The Land Rover Experience is a year-round exercise by the company to show off the capabilities of their SUVs to present and future customers. Land Rover has a reputation built on their expertise in combining luxury with off-road ability and what better way to show it off than a proper off-road experience.
The Land Rover Experience is held in multiple locations across the country; but if you ever want to properly experience any of the company's range off-road, the Adventure Park at 19 Degree North, Aamby Valley, Lonavala is the place to go.
While all venues of the Land Rover Experience are designed to show the prowess of these SUVs (we have tried our hands earlier in Gurgaon
), the challenging all-natural off-road track at Aamby Valley is unmatched.
After the necessary paperwork and briefing are done, we head to a group of ten gleaming cars. Every participant is accompanied by a highly trained and enthusiastic instructor who plays a big role in making sure you understand and appreciate the SUV you are driving.
I am with Mr Ashish Nandal and we are sitting in a Discovery Sport HSE Luxury Diesel. This top of the line variant of the Discovery Sport is filled to the gills with features - the 17-speaker Meridian surround sound system is a highlight. We are here to check out the Sport's off-road ability though and we immediately set our focus on that.
The terrain consists of loose soil and rocks, there are some water-wading points too I am told. The first obstacle is a steep decline which consists of a rocky base and loose soil on top - the Terrain Response system and the hill descent control shine here. The Terrain Response system is set to 'Grass, Gravel and Snow' - this allows the traction control and ABS to better respond to a situation where the SUV is going over a loose top surface but with a firm base. The hill-decent control speed can be set using the cruise-control speed buttons - I set it to the lowest at 4kmph.
Taking the decline at 4kmph seems too fast, some of the rocks are jutting out from the ground and it seems better to go slow. I take some time to get used to the brake pedal - the initial unresponsiveness from the pedal makes me press it quite hard a couple of times, which freaks out the traction control system. There are some ruts on the path too, and I have to take care to place my wheels correctly to ensure the Sport is always at the highest point it can be - even though it does have a ground clearance of 212mm. The dedicated off-road screen on the 8-inch infotainment screen helps Ashish keep an eye on the position of the front wheels and also see how power is transferred between the axles.
After the first few instructions, I am allowed to drive the course using my own judgement. Though I was getting encouraging feedback, the best sign that I was driving well was that none of us had heard any metal/plastic crunching noises. A particularly slippery incline required the Terrain Response setting to be changed to the 'Mud and Ruts' mode - this seemed to make the 2.2-litre, turbocharged motor unleash more of the 420Nm of available torque - the Discovery Sport coped well in spite of being fitted with Highway Terrain tyres.
The water wading section was threatening to deflate all the confidence I had gained over the preceding sections. The water looked deep, I could see some large and sharp rocks through the translucent water and the other bank consisted solely of slippery rock. The Discovery Sport has a water wading depth limit of 600mm, and the stream was dispatched without any hiccups.
The photo above is not representation enough of the challenge that the particular section actually presented. We had to drive over slippery rock which was getting more wet each time a participant went over it - if you did not maintain a steady momentum, gravity would pull the over 2-tonne heavy SUV towards the left onto a low rock wall.
'Trust this SUV' - what a reassuring sentence. That is exactly what this event wants people to realise - Land Rover has poured in years of experience to make its new set of SUVs the most capable but easy to drive over a multitude of terrain. Going off-road no longer requires you to be a driving god; buy a great SUV like the Discovery Sport, follow some basic off-road etiquette and conquer almost every terrain.
Land Rover and Cougar Motorsports has to be commended for the brilliant driving experience they organised. If you ever get the chance to go to 19 Degree North, please do, it will be a fun day guaranteed.