Click for Coverage
Due to the EU’s Global Data Protection Regulation, our website is currently unavailable to visitors from most European countries. We apologize for this inconvenience and encourage you to visit for the latest on new cars, car reviews and news, concept cars and auto show coverage, awards and much more.MOTORTREND.COM
  • JP Magazine
  • Dirt Sports + Off-Road
  • 4-Wheel & Off-Road
  • Four Wheeler

2003 Land Rover Discovery Review - First Drive

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on November 1, 2002
Share this

Our situation seemed to have all the makings of an adventure in some far-off jungle. Dense tree cover filtered out all but a fraction of the light created by the midday sun as our Land Rover Discovery climbed steadily up the dark, slippery, rocky trail. When we emerged from the truck to inspect impending obstacles, thick humidity enveloped us moments before we were attacked by hordes of hungry mosquitoes. As we hopscotched across patches of poison ivy we thought it was all quite fitting, given Land Rover's history and reputation for adventure. After all, this is the vehicle marque that has become synonymous with worldwide off-highway adventure in some of the most remote, inhospitable terrain on the planet.

We weren't on a foreign adventure though. We were at the press launch for the '03 Land Rover Discovery near Manchester, Vermont, and the lavish luxury of the Equinox Resort was only a few miles from the trail. We were teamed with Steven Haywood, Discovery chief program engineer, and he was rattling off the details of some of the 368 changes to the '03 Disco-changes that improve its aesthetics, ride, handling, power and off-highway capabilities.

The bold Alpaca beige interior is one of two available interior colors (the other being Land Rover Black) and it offers a "high contrast duo-tone theme." We really liked the large center console that housed the transmission and transfer case shift levers as well as the easy-to-use hand-operated parking-brake lever. The instrument panel has been redesigned to offer a more contemporary look and the gauges sport new graphics.

Clearly, the exterior changes to the Discovery are the most obvious. The front of the vehicle now sports a revised, three-piece front bumper assembly, new three-bar black grille, twin-pocket headlamps, revised taillights and new alloy wheels. These changes create a rich looking vehicle, and with the addition of the Range Rover-esque headlamps, the Discovery can be mistaken for the nearly twice-as-expensive Range Rover, which isn't all bad if you're a Discovery owner.

One of the most appealing things about the Discovery (to us, anyway) is that even though it's into its third redesign since 1989, it continues to sport solid front and rear axles. These durable units are suspended by long-travel multi-rate coil springs in the rear and long-travel single-rate coil springs in the front. This setup allows for 8 inches of wheel travel in the front and 11 inches in the rear, which is pretty darn respectable for a production vehicle.

In order to reduce vehicle lean during cornering, the Discovery SE and HSE models are available with Active Cornering Enhancement (ACE), which replaces the conventional antiroll bars with hydraulically actuated roll-control modules. Land Rover says that this system makes the Discovery the world's only SUV with optional active suspension. Also available is a Self-Leveling Suspension (SLS) with rear air springs that allow for driver control of rear suspension height, as well as computer-controlled raising of rear ride height when wheelspin is detected at low speeds off highway.

The new 217hp all-aluminum 4.6L OHV V-8 engine is most definitely an improvement over the 187hp 4.0L V-8 of the previous generation Discovery. While not neck-snapping, it generates more than adequate power to pull the 4,630-pound vehicle. It's mated to a ZF four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission and a two-speed transfer case.

Discovery models bound for North America are fitted with the 4.6L V-8 engine that formerly powered the Range Rover. This all-aluminum 90-degree OHV engine generates 217 hp at 4,750 rpm and 300 lb-ft of torque at 2,600 rpm. When compared to the 4.0L V-8 it replaces, this translates to a horsepower gain of 15 percent, which is a welcome increase over the rather lackluster performance of the previous engine. This power is handed off to a ZF four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission that features sport/normal modes in High Range and manual/normal modes in Low Range. A full-time four-wheel-drive system is controlled via a two-speed transfer case. The four-wheel-drive system is loaded with electronically controlled traction aiding devices, including Four-wheel Electronic Traction Control (4ETC) and Hill Descent Control (HDC), both of which utilize the Discovery's four-wheel disc brakes to aid in traction.

Climbing inside the Disco reveals a handsome interior that sports easy-to-read and well-laid-out switches and controls. When you sit in many SUVs, you sometimes wonder if you got what you paid for, but the Discovery's rich interior and large center console make you feel as though you got your money's worth. The rear seats are comfortable and visibility is good thanks to the vehicles stepped roof design and alpine roof windows, but rear-seat ingress and egress is a bit challenging due to a narrow opening and recessed seat location.

We may not have been on a jungle adventure, but we did get to spend a fair amount of time off highway in the '03 Discovery. We drove it on challenging dirt and rock trails, on the Land Rover Driving School course and even up the rocky, winding road to the top of the Stratton Mountain Ski Area. What we found was that the combination of respectable wheel travel, the seamless and unobtrusive Electronic Traction Control, good approach angle (31 degrees) and improved horsepower made it very capable. At the end of the day, the redesigned Discovery also looked handsome cruising the fashionable streets of Manchester. All in all, this latest incarnation is a credit to the Discovery name, and it will undoubtedly be the catalyst that will make the Discovery 4.6 a viable choice for those wanting a luxurious and capable SUV in the medium price range.


Vehicle/model ’03 Land Rover Discovery 4.6
Estimated price $34,350
Wheelbase (in.) {{{100}}}
Length (in.) 185.2
Width (in.) 74.4
Height (in.) 76.4 (less roof rack)
Curb weight (lbs.) 4,576
Fuel capacity (gal.) 24.6
Ground clearance (in.) 8.2
Seating 5
Towing capacity (lbs.) 5,500
Type 4.6L OHV V-8
Horsepower @ rpm 217 @ 4,750
Torque @ rpm (lb-ft) 300 @ 2,600
EPA city/freeway mpg 12/16
Transmission ZF 4HP24
Transfer case Corporate two-speed
Transfer-case ratio 1.211 high, 3.269 low
Axle ratio 3.54:1
Front Solid axle, coil springs, antiroll bar
Rear Solid axle, coil springs
Wheels, base 16x8
Tires, base 255/65R16
Front 11.70-inch ventilated disc
Rear 11.98-inch solid disc

Connect With Us

Newsletter Sign Up

Subscribe to the Magazine

Browse Articles By Vehicle

See Results