Land Rover Defender 130
Type: Five-door luxury full-size SUV; all-wheel drive
Engine: 3.0-litre, in-line six-cylinder; 296 horsepower; 347 lb-ft of torque
Fuel economy (city, highway, combined): 13.8 litres/100 km; 11.2 l/100 km; 12.4 l/100 km
Transmission: Eight-speed ZF 8HP45 automatic
Cargo capacity: 76.1 cu. ft., all rows folded
Towing capacity: 3,719 kg (8,200 lb.)
Base price: $69,000
“That’s the sound I want the brakes to make!,” yells Keith Shukait, an expert Land Rover instructor.
The sound of grinding pierces the air. I push down on the brakes with all my might, two of the Land Rover’s tires suspended in the air.
Finally, I’m instructed to release and the Defender 130 lurches forward, pushing me off the steep, rocky, off-roading track. I jump out of the vehicle to a round of high-fives from three of my male colleagues on the trip. “OK, who’s next?” I ask. They all back away, shaking their heads, a resounding no.
I’m at the Biltmore Estate, located in sunny North Carolina. Land Rover has brought a group of journalists to try out the new Land Rover Defender 130 on a multi-day, off-roading trek, tackling log crossings, side tilts, and rugged traverses.
It’s my first off-roading adventure ever.
At the airport, I find myself behind the wheel of the new Land Rover. As I set off on the highway for the first time, I notice quickly the Defender is quite different from my everyday drive, an old, reliable 2007 Toyota Camry. I am nervous, as the Land Rover bends and sways with each dip in the highway, and corners become a thing. With such a weighty, tall, three-row vehicle, the responsiveness takes a little getting used to.
Its boxy, rugged shape lends the Defender an undeniably luxe feeling. It turns heads wherever I go, a small ego boost, to say the least. As time passes, I become more and more comfortable with the drive. From the hulking grab bars that indicate you could easily summit the side of a mountain, to the leather, wireless, phone-charging station, there are plenty of thoughtful touches. To my surprise, there’s even a little minifridge, waiting with drinks and snacks, between the driver’s and passenger’s seats. It’s hard to be uncomfortable on a long drive, just like the one in front of me.
As I turn a bend, the sun-drenched Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia come into view, an iconic representation of the American landscape. The range stretches some 885 kilometres. Lush green vegetation and trees sway in the wind, dotting the mountain peaks in my view. As I roll down my window, the breeze hints at the promise of warm spring days ahead.
I arrive at my destination, Primland Resort. Here, a young valet awaits, champing at the bit to jump behind the wheel of the Defender.
“Ma’am, I just have to tell you, this is about one of the coolest cars I’ve driven in a long time,” he yells as he hops in the front seat.
“Me too!” I yell back.
Primland sits on 12,000 private acres. The main lodge stands surrounded by romantic tree houses and cosy log cabins. Land Rover has arranged for us journalists to experience the traditional English heritage of the brand. We set off on a horseback ride through the forest. I trade in my off-road vehicle for a much slower ride, as I mount my trusty steed named “Lucky.” We ascend a ridge, high above the blue-hued peaks, and I quickly begin to understand the appeal of horseback riding. Just as driving off road in the Land Rover is, it’s all about the experience, finding control and fun ways to get off the beaten track.
Back in the SUV, driving on into the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I bump and bounce my way along the winding road leading to the Biltmore Estate. Here sits the notable home of George Vanderbilt, who amassed his family fortune through railroads and steamboats. The property showcases a 250-room château and plenty of wooded, off-road trails. The grounds are home to one of the few Land Rover Experience Centers, a place dedicated to teaching driving techniques that use the vehicle to its full potential.
We start off easy, with declines in the track and slight tilts to the side. I grip the steering wheel so hard, my knuckles turn white. But I am pleasantly surprised to find the electronic air suspension means I face little resistance from the terrain, as we descend down a steep and muddy hill. On occasion, the car slips, and I let out an audible gasp. Yet the adaptive rut dynamics keeps me on course, and I quickly regain control.
After a full day of challenging terrain, obstacles, mud ruts, and descents, it is time for the ultimate challenge: a water crossing. Sitting at the bottom of the off-road course is the biggest and deepest puddle I’ve ever seen. Water is coming up over the side doors of the vehicle in front of me.
“I don’t know if I can do it!” I yell to my instructor, Keith.
“Hell, yeah! You can. Give ’er!” he yells back.
I put my foot down hard on the gas and the Defender flies down the hill toward the murky waters, splashing everywhere as it goes. Mud shoots up over the windshield and doors, as I push through to the other side.
Keith runs over to open the door. “Did you have fun?” he asks.
Grinning from ear to ear, I look up at him. “Can we do it again?”
Megan Honan travelled as a guest of Land Rover, which did not review or approve this article.
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