The Land Rover Experience
'Form follows function' is a dictum that rarely troubles the mind of the car buyer: brand image has comprehensively trumped the actual abilities of the product wearing the badge. As a result, carmakers are dreaming up new ways of showcasing their strengths. Land Rover has more strengths than most. Although the company has shifted owners and stance over the decade, the underpinnings of these titanic 4x4s has always been engineered with off-road ability in mind, from the agricultural and characterful Defender right up to the flagship Range Rover (a replacement for which is due imminently).
The company's cars have become icons of go-anywhere ruggedness, from military service to relief work, muddy trans-continental jaunts or hill farming in Snowdonia. Yet rapid expansion and a shift upmarket, not to mention the introduction of new, rather more 'lifestyle' orientated products like the Evoque, has rather dulled the perception of all this rugged derring-do.
So the company has dreamt up a few ways of keeping well-heeled customers entertained, a snowy jaunt that fuses cultural tourism with axle-deep forays into the white stuff. We sampled this new Range Rover Experience in Finland, about 100km north of Helsinki, in the depths of winter, where Jaguar Land-Rover had laid on a smorgasbord of their very latest models, thick fleece jackets and pre-programmed satnavs to take us into the heart of the woods.
The Nordic Adventure fuses fine dining with rutted, snowy tracks, local culture with 360 degree spin outs on an icy track and upscale accommodation of both the four-wheeled and the four-postered kind.
The introduction of the very first Freelander, back in 1997, saw Land Rover roll out its new Hill Descent Control technology, an automated system that controls braking automatically to make steep descents safe and steady. Over the years, HDC has evolved into a whole raft of terrain-crunching technology, allowing the company's 4x4s to effortlessly chew their way through a variety of different landscapes, from snow to sand to gravel and mud.
We'd already experienced this breadth of abilities at the small proving ground adjacent to the JLR facility at Gaydon in Warwickshire, where alarming angles of ascent and descent and deep water proved no obstacle. Swapping muddy Warwickshire for rutted Finnish forest track was also a breeze; it helped that we were warmly ensconced in the rich leather interior of the 2012 model Range Rover.
The track led to a sizeable clearing, where Land Rover's events team had carved out several courses - slalom, a small handling circuit and a bowl, with acres of fresh virgin snow available to plough through. The full suite of Land Rover products was on hand, from the new five-door Evoque through to the Freelander, Discovery, Range Rover Sport, and Range Rover, with a pair of Jaguar XKR-S's to sample the combination of very high power and very slippery surfaces.
The main aim of the session is to demonstrate just how much the modern car can automatically shift power and braking to keep it on course, even when the elements are stacked against it. Given the undeniable heft of the Land Rover line-up, these displays of physical agility were all the more remarkable, even if it was rather more fun to turn off the traction control and fling two tons of leather, wood, aluminium and steel in a graceful arc across a great expanse of snowy nothingness.
While the Jags were dedicated to giving participants a gentle introduction into the art of controlled drifting, the 4x4s were having the most fun, scything around the handling circuit and throwing up great clouds of powder with every small error. JLR even laid on two unique Defender 'Bigfoots', custom-built in Land-Rover's Special Projects Division for off-road recovery. These well-travelled beasts run on enormous tyres, enabling them to power their way through the deepest snow (but are not the sort of thing that translate well to a Californian or Chinese commute).
The Nordic Adventure isn't just about the snow-bashing. JLR have arranged everything, from accommodation in Fiskars Wärdshus, Finland's oldest hotel, to dinners, lunches and excursions in and around the capital. Future experience plans will focus on Tanzania, as the company gears up to recreate the glory days of around the world adventuring. While the full-on Finnish experience isn't for everyone, LR offers small 'experiences' at a number of specialist driving centres around the world - check the website for details.