The Land Rover Discovery was at a disadvantage when it entered this competition. First, only a couple of judges had any experience with the previous versions of this vehicle, and second, the competition involved little off-road driving, which remains an undeniable strong suit for the Disco. The way the Discovery drives and behaves on the road is very different from any other SUV on the market, and its high seating position, while providing an excellent view of the highway, takes some getting used to. Yet, despite the notable differences between this British-born SUV and the other competitors, the Discovery beat the odds and surprised the judges with the well-rounded package it provides for 2003.

The judges who had spent time in the earlier Discoveries knew that they had problems with body roll and were propelled by lethargic powerplants. Thanks to dramatic improvements to the suspension, body roll was greatly reduced in the new Discovery. In addition, the Disco received a new engine and transmission for this model year, giving it the drivetrain that had been previously seen in the Range Rover. The 4.6L aluminum V-8 has 217 hp, 30 more than the 4.0L V-8 it replaced. The new engine is backed by an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission. These changes made the Discovery much more fun to drive on windy roads, and gave it the needed power to survive on the cutthroat freeways of the Los Angeles metropolis. Testers that were driving a Land Rover for the first time found it to have exceptional power. The judges also found the acceleration very impressive. The Discovery attacked both freeway and street alike with confidence and poise not seen in previous models. However, most testers agreed that the turning radius of the Disco left something to be desired.

The Land Rover's interior was also improved for 2003, with a new color leather, redesigned gauges, and a new instrument cluster. The interior has a decidedly English feel, with indicators and gauges that feel more world-inspired and less familiar to American eyes. While it was relatively quick and painless to adjust to the different symbols for operations such as cruise control, the testers had much less favorable experiences with the combination stereo/navigation system.

Manufacturers have to walk a fine line when designing a system that serves both purposes: They have to make sure the system contains the complete navigational functions (of which there are often many) and is easy to use, without sacrificing the ease of use of the stereo. This is especially critical in a vehicle that has a high-quality stereo system, and most vehicles that offer a nav system do have a stereo that is worth listening to. The Land Rover is no exception. Our tester came with a harmon/kardon 320-watt, 17-speaker stereo with a six-disc CD changer. Unfortunately, the testers consistently had trouble changing between preset stations, tuning to other stations, and switching between audio sources while driving. One even broke with American tradition and read the owner's manual to figure out how to operate the stereo. On the up side, the navigation system worked quite well and offered a great deal of versatility in a pleasantly compact package.

Land Rover made tremendous improvements to the Discovery for 2003 by building on what was good about the Discovery and fixing its shortcomings. The '03 Disco did not lose any of its dirt-handling capabilities, or its distinctive styling. The vehicle is now faster, better balanced, and feels more in touch with the road. The front end was given a fresh look, including a headlight design that is reminiscent of that found on the new '03 Range Rover. People who have driven this vehicle on the trail know that it has tremendous off-road prowess. The combination of the Discovery's interior comfort and versatile platform continues to give buyers one of the best combinations of rugged luxury money can buy.

Base Price: $40,350
Price As Tested: $41,495
Engine: 4.6L OHV V-8
Horsepower: 217 hp at 4,750 rpm
Torque: 300 lb-ft at 2,600 rpm
Suspension: Solid-axle, single-rate coil-springs (front); solid-axle, multi-rate coil-springs (rear)
Brakes: ABS disc (front & rear)
4WD/Transmission: Permanent 4WD with two-speed transfer case/four-speed electronically controlled automatic
Wheelbase: 100 in
Length: 185.2 in
Width: 74.4 in
Height: 76.4 in
Curb Weight: 4,908 lb
Towing Capacity: 7,700 lb (with trailer brakes)
Fuel Economy (city/highway): 12/16 mpg