Land Rover LR3 – Schooled in Mud
Land Rover Experience Driving Schools help Land Rover owners get the most out of their vehicles—and help the rest of us to a good time. The editor stays clean in a not-so-shiny new LR3…
It would be labeled “black diamond” if it were covered in snow. Covered in mud and rocks from yesterday’s rain, it’s just a nasty, slippery, steep hill. I’m sitting at the top of it with Justin (a professional driving instructor) and 6,000 pounds of Land Rover LR3, wondering what’s going to happen next. I don’t have to wait long to find out.
“Take your foot off the brake,” Justin says. Anticipating a roller-coaster drop, I do. But instead of the chaotic free-wheel plummet I expect, the LR3’s Hill Descent system kicks in and the Land Rover picks its way down the scarred incline as nimbly as a mountain goat—with what I’m sure is a much better ride. In fact, it’s downright plush in the cabin, with hardly any bounce at all and a consistent feeling of complete control. If nothing else, the Land Rover Experience Driving School is confidence-building.
There are four Land Rover Experience driving schools in North America, three of them in the United States. And whether or not you own a Land Rover, the experience is a must for anyone interested in off-road driving. In lessons lasting as little as an hour or as long as several days, and always in current model vehicles, Land Rover instructors—who work directly for the Land Rover company—will take you from someone who may have gritted their teeth at the sight of a speed bump to an off-roader capable of calmly handling driving straight up, straight down, in all manner of conditions and at all manner of angles—and there are some amazing angles.
When we come to a fairly substantial rise that dumps into a water- and mud-filled pit, Justin tells me to stop and assess the situation. There are a few things to consider: Diving the vehicle directly over the rise and into the water could bury the front end on the way in or drag the back end on the way out. Likewise, it could damage the suspension or even strand the vehicle on the rise, with both front and rear tires off the ground doing no good at all. The answer, he explains, is to approach the rise at an angle—slowly—and creep forward and through the water. It’s a tricky obstacle on the off-road course, and so Justin gets out and directs me from the other side. Today’s Land Rovers feature an astoundingly sophisticated five-position traction control system known as Terrain Response™. Due to the recent rain, we’ve had ours in the 2009 LR3 set to “Mud/Ruts” all day. Geared down a bit with adjusted throttle response and the incredible, automatically adjusting Electronic Air Suspension, handling has been ridiculously good for the conditions. Furthermore, clearance has been automatically adjusted by the LR3 from its road-handling 7.3 inches to a more useful 9.5 inches, ensuring basic obstacles are no trouble at all.
Approaching the rise at a bit of an angle, the LR3 easily pulls forward until the front left tire is off the ground. A slight adjustment as per Justin’s instructions, I inch forward a little more and the vehicle tips forward and to the left. Now the front of the LR3 is in the water and the rear right tire is off the ground—an uncommon driving situation to be sure, but completely reasonable for the LR3. Inside, it’s all smiles. Though the tires are buried in mud and water, the steering is responsive and easily managed. Furthermore, the seats are supportive, the engine confident. I’ve used the automatic’s manual gear select to keep it in 1st gear and, because of the traction control, things are moving forward nicely. A few more seconds and I’m up and out, back on dry land and fairly amazed that it all went so well. Had the water been deeper, the Land Rover wouldn’t have minded. Land Rover doors are triple sealed to keep the elements outside where they belong, and the company says water to the top of the wheels shouldn’t pose a problem (though there’s plenty of evidence that the vehicles can handle far more).
End of the Day
Out of the pit, we’re driving again down heavily mudded trails past old-growth California oaks, Spanish moss hanging low and pampas grass thick along the trail. Without the Land Rover, a horse or a long hike, none of this would be accessible. The back woods at Quail Lodge and the pieces of the Lodge’s past, which include an old rock quarry where the aforementioned pit is located, are beautiful. They’re just a taste of the kind of country off-road driving opens up to the adventurous. In fact, Land Rover runs longer excursions in foreign countries, and there are a host of companies that can assist anyone with driving skills locate a vehicle and a trail to explore.
Whether such an excursion is in your future, if you want to be a more confident driver off-road or if you just want to have a bit of fun, a Land Rover Experience Driving School is an excellent way to spend some time. I, for one, will never look at a muddy trail the same way again.
Find out more at landroverusa.com or call (800) 239-0533.