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Playing in the mud with $150,000 Land Rovers

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I was privileged enough to attend a special drive event hosted by Jaguar Land Rover Canada at Circuit ICAR in Mirabel, Quebec. The experience entailed some adrenaline-packed Jaguars, but you’ll have to wait for a separate story on that (coming next week). For now, let's focus on a completely different kind of challenge: manoeuvring big Land Rovers through an off-road course at 5 km/h!

A portion of the ICAR track was set up to put many of these British luxury 4x4s to the test. Among the various obstacles were a frighteningly steep climb, a giant pool of water, the most extreme washboard you'll ever see (if you can call it that), and a whole lot more. That was my “playground” for the day.

As far as I can tell, there are two types of Land Rovers: those with an air suspension, the real off-road kings, and the others like the LR2 and Evoque. Despite also lacking the more sophisticated Terrain Response 2 system of their siblings, the LR2 and Evoque still manage to overcome the smaller obstacles without any difficulty. More likely than not, these two vehicles will satisfy the average Land Rover owner in most situations.

Land Rover experience at Circuit ICAR
Photo: Frédéric Feudi

However, I was there to experiment with the kind of driving conditions you'd only find in the most remote and treacherous locations -- like Mars.

First, I slid behind the wheel of the almighty Range Rover. Simply by pressing a button, the air suspension raised the vehicle to provide extra ground clearance.

Imagine a 5-foot high doughnut cut in half. The wheels on one side touch the ground, the other side climbs on said doughnut, and you make a turn. You look through the driver's window and realize that you're awfully close to the ground, and then you turn around and see nothing but blue sky out the passenger window. Every ounce of common sense suggests that you're about to tip over, except you don’t. You keep inching forward, hands moist, pulse racing. Thrilling and chilling at the same time!

Land Rover experience at Circuit ICAR
Photo: Frédéric Feudi

The second obstacle consisted of two rows of massive bumps running in parallel, but with an offset so that one or even two wheels stay off the ground (the extreme washboard I was referring to earlier, as you can see on the picture) known as articulation berms. Every time the Range Rover attacked a new set of bumps, I got the feeling that the front bumper was going to explode. I had to trust the vehicle, and more importantly my instructor. The images from the side mirror-mounted cameras also appeared on the centre display to help me properly align the truck and anticipate the next bump. I sure could use these cameras when I park my own car along city streets! Bravo, Land Rover!

The third obstacle was an enormous pool that submerged the vehicle up to window level. The air intake in the Land Rover LR4, Range Rover, and Range Rover Sport is each located completely above the engine, near the base of the windshield. As long as you don't get water through that opening, you can keep driving like it's no big deal. There's something utterly fascinating and mind-boggling about stretching out the window and touching the water as you move forward in a business-like fashion.

Land Rover experience at Circuit ICAR
Photo: Frédéric Feudi

After exiting the pool, I took the big Land Rover to the bottom of a near-vertical (at least it looked like it) slope that posed a seemingly insurmountable challenge -- even after the other logic-defying feats accomplished earlier. How could the vehicle possibly reach the top?! Somehow it did, giving a new meaning to “sky's the limit.”

No time to rest: With an equally steep descent on the other side, my instructor told me to let go of everything except the steering wheel. The Land Rover immediately understood the situation and applied the brakes all by itself to control speed throughout the descent. As a driver, it really makes you humble when the vehicle decides to take over because it can do a better job than you -- at the same time, I appreciated the breather.

At the end of the day, I was both excited and relieved. Thank you, Land Rover, for this formidable off-road experience!