Auto: Driving Way Off-Road at the Land Rover Experience
The Land Rover Experience Driving School provides participants with jaw-dropping opportunities to see just how incredibly capable Sport Utility Vehicles have become. The vast majority of all Sport Utility Vehicles are never tested to anywhere near their true off-roading capabilities. SUV’s are now more sophisticated and capable than ever thanks to improvements in engineering, technology, and driver aids. Fewer vehicles are more capable off road than those from Land Rover, who have specialized in building four-wheel-drive off-road vehicles since 1948.
Photo courtesy of Michael Taylor
There are 32 Land Rover Experience centres around the world with locations in China, Russia, the Middle East, South Africa, Europe, Scandinavia and the United Kingdom. There are four centres in North America with three in the United States, in California, North Carolina and Vermont, and only one in Canada, in Montebello, Quebec, which is about 90-minutes west of Montreal.
The Land Rover Experience has been operating out of their own facility on the grounds of the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello for the past 12 years. Once participants have signed in, they climb aboard their Land Rover of choice, and drive about 10 minutes away to Kenauk Nature Reserve, one of the largest private fish and game reserves in North America. It has more than 60 lakes on the 100 square mile property. The Land Rover Experience has access to 2,000 acres of the reserve’s 65,000 acres.
They follow the Tread Lightly! procedures. Tread Lightly! is a not for profit organization whose goal is to “balance the needs of the people who enjoy outdoor recreation with our need to maintain healthy ecosystems and thriving populations of fish and wildlife”.
Participants of the Land Rover Experience have access to the full range of current Land Rover models including the Discovery Sport (which starts at $37,695), Range Rover Evoque (starting at $41,800), Land Rover LR4 (starting at $50,900), Range Rover Sport (starting at $64,950) to ultimate off roader the Range Rover which starts at $84,950 and can climb to more than $225,000 for the long wheel base SV Autobiography.
Dominique Rochette has been involved in the Land Rover Experience since it opened in Montebello in March 2004. He started as a driving instructor and eventually moved behind the desk and oversees the operation of the facility. Our in-car driving instructor for the day was Jean-Benoit Cousin. He moved from Quebec City to Montebello for just one summer of instructing. “I liked working here so much I haven’t left and I’ve been doing this fulltime for the past 10 years.” Said Cousin. “Montebello is now my home”.
The Land Rover Experience can accommodate any experience level, from beginner on up, and is designed to increase one’s knowledge and ability of off road driving.
First-time participants can try experiences ranging from 1 hour up to 3 full days, with prices ranging from $150 per hour to $1,200 per day, in Canadian currency (approximately $115 and $915 US dollars, respectively). Buyers of Land Rover vehicles in Canada are entitled to participate in a 3-hour Land Rover Experience free of charge.
Corporate groups can also participate, with a minimum of 6 participants. Team Building Group Activities include events entitled Mission Impossible, Geo-Cache Scavenger Hunt and Blind Drive, and yes, you drive a Land Rover blind folded!
Full days begin with lessons on off-road obstacles including ditch crossings, log crossings, and vehicle controls and gradually move onto more advanced trails including steep hill accents and docents on a variety of surfaces, side-tilts, rock crawls, sand dunes and deep water.
Each Full Day Experience includes a picnic lunch, a Land Rover Experience gift, and a personalized framed certificate of completion.
We spent the day driving an extremely capable Range Rover Sport. The following are just some of the systems and technology available on today’s Land Rovers:
Adaptive Dynamics delivers balance between ride and control by offering continuously variable damper settings, monitoring vehicle’s movements up to 500 times per second.
All-Terrain Progress Control can be set to speeds between 1 mph and 30 mph and maintain that speed without touching the accelerator enabling you to concentrate on steering through obstacles.
Dynamic Response is a two-channel system which can control the front and rear axles independently allowing it to be tuned to deliver increased low-speed agility and enhanced stability at high speed.
Dynamic Stability Control detects understeer and adjusts the brakes and engine power accordingly.
Low-Traction Launch allows the driver to pull away smoothly even on challenging low-friction surfaces such as ice, snow and sand
Terrain Response 2 monitors the road or off-road surfaces and automatically selects the best possible driving mode by altering the chassis and powertrain settings.
Electronic Air Suspension System results in a comfortable on-road ride and automatically switches between two ride heights when navigating off-road.
Torque Vectoring System enhances the vehicle’s agility and stability when cornering by monitoring and balancing the distribution of torque between the wheels to improve grip and steering both on and off-road.
Twin-Speed Transfer Box incorporates high and low range gears. Low range ensures a controlled descent on off-road terrain, and high range is for driving on the road.
Initially our driving instructor demonstrated some of the vehicles settings and took us slowly though the initial obstacles, then it was our turn to take the wheel. One really must experience driving a $100,000+ vehicle down an unimaginably steep uneven rock surface without putting your foot on the brake or accelerator pedal, and other than the steering, letting the vehicle do all of the work.
Equally amazing is driving up a very steep uneven tilted rock face, while corning, and keeping constant pressure on the throttle and letting the drivetrain determine exactly which wheel or wheels have traction, while smoothly transferring power back and forth to the four corners of the car. Having an experienced instructor sitting in the seat next to you is a must the first time one attempts such off-road maneuvers.
Proof positive of how capable these SUV’s have become is the fact that they have to make the course tougher and tougher with each generation of vehicle
If you’re looking for a great day out in the wilderness, and have the patience to slowly navigate through seemingly unnavigable terrain, book some time at the Land Rover Experience. You will be amazed at what you, and a capable Sport Utility Vehicle can accomplish together.