I have driven the Land Rover Discovery Sport many a time. I have also driven at 19 Degrees North at Aamby Valley - an off-roading trail of some difficulty - a few times. So, when Land Rover invited us to be part of their Above and Beyond Tour at the said location to drive the said car, I wasn't expecting my morning to be a stimulating one. After all, what is it that I could learn and experience which I hadn't done before?
But, as it turns out, I did drive through parts of the trial I hadn't been on before. And some of those were quite challenging indeed. In fact, at the end of the day, I discovered a newfound respect for electronics, specific to what they can achieve off-road.
Grass, Gravel, Snow
The day, however, started with us taking on relatively easier sections of the trial. We started the drive in Grass, Gravel and Snow, one of Discovery's four Terrain Response driving modes. And even though the trail didn't have either grass, gravel or snow, the mode still came in handy. After all, wet hard packed mud is almost as slippery.
And just so we could get moving - especially with road tyres, the electronics on the Discovery dulled the throttle response, got the gearbox to short shift, and the ESP was at its most alert to cut out any sort of wheelspin. Needless to say, whatever hard packed slippery ups and downs we threw at the Sport, it did it all without breaking a sweat.
Mud and Ruts
So much so that I was discussing movie preferences with my co-driver instead of paying attention to the trail. Then, we arrived at a river crossing. Now things weren't just slippery, there were some rocks to go over and ditches to overcome; some of which I couldn't even see.
It was time to let the electronics on the Discovery Sport perform a different set of tricks. It was time to turn on Mud and Ruts. Here the throttle response is relatively more alert and the SUV holds on to a gear for a little while longer. The idea here is to compensate for the lack of traction that emerges from having less than four wheels on the ground.
To do that, the Discovery applies brake on the wheel with less or no traction – if it were dangling in the air for instance. Now, by stopping the wheel from merely spinning away and doing no work, the system transfers power to the wheel with traction. And the more direct throttle response meant, we made it through the river, slowly but surely.
As we got out of the water, there was a steep, rocky and slippery climb staring back at us. That's not all, there were a few hairpin bends as a part of this climb as well. So, when in doubt, go flat out, wasn't going to work here. Instead I had to apply Land Rover's off-roading philosophy - as slow as possible, and as fast as necessary.
Given that I am no off-roading expert, I didn't completely get the hang of it. So, I floored it where I shouldn't have, and forgot to get on the power when the SUV needed it the most. And so, we kept getting bogged down. Then, I did what any sensible person would do – I called for help. I engaged ATPC.
ATPC or All Terrain Progress Control. It’s like cruise control, but for the slow and unhurried wanting help in difficult off-roading scenarios. Like me. ATPC basically decides how much power to give and when. Ditto for braking. For all intents and purposes, the SUV drives itself. All the driver has to do is steer. You can also choose the speed you want to cruise at. I went for the lowest possible. I think it was 7kmph. And so, with my steering skills, we made it through.
Above and Beyond
The off-road drive was part of Land Rover's Above and Beyond Tour. This international program has been running in India for five years now. The idea behind it is the same as it is everywhere else in the world – take a bunch of bone-stock Land Rovers and send them to survive mother nature's fury. And while the SUVs are at it, throw in a few journalists, some customers, and a bunch of prospects in the mix to take the wheel as well.
By doing so, not only does Land Rover prove how capable and hardy its SUV range is off the beaten track to us journalists and prospective customers, it also gives LR owners an idea on how to use their machines if and when the going does get tough. Like finding oneself in the middle of flash floods in the hills. Or, better still, on a sandy or rocky trail in the middle of Rajasthan as a result of a poor palace-hopping itinerary.