed flawlessly -- not just on our leg, but throughout the event.
The most obvious improvements to the Series II have to do with its on-road performance. Ride quality is much closer to Land Rover's higher-priced, luxurious Range Rover models. Part of the reason for this is that some of the Discovery's new parts are based on Range Rover designs.
The new Discovery handles so well; it's a night-and-day improvement over the previous generation. Steering is more responsive with greater driver feel. We were very impressed with the optional Active Cornering Enhancement system. With the reduced body lean, driving down winding roads was pleasant with crisp response -- in spite of our heavily laden condition. (Ordered without ACE, the Discovery still offers vastly improved handling over the previous version.)
The revised engine delivers more torque than last year (251 foot-pounds at 2,600 rpm -- an 18-pound increase). There's also a noticeable improvement in braking performance, a benefit of the 4-channel ABS with Electronic Brake Distribution.
A leader in off-road prowess, the Discovery Series II offers exceptional wheel travel with excellent articulation. So when the left front wheel drops into a big hole, the right rear wheel is less likely to lift off the ground. Discovery features a high ground clearance (8.2 inches under the front axle), generous angles of approach and departure, and is capable of wading through 20 inches of water.
It can tow a 5,500-pound trailer and comes with an integral Class III tow hitch receiver. With the Self Leveling Suspension, a hand-held control gave us the ability to lower the rear of the Series II up to 4 inches, which made loading gear into the cargo area and connecting the trailer much easier. We used the SLS switch on the instrument panel to raise the rear of the Series II by 1.6 inches for off-road forays. Hill Descent Control was a Godsend on treacherous downhill sections.
The Land Rover Discovery Series II still provides the ultimate in off-road capability. And now it offers truly refined on-road handling. The interior is roomier and much more user friendly. New technology makes it one of the most advanced vehicles in the compact sport-utility segment.
The Discovery is priced lower than many people realize. It should be on the shopping list for anyone who wants distinctive styling, off-road capability and panache.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.