That new Land Rover looks great sitting in your driveway, but you've just purchased a freedom of mobility denied to most vehicles. What's stopping you from getting out there? Traverse the Kalahari's ancient dry riverbeds, winch your way through the Darien Gap, or ford glacial streams as you follow the Ice Truckers into the Himalayas.
Then again, have you checked out the cost of replacing a front fender and headlamp assembly? Sure, crawling the Rubicon Trail in your new Land Rover would be cool, but think about the damage inflicted by the boulders of the Sluice Box. And as much as you want to leave the well-trodden path, seriously, who'd pick up the kids when you're stuck somewhere outside Katmandu on the way to Mt. Everest?
A better way to explore your LR's off-road abilities and hone your dirt-pounding skills is by driving a Land Rover at one of the 30 Land Rover Centres around the world. By traversing specially designed obstacle courses, fledgling off-roaders learn the basics, while graduates can participate in two intermediate levels of full-day instruction that might, depending on location, include a night drive or jaunts through snowdrifts or across sand dunes. Those bitten by the off-road bug can advance to a "professional" course that teaches proper winching, towing, and GPS navigation. Want more? We did, so we jumped at the opportunity to attend the ultimate in Land Rover's world of off-road training: a multi-day, fully outfitted, and not inexpensive adventure program.
Catalonian Escape at Les Comes near Barcelona is one of several LR Centres where drivers can hone their offroad skills on some of the most challenging terrain. "
We joined up with Land Rover's Catalonian Escape 2011, based at Les Comes, the Land Rover Centre near Barcelona, Spain. Catalonia was the first of two adventure programs scheduled for 2011-- the other was an eight-day Botswana Expedition in September. There will be two different destinations next year.
Catalonian Escape 2011 was Land Rover's first so-called "compact adventure." The four-day frolic offered a mix of activities typical of a Land Rover expedition, from pretty tough off-roading in the mountainous terrain surrounding the spectacular Montserrat range, to stays at luxury hotels (and a luxury tent!). In between we enjoyed lots of good food, the amiable companionship of Land Rover's experts, and a deeper appreciation for Land Rover technology.
The program started with a chauffeured ride from the Barcelona airport in one of the Discovery 4s (called LR4 in the U.S.) our group would drive over the next three days. Each Disco 4 was powered by a really terrific 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 and was modified with a factory-optional electronic differential as well as a number of factory-approved accessories: a Warn 9.5XP winch with synthetic ropes and stainless steel fairleads, Goodyear Maximum Traction Reinforced tires, extra underbody protection, and Hella bi-xenon spot lamps. We were equipped to head to a dinosaur dig in the Gobi instead of an upscale boutique hotel in the Parmedés wine country.
The ride to Can Bonastre hotel and winery let us again appreciate the Land Rover's exceptional behavior on the tarmac. Ignore an LR's off-road capabilities entirely, and all that's left is a rock-solid luxury SUV. Our driver was one of the group of professional instructors who would assist us along the way, hooking up winch cables and changing flat tires as needed. You know, the things pampered clients prefer not to do. We were, of course, all too happy to play along.
Our destination was a zip-line set up from a nearby ridge top. Having never zipped before, we zipped. We liked it. We shall zip again. "
An hour later, we arrived at Can Bonastre for a night's stay. The beautifully restored farmhouse sits on a hilltop with a commanding view of the surrounding vineyards, forests, and, in the distance, the sawtooth profile of Montserrat, Spain's famous "serrated mountains." A tour of the winery and a wine tasting was followed by a gourmet meal, after which we retired to our rooms in well-fed anticipation of the off-road adventure to come.
After a short morning orientation and safety lecture, we embarked on a day of driving, beginning with wide-open runs over winding mountain roads. Even through tight corners, body roll was kept well under control, yet the air suspension provided plenty of compliance over the occasional rough surface. Aside from somesinging from the Goodyears, the cabin was quiet enough to appreciate the lack of noise from the diesel engine. Strong, quiet, and economical, a version of this current V-6 should make it to North America in 2014, when emissions regulations become standardized around the world.
We soon reached the first off-road trail of the day, and the first indication the going would be very slippery. Heavy late spring rains had saturated the ground and turned low spots into muddy bogs, but, except for a couple of really deep holes, the Discos easily dealt with the lack of grip. This came as no surprise to those of us who had driven Land Rovers off the road, but still it was fascinating to observe the four-wheel-drive mechanicals and electronics at work, and to watch the dashboard display of the suspension's articulation as each wheel found its way through the quagmire.
Land Rover's Discovery 4s managed the Monserrat course with minimal body roll and compliant air suspension, while offering cosseting comfort. "