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1997 Land Rover Discovery REVIEW logo 4/4/2017

Con: Overpriced, underpowered, unreliable, and too thirsty

Pro: Outstanding off-road prowess, available 7-passenger capacity

What’s New: A diversity antenna is added, and all interiors are trimmed with polished burled walnut. The sunroof has darker tinting, the airbag system benefits from simplified operation and engine management is improved. Three new exterior colors debut: Oxford Blue, Rioja Red and Charleston Green.

Review: Introduced in April 1994, this compact 4X4 builds on a couple of Land Rover legends. Designed for go-anywhere capability, the Discovery exhibits excellent off-road ability. Built in England, the Discovery also exhibits a distressing tendency toward reliability problems. We receive lots of horror stories regarding Discovery reliability via email, and Automobile magazine wrapped up a long-term test with a very troublesome 1995 model recently. Just one body style is available: a five-door wagon with permanent four-wheel-drive. An automatic transmission is optional. This year, three trim levels are available; the SD, SE and SE7.

Beneath the hood of all models sits an aluminum 4.0-liter, 182-horsepower V8 engine. Acceleration isn't bad, but is accompanied by gear noise and other aural annoyances. Worse, this powerplant is rated for 13 mpg city/17 mpg highway, and that's with a light foot. Sizable ground clearance (8.1 inches) is a bonus while off-roading, but contributes to the Discovery's tendency to lean through curves and corners, and also makes it harder to climb inside. Though firm, the sport-utility's suspension delivers a suitable ride, via 16-inch Michelin or Goodyear tires. New exterior colors help differentiate the 1997 Discovery from those that preceded it.

The driver sits high -- three feet above the road surface. Rear passengers sit higher still, for a superior view. Seating is available for seven, in the form of center-facing, stowable rear seats that come standard on the SE7, but this is a five-passenger vehicle in SD and SE trim. Though roomy enough, the Discovery holds fewer luxury fittings than might be expected in this price league. Only a handful of options are available, including leather upholstery. The spare tire resides outside. The driver and front passenger have adjustable lumbar supports, and enjoy the benefits of dual-temperature control air conditioning. A full-size glovebox and four cupholders are included.

Changes for 1997 are minimal. A diversity antenna is added, and all interiors are trimmed with polished burled walnut. The sunroof has darker tinting, the airbag system benefits from simplified operation, and engine management is improved.

Legendary off-road capabilities help make the aluminum-bodied Discovery an attractive choice, augmented by safety equipment. If you expect to drive mainly around the suburbs rather than through the woods, the Discovery's high center of gravity and short wheelbase could be a drawback. The fact that a Discovery can ford a stream up to 19.7 inches deep isn't exactly a benefit when its primary duties involve driving to the office or the mall. In urban America, the Discovery is all about prestige, and it doesn't come cheaply or conveniently. We recommend the Discovery for off-road use, but most consumers will want a different truck to haul the Little Leaguers in.


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