Johannesburg - I'm a huge fan of the green oval and, as an owner of a Land Rover Defender 90 (short wheel base), I’m often heard muttering over the braai fires about a marque that has forgotten its heritage of being hard core exploration vehicles.
But I’m also savvy enough to appreciate how times have changed and how it has managed to still craft eye-catching vehicles and remain extremely capable when it comes to going off the black stuff.
This was very much apparent when I managed to spend some time at the Land Rover Experience, in Lonehill, on the outskirts of Joburg. Jaguar Land Rover have developed a magnificent facility, after moving their operation from Gerotek a few months ago. It’s a lot more accessible and covers any terrain you’re likely to encounter, whether in a Discovery, Discovery Sport, Evoque, Velar, any of the Range Rover variations, or Jaguar SUVs.
In addition, a short handling track and skidpan (not used on Sundays because of its proximity to residents) is also available for low slung go-fast Jaguar owners.
What makes the facility stand out from many others is that it’s not just an outdoor venue to get to know your Land Rover and its ability better, but a complete sophisticated conference venue.
A theatre, meeting and break away rooms, full restaurant and bar are available for company functions, conferences or team building exercises. As you would expect from Jaguar Land Rover, only the best was good enough and I have seen enough venues to know that this rates up there with the best.
But we were there to do the Land Rover Experience and were duly escorted in to the theatre, with a number of other owners, to start the half day session.
Everyone introduced themselves and what’s clear is that Land Rover have a lot of dedicated fans, some people on their fourth Discovery and one lady who had traded in her Evoque for a Velar. However, when I mentioned that I was a long-suffering owner of a Defender, the room burst out laughing – but it’s the Defender that everyone wanted and I reckon, once it’s launched next year, a lot of owners will be trading in – or up – as I pointed out jokingly.
Even if you’re a seasoned 4x4 enthusiast, an introduction to four wheel driving, it’s mechanicals and principals is always a good idea and, now and then, you even pick up a tip or two.
One thing we realised, throughout the day’s proceedings, is that the instructors are consummate professionals and know every vehicle and their operating systems, without having to think about it.
We were given the keys to a V8 5.0 litre supercharged Range Rover and, while not many owners are likely to use all its electricary offroad, it’s state-of-the-art and there’s something cool about looking on the infotainment system, and seeing cameras beaming in pictures while you cross an obstacle.
Before every obstacle, the instructors explained everything carefully. While some of us have done thousands of obstacles, varying from the mundane to the truly terrifying, high in the mountains of Lesotho, we all had to start somewhere and that’s the point of an outing like this.
It’s also important for new and prospective owners to see what their vehicles are capable of and I have no doubt that anyone who has done this for the first time will shortly head for more challenging tracks, weekend outings and visits to our cross-border neighbours.
Some interesting dusty inclines and declines, showcasing hill descent control and the ease with which the vehicles cruise up steep sandy inclines, saw us back at base, hands washed, and ready for what was a fantastic lunch.
My advice would be to follow up with a course on the track and skidpan, where invaluable lessons on how to handle different driving circumstances and, again, seeing what your car is capable of – is likely to get you out of many tricky situations on our roads.
Sitting outside on the verandah, sipping a cold drink (they are also fully licensed) on a Sunday afternoon, looking out on Land Rovers and Jaguars, could be a whole lot worse.