1998 Land Rover Discovery Road Test

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1998 Land Rover Discovery SUV

(4.0L V8 AWD 4-speed Automatic)

I'm a tall guy; I have been all my life. I'm not insanely tall, like our online editor, Greg Anderson, who can barely fold his towering six-foot five-inch frame into a Suburban. But I am tall enough that, despite my lack of an outside shot, I've never been picked last in a game of basketball, simply because I can stand under the basket and haul down easy rebounds and take high passes for a quick lay-up. I have spent my life in the company of tall people and have always gravitated toward those who are vertically enhanced. As an example, I can list countless friends and acquaintances that stand over six-feet tall. Conversely, I'd be hard pressed to name more than a dozen friends of diminutive stature. It's not that I'm a height snob, it's just that I seem to become friends with those who are easier to spot in a crowded room. Maybe it's because they're easier to spot.

It came as no surprise, then, that my face lit up when I took delivery of the Land Rover Discovery. No doubt about it, the Discovery is one tall truck. When I took the keys from editor-in-chief, Chris Wardlaw, however, he warned that I was going to hate the thing. He complained that it handled poorly, had no engine power and was ergonomically challenged. Wardlaw is also tall, but it takes more than a towering presence to win him over.

It's easy to see what Wardlaw is talking about. The Land Rover Discovery is not a sophisticated piece of machinery. It is a truck in the old-fashioned sense of the word. The Discovery has a bouncy ride on almost all road surfaces, an engine that is geared for pulling stumps out of the ground, not racing along expressways; a high ground clearance for traversing rough terrain that makes it difficult to clamber aboard and switches, dials and control knobs that were tacked onto the dashboard and center console like an afterthought.

During my first encounter I didn't care much for the Land Rover, either. I found that I had to stretch my long right arm out and lean to change the radio, the window control buttons on the center console were counter intuitive (the ones I thought should control the front windows actually controlled the back), the rear seats had very narrow door openings that were difficult to climb through and the dashboard was covered in buttons emblazoned with odd pictures that gave no indication of what might happen if they were pressed. The fact that I saw so many of these things piloted by short moms with two or three kids really cracked me up. What mom would want to stand on tiptoe to get a child secured in the tall backseat of this thing?

After a few days, I started to understand the attraction. First, outward visibility is exceptional. The Discovery offers the most outstanding visibility this side of a glass-bottomed boat. An upright windshield combined with tall, comfortable front seats and large glass panes make it easy to see out of this truck, thereby making it simple to park in clogged parking lots and maneuver in close quarters. Second, the cachet of the Land Rover name is hard to resist. The Discovery doesn't necessarily cost more than the other high-priced SUVs on the road, but it does command uncommon respect from those not used to seeing them on Pathfinder and Grand Cherokee-clogged avenues. There's almost an unspoken suggestion that if you are driving a Land Rover then there must be a Jag parked in the garage, too. Third, the uncompromising nature of this vehicle is compelling. As mentioned previously, the Land Rover Discovery is all truck. The Discovery happens to be a leather-lined truck typically owned by wealthy people, but it makes no apologies for the fact that its intended purpose is for climbing the Rubicon Trail, not climbing the onramp of the Bloomingdale's parking lot. If people choose to use it for such mundane tasks, it's not the truck's fault.

The Land Rover Discovery is a 77.4-inch tall vehicle that weighs 4465 pounds. Moving this heavy, awkward shape around town is a V8 engine that makes 182 horsepower at 4750 rpm and 233 foot-pounds of torque at 3000 rpm. This means that the Discovery accelerates to 60 mph in a leisurely 11.5 seconds. It should be noted that these slow acceleration times are accompanied by a lot of engine and transmission whine. Passing power is similarly underwhelming. Stomp the gas pedal at 70 mph and wait for the revs to build enough for you to slowly overtake the fully-loaded cargo van in front of you. Be patient, it may take awhile. Steering response is another point of contention for Edmund's editors. The large wheel on the Discovery requires an excessive number of turns before the Discovery begins changing direction. We imagine that this slow ratio is to give the vehicle superior off-road performance, but we found it infuriating in the 'burbs. The brakes, thankfully, are quite good, bringing this large vehicle to a stop swiftly and serenely. Our only complaint about the brakes stem from the Discovery's tendency to pitch forward during our emergency braking maneuvers.

We lived with the Land Rover Discovery for two weeks with most of its duties confined to the tedium of suburban life. In that time we came to appreciate the Discovery's unique appearance, comfortable front seats, excellent visibility, dual sunroofs and spacious cargo area. It wasn't until we took the thing off-road, however, that we were ultimately won over. Mercedes-Benz had the misfortune of scheduling an ML320 with Edmund's at the same time the Discovery was here. This led two of our editors to head for the hills to tackle one of our staff's favorite off-road trails. Warnings were given that the driver of the ML320 shouldn't attempt to go where the Land Rover was headed, but optimism prevailed over logic, as our intrepid editors soon found out. What looked so easy in the Land Rover became very difficult in the ML320. A lack of suspension travel meant that the Mercedes was constantly lifting a wheel while traversing deep ruts and clawing for traction due to a lack of a locking differential and off-road tires. Score one for Land Rover -- our Discovery never put a foot wrong, and was a source of confidence for an inexperienced off-roader. It should be noted, however, that although the Discovery trounces the ML320 off-road, getting it into four-wheel drive is no fun whatsoever. It took two of our editors several attempts to get the Discovery into 4-Hi. Getting it into 4-Lo was such a complicated procedure that Greg Anderson, the editor who finally managed to do it, doubted that the average driver would ever be able to figure it out.

In the end, Edmund's staff was split over whether or not they liked the Rover. Some, like Wardlaw, found it difficult to drive, lacking in friendliness and totally over-priced. Others, like associate editor Ingrid Palmer, were completely won over by the Discovery. She claimed she would immediately put one in her garage if she could afford it. I think that I represent the middle ground when I say that the Land Rover Discovery is an impressive piece of machinery, but that it is simply too much for most people to cope with on a day-to-day basis. It also costs too much money. The Land Rover Discovery is a sensible choice only for those who need one vehicle to satisfy both work and serious play duties. Those just looking for the rugged, uncompromising nature that the Discovery offers are advised to check out the Jeep Wrangler or Cherokee. They too are unyielding four-wheel drives that will take drivers across the wickedest terrain. Their sticker prices are also less than half of the Discovery's. Of course, this means giving up that Land Rover cachet, but we think the $20,000 savings is worth it.

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