- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2001

Don't think of the 2001 Land Rover Discovery Series II as just a sport utility vehicle. Think of it as a mobile room with skylights and big windows.

After all, the Discovery is the only SUV with two unique windows at the rear side edges of the roof, above the cargo area. Windows on the Discovery's four doors are sizable, too, and buyers can get not one, but two large sunroofs.

With a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $33,995, the full-time four-wheel drive and V-8-powered Discovery is the lowest-priced Land Rover offered in the United States.

But even at that price, which is less than the starting price for a two-wheel-drive, V-6-powered Lexus RX 300, the Discovery doesn't skimp on quirky British design elements and character.

The test Discovery, a base SD model with optional, extra two seats at the back for a total of seven-passenger seating, immediately conveyed an airy feel inside, thanks to all those windows.

Headroom is impressive, too, with a full 40 inches-plus in both the front- and second-row seats. This tops the 39 inches-plus in the front and rear seats of the RX 300 and the Mercedes-Benz M-Class.

The Discovery does require a bigger step up to get inside, however. Its 8.2 inches of ground clearance is more than either of the competitors, and the Discovery stands 76.4 inches tall, which is 10.7 inches taller than the RX 300 and 7.3 inches taller than the M-Class.

The look of the Discovery also differs from the two competitors. The Discovery is more squared off in its styling with the traditional look of an off-road-going SUV while the RX 300, in particular, blends a station wagon-SUV look.

You might expect the Discovery to ride with a lot of bounce on roadways. Surprisingly, the hefty, 4,576-pound vehicle with full-time four-wheel drive handles most concrete and asphalt lanes with grace.

There's a slight vibration through the Discovery body on large road bumps; others are barely noticed. Off-road, the Discovery supply absorbs the shocks from uneven terrain.

Both front and rear suspensions are solid axle, with a Watts linkage at the back. Long-travel coil springs and anti-sway bars at each end work to manage the ride and handling.

The rear-seat package option on the tester added rear air suspension, too. Tires are 16-inch, mud and snow radials, and they didn't transmit much road noise.

In fact, the most noticeable noise in the cabin of the test Discovery was a whine that sounded like it was emanating from the transfer case once the vehicle was traveling at more than 40 mph. The whine, vaguely like a far-off emergency siren, initially had me looking in every direction for flashing lights.

There also was some wind noise from around the outside mirrors when the Discovery was moving at highway speeds.

Power comes on in a deliberate fashion from the only engine offered a 188-horsepower, 4-liter, overhead-valve V-8.

The maximum 250 foot-pounds of torque at 2,600 rpm is nicely geared for off-roaders but offers tepid off-the-line response when a driver tries darting into traffic or merging quickly onto the highway.

The V-8 compares with the 220-horsepower, 3-liter V-6 with 222 foot-pounds of torque in the RX 300. The M-Class offers a 215-horsepower, 3.2-liter V-6 with 233 foot-pounds of torque as well as two V-8s one with a whopping 342 horses and 376 foot-pounds of torque.

The Discovery's fuel economy of just 13 mpg in the city and 17 mpg on the highway could give some buyers pause.

In comparison, a four-wheel-drive RX 300 is rated at 18 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway. The RX 300 weighs some 600 pounds less than the Discovery and has a four-wheel-drive system that doesn't include an extra-low range.

There is a go-anywhere sense in the Discovery that's not as palpable in the competitors. Even the Discovery interior, while straightforward and well-appointed, conveys a true working SUV personality, starting at the large, thick steering wheel.

The Discovery was the first SUV with special high-tech features to minimize vehicle lean during aggressive driving and to better control wheel slip during steep hill descents.

The Active Cornering Enhancement system is part of a $2,900 optional performance package offered only on the top-of-the-line Discovery, the SE. Hill-descent control is standard on all models.

The Discovery's rear door openings are small and I had difficulty getting in and out of the back seats without brushing against the wheel wells. I also noticed that rear-door windows don't even go down halfway.

Still, the Discovery's nifty third-row seats are separate seats with an aisle between them. A hydraulic rear step helps riders get up and into the rear seats. But the step is a bit awkward to use on the way out.

Those two extra seats fold up against the inside walls when not in use.

Head restraints also are noteworthy. In the optional, rearmost seats, the restraints are separate from the seats and attached to the ceiling. They fold up against the ceiling when not in use. They are pulled down to position behind riders' heads when the third-row seats are in use.

Everyone has a head restraint and shoulder belt in the Discovery, even the middle person in the second row. Other standard safety features include anti-lock brakes, traction control and front air bags.

Standard on all Discovery models, including the base SD, are dual-zone climate control, eight-way, power front seats and a 100-watt, six-speaker, AM-FM audio system with cassette player, weather band and controls on the steering wheel.

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