For decades, Americans have thought of Land Rovers as the perfect off-roader for the wilds of The Hamptons or Beverly Hills. Frankly, I can live with that reputation. My idea of "roughing it" is a hotel without 24-hour room service.
The time and chance to kill both those reputations - Land Rover's and mine - came in June, when I joined a group of journalists for the brand's latest organized off-road adventure. The Land Rover Experience offers well-heeled customers the chance to drive Land Rovers as meant to be driven, supple leather seats be damned. The Catalonia Experience is Land Rover's latest addition to its growing list of worldwide offroad adventures.
Our rides were top-of-the-range HSE versions of the Discovery 4, called LR4 in North America. This being Europe, they were equipped with the 3.0-liter V-6 turbodiesel, coupled to a six-speed automatic (Land Rover goes to a new eight-speed tranny for '12). Most of this adventure uses low gears and frequently low-range, except for the drive between Barcelona and Les Combes, a 1200-acre estate with serious off-road courses, owned by an advertising promoter connected to the Moto GP series. Weather was rainy, though it provided the variable of muddy trails and deep fjords, and temperatures in the 50s and 60s Fahrenheit made it quite comfortable.
Because everybody in our group has had some offroading experience, we skipped the half-day introduction to the driving techniques you'll need to learn if you write the check for 3500 pounds sterling -- about $5,600 -- for the 2 1/2-day adventure. Plus airfare. The Catalonia Experience includes "taxi" rides in Land Rover's Paris-to-Dakar rally Range Rover.
The first full day is "intermediate" off-roading and the second day is "advanced," with overnight camping between. Since there's no 24-hour tent service, I'd call it very much "roughing" it, though the cocktail hour after the first day's drive is a mitigating factor.
The offroading is probably not quite as tough as navigating the slippery rocks of Moab, Utah, and you won't have to learn "tipping," as I did when passing the Hummer Driving Academy back when there was a Hummer. I'd recommend it for any Land Rover driver though, who can't or won't get his or her ride dirty, risk paint and sheetmetal, and possibly suffer the embarrassment of having to be winched out of a ditch (not me).
Costly? Order the HSE with standard 19-inch wheels instead of the HSE Lux with 20-inch wheels, and you'll have saved enough for one seat in the Catalonia Experience, plus $1,800 toward your airfare. Don't skip the $1,800 Vision Assistance Package, with its Surround Camera System, or you'll regret it once you get to use the cameras, which look rearward and down toward the terrain, on the LR-supplied Disco 4.
You don't have to fly overseas to enjoy the Land Rover Experience. The company has similar adventure packages for Telluride, Colorado, Eqinox, Vermont, Biltmore, South Carolina and Montebello, Quebec. Go to or see your local dealer.