When I pulled up at the Land Rover Experience just outside Stellenbosch, I’m met by three of Land Rover’s finest products: the Freelander, the Defender, and the Discovery; all 2014 models. This will be my first time sampling a Land Rover and the feeling is overwhelming.
Glancing over at the three SUVs, my memory is taken back to a few weeks ago when I rode a horse for the first time. Not being led by a tamer or sitting on the back of a pony as in my primary years, but actually taking control of the horse. Just like with the horse – Cedar Wood was his name – there was a hint of nervousness and excitement as I adored these vehicles.
The sight is something to behold. It is enough to engulf any man or woman who should count them lucky enough to drive any Land Rover SUV. The vehicles have been prepped and readied for my arrival; with great care taken to ensure that what will follow, will be a lasting memory.
As I’m making my way up to the conference room, I’m met by the instructor who will be accompanying me through the Land Rover Experience, Wynand Bohnen. After the introductions have been made and the provided light snacks had settled, Wynand gave a thorough presentation of the do’s and don’ts on the course. It struck me how apt he is; explaining every point to the finest detail, and giving a methodical breakdown of Land Rover’s second iteration of its Terrain Response. Soon after it was time to hit the dirt and the Disco’s key is handed to me.
I knew the Discovery was a big vehicle, but I only realised its true size from behind the steering wheel. This vehicle is huge! The model I drove was the SDV6 with 183 kW and a whopping 600 N.m on offer, available from as low as 2000 rpm. The rumble of the diesel engine is barely intrusive to the cabin; highlighting the strides Land Rover has made over the past few years to better its product line-up.
Selecting D (drive) with the rotating knob (á la Jaguar) is a breeze and, left to its own devices, the ZF eight-speed auto ‘box will have no trouble negotiating its way through the course (as I was about to find out).
Arriving at the first obstacle I was greeted by a very steep incline. There is almost no way that a 4×2 would be able to make it to the top, but, as I was told by Wynand, the all-wheel drive Discovery will ease up this slope as long as I follow his instructions. Setting up the vehicle is not as complicated as first perceived. With the vehicle in neutral, engage low or high range, activate Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), and set the Terrain Response to the terrain that will be driven on. In this case, “sand”.
The terrain can also be selected whilst the vehicle is on the move, as long as it’s done before you reach the said terrain. In predetermining your required setting, it will ensure that your vehicle maintains momentum throughout the hinderness.
With the required settings engaged, I made my way up the incline. Whenever the Disco felt like it was losing a bit of traction, a slight dab of the throttle was always enough to propel the 2-ton behemoth. It was almost impossible to see over the bonnet of the Discovery. The only view was the clear blue skies. It was nerve wrecking! You drive the vehicle, hoping and praying you don’t go too fast and fall into the dam at the end of the slope. When I reached the summit the nose dropped gently and I could turn away from the dam, onto the path.
To say that I was shocked at how effortlessly the Discovery made its way up the incline would be an understatement. It blew me away! An urge of adventure ruptured my soul and the next obstacle will be conquered!
Whereas the first obstacle was an incline, the second was a steep downhill followed by a sharp right-turn leading up another incline. With the aforementioned settings engaged, I lined up at the start of the obstacle and this is where the experience becomes interesting. Carefully positioning the Discovery on the downhill is not the biggest challenge. The biggest challenge is overcoming the thought that you should release the brake pedal and allow the vehicle to “drive” on its own. Instinctively my foot finds its way to the brake pedal, but somehow, someway, I seemed to trust the Discovery and its capabilities.
Feeling the vehicle trotting down the slope is a surreal experience. Every spin and seeking of traction by the wheels could be felt and what’s more, the vehicle does not increase or decrease its speed. The DSC regulates and ensures that the necessary momentum is maintained when descending and the working of all the systems and functions constitutes to a cohesive and effective unit.
All the while I’m keeping the wheels in a straight-line, my eyes photographing the surroundings, looking out for any obstacle that could be damaging to the vehicle. Descending at a leisurely pace, the Discovery reached the bottom; time now to make my way up again.
The entry-angle for the right-hander should be taken wide, in-so-doing preventing the rear wheels from being damaged by a seen or unseen obstacle. As I’m about to exit the ditch, the bonnet again lifted and sight is limited to the overhanging trees. Here one need’s to judge the width of the path by continuously observing the embankments you are surrounded with.
To exit requires a small throttle input; just enough for the Disco to gain traction. There was no need for me to thrash the Disco up the slope and kicking up loads of dust out of fear that the vehicle might stall, because it’s far from likely for the Disco to cut out when in “off-road mode”.
The next challenge was not as serious, but what it did was teach a very important aspect of off-roading: transgressing a side slope. Discussing the said hurdle with Wynand, he pointed out how someone froze when doing this hurdle and not being able to continue any further. It came about that her husband rolled off a mountain in his 4×4 and it scarred her, too. In essence, with the Discovery set up correctly, tackling such a slope won’t be so much of an issue and benefiting from the know-how of the Land Rover Experience can be of life-saving value to all off-roaders.
As fun rock-crawling in an off-road vehicle can be, just as much can it be very dangerous. Crawling over the rocks with my head out the window, I’m on a constant lookout for big-enough rocks to place the Disco’s wheels on. Placing my Discovery on the highest points were key, because it permitted me to better my entry- and departure angles and allowed the wheels to have the best possible traction when continuing through the obstacle.
Fortunately, Land Rover’s Terrain Response has a “rock” setting that allows for the Discovery to transgress over the rocks with relative ease. However, this does not mean that you can sit back and let the vehicle do all the work. The driver is still the primary director of the SUV and resting the front wheel(s) on a rock that’s too high could lead to the vehicle getting stuck when you descend, which in return results in serious damage to your vehicle. In this regard it is imperative to have a “spotter” who can guide you through the obstacle; seeing what you can’t see and calling for where and how the vehicle should be positioned.
With only slight throttle inputs the Discovery came out on the other side, with not a single sweat broken (except maybe on the driver’s part…).
The Land Rover Experience does offer its visitors the best possible experience in off-road expeditions, and thanks to Land Rover Stellenbosch, I was able to also experience the wonders of this course. There is definitely more on offer from both the Land Rover Experience and the Discovery, and as impressed as I was with the Disco’s abilities and agility, Wynand pointed out that I had only scraped the cream of the proverbial cupcake. The Disco has much, MUCH, more to offer and I could see why: it handles everything in its way with aplomb.
At the end of my Experience I’m reminded about getting off Cedar Wood; barely believing I rode the horse from start to finish. As intimidating as the initial thought was, just as rewarding, if not more, was the thought that I conquered the horse. I conquered the Land Rover Experience and I have the certificate to prove it.
To view photos of the Experience, visit the Shootout Facebook page.