This led to the "flimsy" claim by the institute's senior vice-president Adrian Lund. But yesterday a Land Rover spokesman said: "Our vehicles are specifically designed to absorb the impact in a crash."
He went on: "We want the vehicle to be on the receiving end of any damage - not the pedestrian nor the people inside the vehicle.
"We put millions of pounds into our crash test procedures and people criticising should look further than the repair costs."
Of the six 1999 models tested in America, the Mercedes ML 320 scored the best, with pounds 1,812 in total repairs needed from the four tests. The Land Rover Discovery was the second most expensive to repair at pounds 3,245, and at pounds 3,901, the Mitsubishi Montero Sport cost the most. Land Rover also pointed out that repairs to its 1999 Discovery cost less than for its 1996 model.
The Discovery has been one of Rover's most successful vehicles, combining the ruggedness of the Land Rover with a lower price than the expensive and high spec Range Rover.
Though designed to be capable of off-road use, it is more often seen on the school run and is favoured by motorists who enjoy its posing value and a driving position with a commanding view of the road.
Early models suffered from buyers' complaints about niggling faults and build quality. And in a recent Consumers' Association survey, the Discovery was ranked among cars suffering from below-average reliability, according to their owners.