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Stellenbosch.Co.Za goes Bundu Bashing

Bring Gum Boots!

Vehicle used: 2000 Land Rover Defender 110 Hardtop TD5
Odometre reading: 14000km
Engine: 2,5litre in-line 5 cylinder turbocharged Common Rail Diesel
92kW, 300Nm

The late 80s brought a change in people's attitudes towards 4-wheel-drive vehicles. A vehicle designed to take on the roughest terrain mother Earth could throw at it was suddenly being bought for only one reason: the IDEA that it could accomplish just this task and that the owner was of thehardest and toughest variety.

By the mid 90s the SUV (sports utility vehicle) and trendy 4x4 market was booming, every possible vehicle manufacturer wanting a piece of the pie. By the turn of the millenium, even Mercedes, Audi and BMW had entered the market, making 4x4's comfortable, safe, fast and luxurious.
Thus the initial idea of the rugged 4x4 is fading fast, as BMW's X5 comes with leather, CD, climate control, metallic paint and an options list from here to Sandton Square's parking lot. The X5, Audi's Allroad, Jeep's Grand Cherokee V8, Merc's ML430 and ML55 all top 200km/h with more power and gadgets than Bill Gates. Over 80% of all Land Rover Discovery's EVER SOLD will never leave the tar road.

Help was needed fast, and it came in the form of Land Rover's 'Experience' tracks. Stellenbosch.Co.Za was invited on a photoshoot for the Western Cape Land Rover Experience near Paarl, and I'm glad to report that my views and ideas of a proper 4x4 have been brutally put back to their original state! Land Rover had exactly this in mind, as it's a real pity to see these tough offroaders having to carry kids, groceries and the family Labrador up a pavement at the most. Not condemning the Sandton 4x4 squad, LR simply wants the proud new owners to know precisely what their vehicle is capable of, and what it was initially designed for. Thus, should you decide to purchase your very own Landy, you will receive Level 1 Training at the Land Rover Experience free of charge!

The track is an abandomned clay quarry, features 9 dams and (especially in Winter) hundreds of puddles and mudholes. Nature is carefully preserved according to Land Rover's 'Fragile Earth' policy, and the track even saw the addition of 7500 trees. The biggest dam sports an island, on which the LR Experience facilities (in the form of a thatch-roofed conference centre and entertainment area) are housed. The island is accessible via a rustic wooden walkway, and it should also be noted that the road to this dam is not made for your average family car. Best leave that in the parking lot at the entrance, as the few hundred metres to the main dam are riddled with trenches, mudpools, puddles and rocks, all of which the Stellenbosch.Co.Za Landy (alias 'Ossewa') took on with much enthusiasm.

Once on the island and inside the 'clubhouse', we were greeted by two instructors and two participants, taking a break from the compulsory lecture that forgoes any driving attempts on the track. Lectures cover every possible aspect and scenario of offroad driving with the help of a white board and some squeeky pens. Each participant can learn more about the abilities and accessories of their vehicle, be it a Defender, Freelander, Discovery or Range Rover.
Confused? Defenders are the classic Landy's, boxy, noisy and reasonably ugly. (Sheer matter of opinion, though) Freelanders are roundish, smaller and cuter. You'll find those in suburban Yuppieland. Discovery's are larger, faster and more luxurious. Hang around a school or shopping centre for a sighting. Range Rovers are huge, fast, super luxurious, hideously expensive and immenently a bit more rare. Head to Constantia or Clifton to spot one.

Back to the Experience though, and once the lecture was completed, we got into our trusty Landies to brave the day's offroading. Not to worry, your new beauty will not be tortured around this hellhole, as the Experience comes complete with it's own two Defenders and a Freelander. We got into the one Defender, a 110 Hardtop TD5 to be exact, and followed the participants and instructor in the sister car. The latter vehicle is fitted with a bullbar, spotlights and a winch for Level 2 courses.

The quarry has a criss-cross of tracks, most of which are rich with ditches, dongas, trenches, humps, bumps, rocks, stones, mud, mudpools or water. Our Landy carefully followed its sibling around the chosen path, rocking from side to side through the ditches, the low range cogs and turbocharger whining along to the TD5 'Storm' engine's cheerful clicking and clucking monotone beat.

It was only when we were told to take a shortcut to arive at our destination ahead of the participants when we ran into a spot of trouble. A mudhole the size of the car lay ahead, littered with obvious imprints of a Landy's undercarriage. Even the two half-metre deep wheeltracks didn't deterr Stb.Co.Za's adventurous webmaster and he charged the mudhole with rather ambitious intentions. A few seconds later (and the odd bang or whine) the Landy was part of the mudhole. Our fearless and excited driver, however, with the odd chunk of mud flying, got us out again and chose an alternative route. We got the desired footage of the other Defender, at first wading through a miniature dam at about waist-height, but we soon realised that this would be a rather wet and muddy eperience when they speeded up towards us.

The rest of the track featured steep hills which lend the impression of driving straight into the ground or up into the sky, and countless ditches which tilt the car to quite a worrying angle. Puddles and mudpools don't reveal the tyre-deep holes until the car suddenly falls into them and dangerously leans over. Needless to say, the driver experiences this less than the chicken passengers and it's been said that when the fear of rolling sets in, a Defender can handle 5 more degrees!

Once atop a plateau, fittingly nicknamed 'the playground', we met up with the participants and instructor about to take on some man-made obstacles. The Defender was cross-axled over a series of humps, then crossed a group of logs and plowed through a pair of mudpools. (Cross-axling is when your front axle is tilted perpendicular to your rear axle) After a U-turn, the participants drove along an embankment, braving ditches, mudpools, rocks and humps along the way. All of which are designed to throw you off course while you're trying not to put the car onto it's side.

Next came the hill descent, an exercise down a concrete incline of 38 degrees. The participants took turns churning down in first gear low range as not to produce unwanted loss of grip. It can be safely assumed that offroading is a style of driving in it's own rights when you plummet down a hill without using the brakes! Right, once down there they needed to get up again, but for the first few attempts the car was stalled on purpose halfway up the hill. The only recovery option was to roll down again, this time using reverse gear low range. The trusty Defender with it's 300Nm of torque from the Storm TD5 engine made it up the hill numerous times without major effort.

After lunch, I was once again reassured of the Defenders' offroad prowess and it's sheer indestructability (for lack of a decent word). We hopped over more stones, waded through even more mudpools and ended up at what I can only describe as the entrance to hell. A steep descent/drop/hill of about 3 to 4 metres, at times nearly vertical and covered in mud, was to be the next obstacle.
This was, I must admit in utter shame, where my faith in the Land Rovers departed, and I was sure that we were about to abondomn a car down there.
Each participant reversed (slipped/slid) down the hill, and once stationary at the bottom (after countless bangs, cracks and groans from the car) attempted to drive back up again. This involved using all of the 2 metre run-up to gain momentum and continue to plow up the hill in 3rd gear low range, according to an Instructor. When the first participant started to accelerate, the Instructor mumbled something like 'much to slow' and the car promptly got stuck halfway up.
The solution, as promised, involved spinning the wheels and flooring the car, hitting the incline at just the right angle and, if the car was still pointing in the right direction, flooring it all the way into the sky.
As an innocent bystander, one got the impression of the Defender attempting it's last hillclimb, as the engine and drivetrain were screaming bloody murder, the wheels were throwing around anything they could get their profile on as the car banged, grinded, groaned and bounced up the hill, seemingly uncontrollable. Stb.Co.Za's adventurous webmaster joined in the fun and braved the hill after the two participants, making it up the first time and showing the pride and sense of accomplishment that goes with it, while I was pointing my camera at the Land Rover, waiting for the moment when the wheels would fall off.

In all fairness though, these cars are extremely solid and even more capable. I still wouldn't think the car could make the abovementioned hill, but it did. My faith in the rugged Land Rover has been restored. The rest of the day featured deeper trenches, bigger mudpools and more torture for the Landy, but it took everything we threw at it and wanted more.

We also got the chance to see the cute little Freelander (with the new 260Nm TD4 commom rail diesel engine) in action on 'the playground'. A terribly underrated offroader, the Freelander is often dismissed as a Yuppie plaything because it doesn't match up to the Defender in areas like ground clearance. But as the Hill Descent Control and Traction Control were demonstrated I got the impression that this mini-Landy was quite capable indeed and provides the perfect balance between the hard Defender and the comfortable Discovery, with a lot of uniqueness thrown into the mix. Take the front of the car, for instance, with most of the panels being plastic which dents in easily and bounces back into shape just as easily. Crumple zones lie beneath, as do the clever Traction control and engine management systems which feature many useful funtions to help you out of trouble. Stuck in a mudpool or halfway up that concrete incline, the Freelander just started up again and carried on marching, the Traction Control preventing unwanted wheelspin.

So there you go. We ate mud, got wet, took 188 pictures and had a marvellous time. We might be a bit biased towards the Rovers, but as the Instructors confirmed, most 4x4's are capable in the hands of an expert. Want to be included in this elite group of people? Better start by calling the Land Rover Experience. Oh, and bring Gum Boots.

For:
Macho, no-nonsense driving
You get to play in mud all day in a beautiful environment
Offroad abilities of the Landies are more than impressive

Against:
There's mud - of the sticky variety. And plenty of it.
Not for the faint-hearted.
Pricey, if you haven't bought a new Landy (...)

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