My Land Rover Discovery vs. My Uncle's Wrangler.
Despite these two vehicles being separated by a decade and serious hardware, pitting these two together was a battle waiting to happen.
I drove up to Packer Lake Lodge in California to join my father and uncle at the cabin they were sharing. He’d driven all the way from his home of Moab, Utah to visit with my dad, and had expressed that he wanted me to bring my recently purchased 1996 Land Rover Discovery out to play. Knowing his Jeep Wrangler was his daily driver and off-road Swiss Army Knife, I hung up knowing that my little Landy was in for one hell of an off-road challenge. “Randy the Landy” had been off-road before, and did very well, but he was never pitted against a Wrangler before.
Before we get into the juicy bits, the Wrangler and Discovery have an interesting and interwoven history that is worth mentioning. Both were conceived for one reason: going off-road in style. The Jeep Wrangler was first produced in 1986 to fit in with the crowd who saw GI’s come back from the war with Willys Jeep “Quads.” They looked very similar to Wranglers (and that was no accident, by the way), but came with one very important difference, increased comfort. The Willys Quads were without question very capable, but they were bouncy, and once parked left the driver’s brains and all other major organs scrambled. So, Jeep started making a production car that was still incredibly capable, but a little more comfortable.
My Uncle's Jeep Wrangler. Photo by: Kristen Finley
Pure Obsession Inspired by War
The Land Rover Discovery came three years after the first Wrangler, 1989. Why? Well, simply put, Land Rover saw the Jeep obsession from across the pond and wanted in on the game. They’d been making off-road, military-esque 4×4’s like the Range Rover, One Ten and Ninety since the 1970s, but Land Rover saw a budding market emerging from behind the Jeep’s shadow. Traditionally, Land Rover kept a keen and watchful eye on the Japanese competition creeping close to their market.
The Mitsubishi Pajero, which has a rich history of excellence, began to put even more pressure on Land Rover to up their game after the Pajero earned a first place victory in 1985's Paris Dakar Rally. Not long after, the Pajero appeared in other off-road events -- and won. Toyota had also been making successful 4x4's for years, as well as Isuzu with their Trooper. Once the Japanese 4x4's gained popularity in America thanks to the Jeep, Land Rover was quick to elbow its way into the growing market. For many years Land Rover needed a fire under their seats to refresh their line up -- the Jeep was the one to light the match. Thus, the Discovery was born.
Unlike the Jeeps of the day, Land Rover had comfort on the forefront of their mind. No doubt, all the guts from their successful Defender 4×4’s were implemented, but they also left room for children, dogs, and groceries. Something they noticed Jeep was missing. The Discovery was so successful and widespread, it was used in European military and police applications for many, many years.Jeep can’t necessarily say the same about versatility and comfort, but unlike Land Rover, they can most definitely say they’ve stuck to their initial goal of being off-road oriented. Especially for my Uncle’s 2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited that was part of the off-road duel.
Alright, Let's Talk Power.
The engine equipped under the fire engine red hood was the legendary 4.0-liter inline-six that makes 190 horsepower and 235 ft lbs of torque at 3,200 rpm. As any Jeep fan knows, the inline six in this Wrangler is known for its reliability and strength. To stand as a testament, when I’d asked my uncle if he needed me to pick up oil at the auto parts store since my Forester (not pictured or featured in this story) eats a quart or two after off-roading, he was genuinely confused. Over the phone he said, “That’s normal? My Jeep’s never eaten a drop of oil, and most of the miles on the thing are from going off-road.”
Let the gentlemanly Land Rover and the Western Cowboy Jeep battle off-road. Photo by: Kristen Finley
Moab had left more than just red dirt on the undercarriage. The Moab influence was all over the thing. An influence that had cost my uncle about $10,000 in modifications alone. First off, the Wrangler is farther from the ground by four additional inches. Accompanied by the lift kit are smaller 15-inch steel wheels with 33-inch tires. Following that #liftedlife, it also meant aftermarket upper and lower control arms. Bilstein shocks were also included. Now, fully comprehending the almost daily abuse the Wrangler was to face, my uncle decided to also beef up the front and rear axles with chromoly axles. With suspension dealt with, he decided it wise to armor the Jeep up, too.
Underneath, the gas tank is armored. As per the usual, it’s also fitted with steel rock sliders to help maintain the frame. To further protect the body, he’s replaced the front bumper with a steel bumper that incorporates a 12,000-pound winch. In the rear, the bumper is also steel, and it’s been modified to mount a gate that holds the spare tire. Headlights were upgraded to be LED lights, and he’s added a roof rack to strap down all his camping fixtures.
Power Modifications Left to a Minimum on the Land Rover
As far as engine mods go, he’s left that alone. Well, unless you count an aluminum quad core radiator and cold air intake. Inside the Jeep, he’s upgraded the center console to be ones that lock after having the Jeep broken into multiple times. In the back of the Jeep, he’s added a Tuffy sliding and locking tool box, where he wisely keeps a wide array of tools. Mounted to that massive spare tire is his Trasharoo bag, which he permanently stashes his camping supplies. Clothes, a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad and water are safely kept.
My Land Rover Discovery doing what it does best -- looking good, and making off-roading look easy.
The Land Rover is not so exciting. It’s bone stock. Seriously. I haven’t done a thing to it besides replace some bulbs. No lift kit, no taller tires, nothing. Engine wise, it’s also 4.0 liters, but has two more cylinders than the Wrangler. Though it makes a few horses less with 188 horsepower, it has better torque figures with 250 lbs-ft at 2,600 rpm. So, right off the bat, the numbers seem to sway slightly in the Land Rover’s favor.
The Jeep makes more horsepower than my Landy, but what matters in the world of off-road is the torque. The engine doesn’t have to work as hard to generate the power needed to get over boulders. Though, despite the extra power, it’s limited in the sense that the Land Rover only has a center-locking differential, no front and rear lockers like the Jeep. So, on paper, the Jeep should win. But, the Land Rover has surprised even me, so the figures don’t always mean anything.
The 'Boulder' Test
The Jeep ahead of me effortlessly bowled over the boulders, while I stayed behind, fearful for my undercarriage. Land Rover cleverly put the differentials toward the passenger side of the car, so the driver could take obstacles head on and fitted the Land Rover with over eight inches of ground clearance, but I was nervous. After all, getting any car off the trail in the event of an emergency would be a lot harder than I was prepared to handle.
At one point, I did end up scraping the undercarriage, due to my front tire slipping. Thankfully, nothing major was hit or even bent, but I did leave a scrape on a protruding boulder. Unsurprisingly, my uncle made it to the top first and his Jeep didn’t break a sweat. Having handled tougher trails in Moab made him just the right amount of confident – no scraping and no second guessing, he knew his Wrangler could do it.
The Jeep Wrangler sitting pretty in front of my dad's cabin in the California mountains.
On the way back, my front passenger tire lost traction and my rear driver tire was off the ground. Land Rover’s unique permanent four-wheel drive system requires two wheels to be on the ground in order for the drive train to properly distribute the power. I had the equation right, but the front tire had no traction. I got out, put a rock in front of the tire and pushed onward. So, even though the terrain beckoned the hefty Land Rover to beach itself, it prevailed. Having only one circumstantial slip up under my belt, I’d say the bone stock Land Rover kept up amazingly well with the highly-modified Jeep Wrangler.
The Wrangler Wins... Until Next Time.
Obviously, the Moab Wrangler may have been a little over-qualified for the trail to Upper Sardine Lake, but it definitely showcased the Jeep’s abilities. I would deem the Wrangler a undisputed winner since there was literally no incidents to report at all. It overcame anything my uncle asked it to. I’ll be back in the ring when I’ve got lockers to go for round two, though.