Ever wonder what it’s like to go hood-deep in muddy water in a 4x4, but don’t want to risk your own? Ever wanted to get axle-deep in mud, but don’t have an SUV? The Land Rover Experience in England offers that and more.
The Land Rover Experience takes place at the factory in Solihull, about an hour and a half by train north of London. There's a similar Experience available at its Halewood factory.
To learn more about this tour, check out the full story at: Mud, rocks and robots: The Land Rover Experience and factory tour.
The factory tours, and the full-day/half-day drives all start at this one building, deep inside the factory grounds. There are also snacks.
Instead of hauling tourists around game parks in Africa, this extended Defender hauls tourists around the factory where it was built.
Before we were asked to put our cameras away for the drive around the factory, I got this last one of the boxy dashboard in the Defender. The whole truck changed very little in its 67-year production run.
You're not allowed to take photos inside the factory, but while writing up this story I asked Land Rover if they had any photos we could use and voila.
There are dozens of buildings on the site, and all have varying levels of automation. This building, as you can see, assembles the chassis and has very few human workers.
What's amazing is how quiet it is. Even while riveting pieces together you don't need to shout to be heard.
Unlike Range Rovers of old, the new models use an all-aluminum unibody that is a lot lighter.
The 200 or so employees that work in this building are on hand to deal with whatever issues the robots determine they're having. If one of the machines senses it's having an issue, it stops and flags a human to help out.
Inside the factory is a mini museum dedicated to telling the story of the original Range Rover.
As the proud new owner of an 1988 Range Rover, it was fascinating to see the internals like this, especially the transfer case that just cost me $2,000 to rebuild. Ah, the joy of classic car ownership.
This is a representation of the styling studio where the final iconic design was finalized. If you look closely you can see slightly different designs for the hood and grille on the left and right sides of the truck.
It's such a beautiful design it was featured in the Louvre in Paris.
The next room featured dozens of pieces of marketing and merchandise from the nearly 50 years of Range Rover.
I had initially only purchased a factory tour, but since I was there, and had the afternoon free, I decided to splurge on a half-day off-road Land Rover Experience.
At Solihull you can choose between the full-size Range Rover, the Range Rover Sport, the Discovery or the classic and iconic Defender (which of course I picked to drive first).
The Halewood factory has Discovery Sport and Evoques to drive instead.
To get acquainted with what's possible in these vehicles, Dave, my instructor, took us around part of the course. Here you can see the Defender in a mirror, making its way up a pockmarked hill, showing off every inch of its wheel travel.
Just a hint at the crazy angles in store for me.
The main Jungle Track starts right across the street from the Experience Center.
Not my first time driving a manual transmission on the right, but definitely my first time driving off-road. In my excitement, I didn't take too many pictures, though I did later with the next truck.
I did set up a 360 camera to record my first drive through deep water.
A little more muddied up, as it should be. Next we switched to a new Land Rover Discovery.
The Defender is a vehicle from a vastly different era. Stepping into a new Discovery was like time travel. From buttons, switches and analog gauges, to massive touchscreens, video cameras and heads-up displays.
We didn't do a water crossing in the Discovery, but Land Rover sent along a photo of what that would have looked like. I figure my stint doing this in the Defender looked about the same, just a bit more... boxy.
Not only is everything seemingly adjustable, but you get real-time info about what each wheel is doing.
What I think is the most clever new bit of tech is the ability to see your car essentially from above. It uses all the cameras around the car to stitch together an "aerial" view so you can navigate close obstacles like tree stumps or shopping carts.
It felt natural getting the Defender dirty. There's 67 years of photos of dirty, muddy Defenders from all over the world. But a $60,000 Discovery? OK, if you insist.
In one of many odd sights for the day, the road here drops away and you head over. In the Defender you'd do this blind. In the Discovery there are cameras so you can see where you're going.
If you take the full-day course, you can drive this complex rock crawl. For the half-day there's not enough time to do the training, so you're driven down instead. Still cool. You can see the factory ahead. All this takes place within the factory grounds, but this is one of the only places you actually see the buildings.
It might not look like much, but it's a tricky passage.
All four wheels doing four different things.
I couldn't get a good picture of a truck on the pivot bridge, so here's one from Land Rover. You drive on from above, then inch forward until the bridge pivots over, letting you drive down. It's... weird.
Here's what it looks like perched after the pivot. It feels a lot stranger inside the car. I made a video of this too.
My turn to drive over the mini hill.
I couldn't decide which was the more interesting photo: camera flat or camera tilted with the car.
This hill ascent/descent area has several obstacles and angles to add complexity.
Here's the result. Tilted down and over. It's a rather precarious feeling.
The opposite view.
It's an odd sight, seeing basically nothing but sky out the windshield.
My instructor takes the wheel so I can get some cool photos. Note the dangling right front tire.
This looked even crazier in person.
The trick with doing this is having a four-wheel-drive system that is smart enough not to send all the power to that wheel, so it just spins. That's what would happen in most cars, where the wheel with the least friction gets the most power.
You can see the tilt bridge ahead, through the very angled windshield.
I hopped out to get a picture of the Disco as Dave navigated over this obstacle. Sure, most drivers won't do this kind of thing with their Rovers, but it's cool to know they could.
So ended my day. Two trucks muddied and many, many pictures taken.
To learn more about my day spent at the factory, check out the full story here: Mud, rocks and robots: The Land Rover Experience and factory tour.