The tailgate was one piece and side-hinged rather than being split like the Range Rover’s, and most striking of all once you’d climbed inside was an unusual interior finished entirely in shades of pale blue.
This was the work of Conran Design, which was asked to develop an interior suitable for a vehicle bought as a lifestyle accessory. Slender storage racks were mounted above the windscreen, stretchable overhead nets provided carriers for pith helmets and water bottles, and a massive panic handle confronted the front seat passenger.
Even before you’d turned the key, it felt like you were having an adventure. There was even a small lifestyle accessory stowed within this big, four-wheeled lifestyle accessory – a detachable carry-bag made from the seat upholstery clipping to the Discovery’s centre console.
The Sonar Blue interior and an impractical three-door body only lightly limited the 1989 Discovery’s success, Land Rover’s latest being decidedly more glamorous than the Shogun and Trooper offered by Mitsubishi and Isuzu. It was better off road than either of these nevertheless accomplished Japanese competitors too. The engine choice was either Land Rover’s new direct-injection 200Tdi diesel or the 3.5-litre Rover V8 that had started life 28 years earlier as a General Motors Buick engine in the US.
Most buyers chose the diesel: its modest 111bhp was buttressed by a more promising 195lb ft of torque, all of this appearing at a helpfully low 1800rpm. And once you get over the mild shock of hearing what sounds like a truck engine setting Land Rover’s very first production Discovery all aquiver, it’s this stout pulling power that draws you along in pleasingly languid style. You have to work at it – the 200Tdi’s torque peak being more pointy than flat – but once momentum is gathered, the Discovery bowls and rolls along with comfortable authority.
The roll comes when you shuffle the wheel of a low-geared steering system that’s remarkably cumbersome at manoeuvring speeds, but quickens at speed, when big movements produce big roll. But it doesn’t take long to compensate for this, nor the fact that you must stir the clunkily glutinous gearlever repeatedly to maintain a pace in cut-and-thrust conditions. None of which matters after a while: the airiness of this Disco, the way you look down from it towards the road below, its lightly heaving gait and the light snortings of its 2.5 four-pot diesel prove strangely restful. And no other car, now or then, provides the same in-cabin ambience of an original Discovery.
It’s not just the Sonar Blue hues either – it’s the airiness of the vast cabin, the feeling that you’re viewing the proceedings from a gallery and the robustly wrought details (that grab handle and the low-range gearlever knob among them), all contriving to make it feel adventurously different.