Land Rover is the second oldest four-wheel drive brand in the world (after Jeep) and has been building arguably ‘the best 4x4xFar’ since 1948, when the first Land Rover was officially launched. The difference between that first 1948 Land Rover Defender and today’s Land Rover Discovery 4 would be incomprehensible for the engineers of the Series I vehicle and it’d be incomprehensible for us too, if it weren’t for the Land Rover Experience.
With centres all around the world, the Land Rover Experience offers 4×4 training, team building, adventure and full-scale expeditions, for anyone, regardless of whether or not you own a Land Rover. Here in South Africa, we have three centres spread between Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, each with their own instructors who are accredited and re-assessed annually by Land Rover UK to ensure they offer world-class instruction.
Land Rover invited us to an introductory course at their Cape Town centre, which is based at the Simonsig Wine Estate near Stellenbosch. The day began with an overview of the 4×4 drivetrain, the basics about differentials, as well as how, and when, they distribute engine power between the axles and wheels. In addition, participants were also given a quick overview of the Terrain Response system fitted to current Land Rover models (apart from the Defender), which offers five presets for tackling various driving conditions, namely: Special Programs Off, Grass/Gravel/Snow; Mud/Ruts; Sand; Rock Crawl.
Onto the driving portion of the experience and we were assigned a Freelander 2 to play with, although every model was represented (Land Rover Defender, Discovery, Freelander, Range Rover Sport, Range Rover Evoque) bar the standard Range Rover. The introductory course essentially puts theory to practice, with obstacles designed the showcase the breadth of the Land Rover’s capabilities. These included a water crossing, which was shallow due to Cape Town’s lack of current winter rainfall, but which the vehicles would have had no problem crossing at depths of up to between 500 and 700 mm. A steep and rutted ascent also required some negotiation, which served to highlight the difference in momentum required by the Freelander and Evoque compared to the Discovery and Range Rover Sport, which feature infinitely-variable locking centre differentials and rear differentials, allowing them to crawl up inclines rather than having to run.
Our party also traversed a slippery and rocky stretch of single track, which showed off the ground clearance of the vehicles, specifically the Freelander and Evoque. Cross-axle situations are always fun and with a slight incline as well as plenty of muddy water, the Freelander’s Haldex central coupling and traction control system performed remarkably well. All vehicles also stretched their proverbial legs in the form of suspension articulation, especially the Discovery 4, with its self-levelling air suspension that has a 175 mm range of adjustment between its lowest ‘access mode’ and its maximum ride height. Our route also include some side slope driving, as well as an exercise in trusting the hill descent control.
The half-day introductory course proved a solid reminder as to the capabilities of Land Rover’s products, but more than that, it also highlighted the experience itself. Few examples come to mind when thinking of a professionally run, world-class 4×4 driving experience that is conveniently located near a major city centre and offers a safe yet thrilling driving experience. If you have an SUV and always plan to take it off-road, but never seem to get around to it, or if you’re planning on buying an SUV because the idea of spending weekends away with the family is appealing, or even if you’ve just never been off-road in a 4×4, do yourself a favour and spend a few hours with the Land Rover Experience, we guarantee you’ll leave with a smile.