It is no secret that I have an unhealthy addiction with most things Land Rover. It probably started at an early age while watching Camel Trophy coverage and matured when I spent six weeks driving around southern Africa in a Defender 110. Overtime my lifetime I was prepared to sign a check for various Landys in various conditions, but somehow managed to resist that urge.
The one thing that I was never sure of, however, was the actual off-road-ability of factory Range Rovers. Sure, the promotional videos look impressive but the same kinds of videos exist for every car-based CUV ever made. I wanted to take a Range Rover off-road, and while I have friends and family members who own Range Rovers, I wasn’t about to ask them. I also wasn’t about to take a $100,000 press vehicle off-road, despite the fact that others in the industry do that.
One day I was searching for a nice resort within a few hours’ drive for Boston where the missus and I could get away for a weekend without kids. I found a really nice place called The Equinox Resort and Spa in Manchester, Vermont. After I booked our stay I noticed that the resort offered something called Land-Rover Experience Driving School. Woah, I had do that! I asked a Range Rover representative, and they set me up for a two-hour off-road class in a 2014 Range Rover Supercharged for the purpose of this article. Thank you for that and here is part one of what I learned…
Before we begin – I broke this story up into three parts. In part one we’ll learn about what we should know about our vehicle before venturing off road with it. In part two we will look at off-road driving techniques, and in part three we’ll focus on the lovely 2014 Range Rover.
Another disclaimer is about the kind of off-roading performed here. We are not rock climbing, we are not muddin’, and we are not jumping over any sand dunes. While those sound like a lot of fun, we are doing what may be referred to expedition-style off-roading. In other words, we’re using our vehicle to actually get someplace which may not be otherwise accessible via a conventional car.
My vehicle for this off-roading class is a brand new 2014 Range Rover Supercharged. This silver machine is fully loaded with every available option, such as rear entertainment system, a little refrigerator, and massaging seats which my wife loved. It rode on standard twenty-inch wheels wrapped in factory all-terrain tires. The MSRP was at around $110,000 (ouch!).
First thing you need to know when off-roading is your vehicle. Sounds simple but and it kind of is:
- Ground clearance. Knowing not only the maximum ground clearance but the minimum, too, is important to not getting stuck or damaging the vehicle. You also need to know where these extremes are on the vehicle. Knowing this will allow to judge taking an obstacle between the wheels, or driving over it.
- Approach and departure angles. Respectively, in the front and the back of the car, the angle between the bottom of a tire and the edge of bumper, front and back of the vehicle. This is important to know on these newer cars as a misjudgment is likely to damage an aerodynamic aide (or worse) designed to improve fuel economy by 0.001%, which may be is pricey.
- Pivot point. At least that’s what I seem to recall the instructor calling it, is a point mid-way-ish through the vehicle, at the B-pillar in case of the Range Rover, past which a turning vehicle will clear an obstruction on its side. Think of it as a point around which the car can drive around, without hitting. I hope that makes sense, these definition are strictly my own.
- Vehicle size. Sounds simple, but you must consider it when driving between or under trees, just like through a city garage. Knowing the weight of your vehicle is important, too.
- Understand your 4WD system. Gone are the days of manually locking hubs and a transfer-case shifter. Knowing how the 4WD system in your vehicle operates will allow you to make the right choices in various conditions. Understanding it will allow you to work with it, not against it, especially on a complicated system such as a Unimog or this here Range Rover.
- Understand your suspension system. A vehicle with solid axles suspended on leaf springs will behave differently than a vehicle with independent air suspension. Factor in the new systems with terrain response, locking differentials, hill descent controls, and you have some reading to do regarding your vehicle’s behavior off road.
The school, and the terrain associated with it, is ran by Land Rover. The area is an old airport and it was not purposely developed for the school, nor I do not believe that it was built to make the new Range Rover seem like a hero. The facility was used to for press launches of other off-roaders, such as the Toyota FJ Cruiser, and has been traversed in lass capable vehicles, too. In the end, this was more about learning to properly drive off-road than the capabilities of the vehicle.
That said, the pictures make this trail seem easier than it actually is. The school is open year round, and I would love to revisit it when there is some snow or mud on the ground.
Part 2, off-road driving, next week. Same time, same place.