This was my third time doing the Land Rover Experience but the first time in California. To simply say that the course in Carmel is different than the one in Vermont would be the understatement of the century. Of course you expect the environment to appear different but the trail systems are totally unique as well. Many people I've talked to about the Land Rover driving schools seem to be under the impression that they're all relatively the same in terms of how they challenge the driver and vehicle. A 45 degree tilt here, a steep descent there maybe a mud pit or two and that's it. While those things are staples of these courses, they're hardly what defines them and are just the very tip of the iceberg.
The course in Carmel is located on the beautiful grounds of the Quail Lodge Resort, which I can't recommend enough whether you want to go to the school or just want to play golf and relax. The whole place was recently renovated and my room was the kind of accommodation one would expect to be extended to high profile automotive personalities who own Land Rovers and Ferraris, not us common folk with high mileage Audis.
Hard as it was to leave the comforts of the Kapua Suite, I had job to do and that job was to drive a Land Rover of my choosing on a 80+ acre off-road course. Given that I had already wheeled a Range Rover Sport and wasn't particularly interested in the Evoque, I opted for a recently delivered 2015 LR4. I've ridden in a number of these but had never had the chance to drive one and I wasn't let down. The supercharged 3.0L V6 puts out 340 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque, more than enough to help you outrun Tusken Raiders on the dunes of Tatooine. This vehicle was also equipped with a winch which I used as a camera mounting point and a luggage rack that I also used as a camera mounting point. In more serious conditions I'm told a winch can save your ass and a luggage rack is a place you can stick your kids when they won't shut up.
The trails are a mix of deep rutted hill climbs and descents, hairpin turns, an abandoned rock quarry and beautiful stretches of canopy provided by Coast Live Oak. There are areas where you can relax and enjoy the scenery as well as all the creature comforts one would expect to find in a 2015 Land Rover. Personally I was enjoyed the Heavy Duty Package which nets you a two-speed transfer case 4WD system vs. the standard single speed Torsen system, an active locking rear-diff and a full size spare tire, which thankfully we did not need to use.
For me this round of driving was all about vehicle awareness given the added height from the luggage rack and the low hanging branches of the trees. California had just gotten some much needed rain the days before I went up, which meant the wading pools were at a good level and there was a good amount of muddy ruts to get through. I hadn't previously had a chance to do any type of water crossing, so as simple as it was, that was a highlight for me. Also executing some particularly tight turns at the crest of a few different hills stood out as personal achievement. I went in feeling confident in my ability to do exactly what an instructor tells me and left feeling like I can now anticipate what they will say. I'm by no means an off-road expert but the LR4 damn sure made me feel like one and ain't that what it's all about?
Andrew Maness writes about cars because he has one and also has a computer. He's been known to drunkenly tweet as @thisnicelife and upload photos to @theroadlessdriven. He also has a YouTube Channel and thinks talking about himself in the 3rd person is really weird but knows it's necessary if he wants to be taken seriously as an automotive journalist.