Land Rover DiscoverySource:Supplied
Our Land Rover is leaning on such a steep angle that I’m pressed against the side window and the wing mirror is about to scrape the ground. I think it’s going to tip on to its roof.
“No way. There is at least another 10 degrees before the tyres even begin to slide,” says Land Rover Experience guide Allan Jackson, a former commando with nerves of steel.
So we press on in the Discovery TD6, apparently defying physics in the grounds of Rockingham Castle in the East Midlands of England.
Castle keeper: Land Rover Discovery at Rockingham.Source:Supplied
The muddy tracks and man-made obstacles we’re negotiating seem a far cry from the leisurely drive up from Heathrow, wafting along in leather bound comfort, as the 3.0-litre diesel chewed up the kilometres on the country’s busiest motorway, the M25.
The stark contrast highlights why owners love their Land Rovers.
In town, it’s just another luxury SUV, dropping kids at school, cosseting occupants with its multi-adjustable powered and heated seats and making life easy with its auto tailgate.
But over the ruts, dips and slopes of Rockingham, the cruiser reveals its hidden talents, transforming into an all-conquering off-roader with few peers.
Pothole ahead …Source:Supplied
Very few people driving around the high-end shopping precincts of Australian cities in super-stylish Discos or Range Rover relatives have any idea of their incredible off-road ability.
I was part of that crowd myself until I ventured to this 11th-century castle to get acquainted with the Land Rover’s vast capabilities.
Rockingham Castle was built for William the Conqueror and used by Henry VIII but in the controlled conditions of the Land Rover layout there is no chance of losing your head.
… one wheel in the air …Source:Supplied
The experience centre, near the quaintly named Market Harborough, uses a former quarry to put the Discovery through its paces.
I turn a knob on the console to engage the low-range in the eight-speed automatic transmission, then select the terrain — mud and ruts, thank you — to open up a world of improbable motoring possibilities.
… then another …Source:Supplied
As we come to the edge of what appears to be a sheer drop, Jackson gives completely counterintuitive advice: “Start down the hill and then take your foot off the brake.”
That’s right, “off”.
What happens next is astonishing. As it edges down the almost vertical gravel face, the Land Rover’s software grips and releases the brakes 11 times a second to maintain the standard road tyres’ hold on the surface, virtually feeling its way down the slope.
… and no wheelspin to boot.Source:Supplied
This is a far cry from the days of engaging the 4WD-Low on an old Defender and ending up soaked in sweat from pumping the brakes and wrestling the brute all the way down the hill.
“Really, we could be sitting here having a cup of coffee,” Jackson says.
We sink one corner into pot holes that lift the diagonally opposed wheel a metre clear of the surface. The onboard computer brakes the wheel that’s suspended in the air, to transfer the power to the wheels that have traction.
There is no wheelspin. Instead the Land Rover continually tests the wheel with a fractional turn to see whether it is back on the ground.
The plush interior stays dry when wading, thanks to triple door seals.Source:Supplied
“Land Rover had computer experts sit with our best test drivers for months, mimicking what they do and building it into the onboard systems,” Jackson says.
Going through water creates a whole new set of problems. The Discovery does not have a snorkel but breathes through the gaps just above the headlights, enabling a wading depth of 900mm once the air suspension has been raised. Triple door seals ensure no water dampens that plush leather interior.
“It is so watertight it effectively becomes a boat and could float,” he says.
The Land Rover boffins went to work on that and built in voids for ballast — in a water crossing, the Disco floods its door skins and exhaust surrounds, then the water just drains out when you drive off.
Land Rover runs courses at the experience centre so that new owners can fully explore and understand the potential of their purchase, even if most of them will only use that knowledge to mount suburban kerbs in search of a prime parking spot.