The verdict; Readers without Barbours test Land Rover's bigger, brighter Discovery. Photographs by Steve Messam
eep in rural Scotland where 4x4s are part of the scenery, even the sheep are interested in the launch of a new Land Rover. In the Highlands recently, I returned from a walk on Ben Nevis to find a small group of intense-looking sheep gathered around the new V8-engined Discovery I was testing, their noses a couple of inches from the paintwork. Having spent most of the week pointing out the all subtle differences between this car and the old Discovery to curious human passers-by, I knew why the sheep were so transfixed: they, like everyone else, were playing spot the difference.

The new Discovery may, from a distance, be a Doppelganger of its predecessor, but 85 per cent of the car is new. The comparatively dainty styling remains, but only the rear door panel has been carried over and the two-door version is now no longer available. Visually, the most significant change is the lengthening of the boot, which means that the two occasional seats in the rear (making this a comfortable seven-seater) can now face forwards and space is improved. Land Rover also claims that quality, never the old car's strong point, is improved, though our early production model had some severely cock-eyed panel gaps, and one of the hooks to hold the boot cover in place had been fitted back to front (details, perhaps, but it would never happen on a German car).

More important, long after the rest of us have realised that few Discoveries venture beyond the boundary formed by the journey from gravel drive to prep school, to Marks & Spencer and home again (a Barbour Triangle, if you like), Land Rover has finally made the model more comfortable to drive on the road. Though off road the old Disco' was without rival, on the road the new generation of softer 4x4s have left it lumbering like a stegosaurus on ice skates. The aim with the new model has been to make it more car- like and, with a gamut of gadgetry, they have achieved it. Depending on how much you spend (prices from pounds 25,000 for the five-cylinder diesel to pounds 35,000 for a well-equipped V8), that gadgetry includes permanent four- wheel drive; self-levelling suspension; traction control; Electronic Brake Distribution; and something called Active Cornering Enhancement (Ace), which imperceptibly adjusts the car's suspension to minimise roll round corners. Quirky cambers taken at high speed can still upset the Discovery's composure, but with this new improvement I think this is the best you can hope for in a car with such a vertiginous centre of gravity.

It's no secret that Scotland's roads offer some of the best driving in Europe. More surprising was that, thanks to Ace, the new improved Discovery turned out to be the perfect car for exploring their twists and turns, particularly with the serene V8 fitted to our car. Though that engine, with its glorious growl and Oliver Reedian thirst (18mpg), is a modified version of a 37-year-old Oldsmobile motor previously fitted to Range Rovers, it is still a wonder of the motoring world

Jane Taylor, 39, charity development manager,

Andy Taylor, 45, maintenance manager, and their children, Lewis, six, and Vhairi, nine, from Kilsyth. Jane currently drives a Fiat Punto

"Ooh, this is very powerful," said Jane. "You feel as if you're sitting in a command seat, it's all very serious. Living in the country we could really do with this and I travel all over Scotland so this would be good on motorways too - it's fast, comfortable and versatile. I did see a programme on television the other day that expressed concerns about the crumple zones on cars like this, though, and that put me off. Safety is a priority for me."

"It's very comfy, there's lots of room," said Vhairi.

"I like it lots," added Lewis.

Donald Bell, 35, civil engineer, from Dundee.Currently drives a Saab 9000

Donald was appalled by the gaps between the panels on the exterior - "they're awful on the bonnet" - but enjoyed the driving experience more. "This V8 is wonderful. I'm surprised by how well it performs and that it's so quiet. I know it's thirsty but I actually think that fuel economy is not as important as people make out. There's very little tyre roar or wind noise at speed either. It has lovely light steering but the handling is a wee bit wallowy and the seat isn't as comfortable as my Saab. Five days out of the year it might be useful but try parking it in town the rest of the time."

Anja Amsel, 68, housing consultant, from Edinburgh. Currently drives a Nissan Micra

"I thought it would be much harder to handle than this but it's so light and smooth," marvelled Anja. "You are so high up it gives a feeling of safety, marvellous visibility, and I love a tough car that you don't need to worry about too much. I'm not terribly into driving along single-track roads and things like that, but I think I'd live a different life if I had this. You could get a lot of clobber in it too. I imagine the green welly brigade would love it, but I don't think it would fit in my garage."

Tony Cooper, 36, artist, and Seb, four, from Glasgow.

Tony currently drives a Ford Fiesta

"I think I'd want an electric sunroof and air conditioning for this sort of money," reckoned Tony. "And the styling is getting dated now, it looks like an old Transit. You do feel superior, more secure up here but I think if I turned up to see my clients in this they'd think they were paying me too much. It is perfect for motorways though, which surprised me but then I suppose it has to be because it probably will never go off road. I rarely need to go off road anyway, unless I'm being a bit devilish." In the back Seb was having more fun. "Everything's electric!" he beamed.

Road test If you would like to take part in a test drive, write to The Verdict, The Independent Magazine, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, giving a contact phone number, your address and details of the type of vehicle, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26, and have a clean driving licence.

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