It typically takes five hours to make the 350-mile westerly drive from London to Paris. But there's nothing typical about Land Rover expeditions and the recently completed New Discovery Trek - designed to celebrate Land Rover's 50th anniversary. Since a simple five-hour drive would be much too easy, Land Rover sent its new '99 Discovery model to Paris the long way - going all the way around the world in the process.
Departing from London on June 1, an international group of 31 journalists, representing 12 countries, teamed to drive the two new Discovery versions - a four-speed automatic V-8 and a five-speed manual Td5 (five-cylinder turbodiesel). As a result, the cadre of adventurers arrived at the Paris Motor Show on Sept. 28, having traveled some 20,000 miles to get there.
World's most ambitious 'test drive'
Considered the world's most ambitious new-vehicle test drive, the expedition was designed to give this significantly upgraded version of the Discovery a final "shakedown" before it goes on sale in late fall.
The preproduction Discoverys were driven across Western and Eastern Europe to Istanbul, and then across Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India. Travails included temperatures of more than 122 degrees, along with hair-raising road hazards such as ox carts; lurching, overloaded trucks; and camels. From Calcutta, the vehicles were shipped across to Australia, where the teams drove the brutally rutted Gunbarrel Highway to Ayers Rock and then on to Sydney. Along the way, participants camped in freezing temperatures and were coated by the pervasive red Australian "bull dust."
Next, the vehicles were air-freighted to New York and driven to Central America, where they encountered rough roads, high temperatures and heavy rains. Following the trans-Atlantic shipment to Spain and the final leg across the Alps, the two vehicles and their 1-ton equipment trailer arrived at the Paris Motor Show just in time for the world premiere of the new Discovery. By then the vehicles had traveled across four continents and 27 countries.
Participants agreed that the Discovery's new ACE (active suspension system) proved itself worthy on many occasions, as drivers negotiated treacherous curves and punishing potholes. Both vehicles arrived at the Motor Show in fairly good shape, under the circumstances. The only blemishes to the fresh-from-the-factory SUVs were a punctured tire collected in Australia and a damaged outside mirror, the result of a minor mishap with a truck in Pakistan. One oil change was made at 10,000 miles - in Australia.
Discover Discovery's face-lift
The most visible changes to the new Discovery, which will be called Discovery Series II in the United States, are a face-lift and stretched tail. Less visible, but no less important, are a host of new features and upgrades designed to improve safety and convenience. In fact, 85 percent of this British-built SUV is all new.
Like the previous Discovery, the 1999 model displays the same chunky exterior appearance. Although it has been lowered this year, it still stands tall and taut - ready for a safari. In typical Land Rover fashion, the body is made of rust-free aluminum, mounted on a rugged, steel-ladder frame. The design is sturdy and functional: Whereas the Land Rover has unstressed body panels, each body panel of SUVs using unibody construction (such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the average family car) is an essential part of the frame. While the unibody frame provides more comfort, the body panels are more subject to crumpling in the event of a mishap, compromising the structure.
Discovery's appearance has been refined but not remade. Although it retains the same 100-inch wheelbase, its rear overhang has been extended, increasing the overall length by more than 6 inches. It shares no body panels with the original model, and is 4 inches wider and about half an inch lower than the previous version. A new front-end treatment includes a restyled hood and fenders, deeper grille, and one-piece bumper with integrated fog lamps. The windshield height has been increased, framed by new A-post trim pieces. Modern Range Rover-style handles have been added to the doors, which have been reshaped to incorporate Discovery's new rising beltline. New wheels also are available.
Wider, more contoured rear quarter panels include new, high-mounted taillamp clusters and a new, electrically released fuel-filler door. The spare wheel has been mounted lower on the side-hinged rear door, while the rear bumper now incorporates a built-in step for better access to gear attached to the full-length roof bars. An effort to improve Discovery's aerodynamics and build quality is evident all around; body gaps have been reduced, glass fit is more flush, and trim pieces are more integrated. Six new paint colors are available as well.
Enhancements also have been etched under the skin. The all-aluminum 4.0-liter V-8 (which Land Rover nicknames "Thor") has a new engine management system which increases power, efficiency and driveability. A four-speed automatic transmission and transfer case with low range drives four wheels through open differentials. New this year is a sophisticated yet elegant 4WD system - similar to the one pioneered in the Mercedes M-Class - that automatically detects wheel slippage and applies the brakes to the spinning wheel, thereby directing torque to the ones with traction. Best, the system is completely automatic and requires no action by the driver. The long-travel, live-axle suspension has been revised and boasts a wider track and new steering geometry for better highway manners.
A host of new features with three-letter acronyms make their debut this year. HDC, or Hill Descent Control, is primarily an off-road feature that maintains a controllable vehicle speed (about 5 mph) during steep descents. The system works only in low range and at speeds below 31 mph. It’s engaged manually. ACE, or Active Cornering Enhancement, uses hydraulics to keep Discovery level during turns. It does, however, allow progressive body rolling at higher speeds to give feedback to the driver.
Continuing the three-letter alphabet soup, the four-channel ABS brakes use EBD, or Electronic Brake Distribution, to provide quicker, safer stops. A self-leveling suspension, or SLS, keeps the vehicle level regardless of load size. It can even be used to manually raise or lower