Jaguar Land Rover: On a Mission

MISSION, BC  It’s 5:45 a.m. Saturday morning, and I didn’t have to wake him; he was already up.

What gets an 18-year old happily in bed early Friday evening and cheerfully up before dawn Saturday morning?

Three little initials: JLR. He was fired up for the experience of a lifetime, and that experience was conceived and presented by Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) Canada.

Few words were spoken as Austin, my 18-year old stripling, and I drove through the waning nocturnal milieu to Mission Raceway in Mission. We were en route to a morning consisting of off-road and track driving sessions designed to demonstrate — from the driver’s seat — the exceptional abilities of Jaguar Land Rover products.

Despite the polar opposites of off-roading and track driving, Jaguar Land Rover continues to push the boundaries of what their vehicles can do in the dirt and on the tarmac, and we were about to discover those limits unfiltered and unrestrained.

It was called The Jaguar Land Rover Experience Tour, and it was a marketing campaign to end all marketing campaigns. Vancouver was the final stop on this cross-Canada tour that brought the full Land Rover lineup and several Jaguar products, including the new F-Type, to race tracks paired with off-road courses in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver.

The strategy: place potential customers behind the wheel of Jaguar and Land Rover products and let them drive these vehicles on an off-road course and around a racetrack while providing professional coaching and instruction from the passenger seat. It was a most audacious plan, and one that thoroughly achieved its supercharged goal.

As a Jaguar aficionado and the owner of an aging Land Rover, I was keen to participate when the invite arrived, but as an auto journalist I was somewhat guarded. How does one make a news story from a marketing scheme, wild and rare as this one was? Then it struck me. Austin is just as fervent about performance vehicles as I am, so why not put him in the driver’s seat and report on his experience? He’s never piloted a 495 horsepower F-Type around a track before, or inched a Range Rover over obstacles that leave two wheels suspended mid-air; yes, this could be interesting for us both.

It wasn’t a struggle to convince him to sell his soul to marketing. One look at the day’s program, and Austin was running on pure octane. With some essential in-car coaching from the Land Rover instructors, Austin inched up near-vertical grades with the sky filling the windshield, and crept down drops that gave a view of nothing but the gravel below. As impressive as the dizzying climbs and descents were, it was the firm stance of the LR4 on a 38.5 degree off-camber corner that had me wondering whether some kind of Mindfreak trickery was keeping our rubber-side down. I have new-found respect for the capability of these plush mountain goats. But when it comes to 4-wheeled exhilaration, nothing eclipses running all-out on the track, especially for an 18-year old, so here’s his take on the day.

Hours before sunrise my irritating alarm chimed into action, awaking me just minutes past my usual Friday night bedtime. Immediately, I knew that it was a special day. Not only because I awoke energetically, not needing a caffeine-fuelled breakfast, but because I would be testing the limits of many exceptionally capable cars and SUVs, on-road and off-road.

As the sun appeared, we descended upon Mission Raceway to find a sparkling lineup of the latest vehicles Jaguar and Land Rover has to offer.

After a quick breakfast and a close inspection of the vehicles that awaited us, we jumped into an LR2 with an off-road instructor for a trail drive to the gruelling off road course. Halfway there, we left the softer LR2 and climbed aboard a firmer-riding Evoque, the smallest and hippest of the Land Rover clan.

Let me tell you, there is absolutely nothing small about the off-road capabilities of these two siblings. The so called ‘baby’ Land Rovers can tackle the slipperiest, steepest and roughest terrain with ease, all while being fuel-efficient and notably stylish.

After the ‘small’ Land Rovers, we moved on to their big brothers: the LR4, Range Rover, and Range Rover sport.

The obstacles overcome by these full-sized off-road brutes were immense. Holes, hills and harrowing off-camber manoeuvres were handled effortlessly with gentle throttle and steering inputs, all under the coaching of our off-road professional while relaxing in heated leather seats listening to the 1300 watt, 29 speaker Meridian premium sound system. It is a shame that these luxurious, rugged SUVs seldom face anything more arduous than a mall parking lot.

As I danced my now filthy LR4 through the off-road course, I thought to myself ‘life couldn’t get much better.’

This was before I took the loud, popping and burbling Jaguar F-Type onto the track, where life definitely got better! Under the expert coaching of a real-life race car driver, I carefully guided all 495 horses of the wonderfully vulgar Jaguar between the tight concrete walls of Mission Raceway, experiencing speed and G-forces beyond my wildest expectations.

After my laps behind the wheel, I hopped into an F-Type with a professional driver for some seriously hot laps. With tires squealing and engine roaring, we drifted through the laps mostly sideways at mind-altering speeds. Too soon though, the day was over. Surrounded by cars ticking cool and the smell of burnt rubber, we said our goodbyes.

A permanent smile was plastered on my face thanks to the tremendous test-tracks, top-notch instruction, and of course the remarkable automobiles to which Land Rover and Jaguar graciously lent me a key. Studying for my upcoming midterms was nearly impossible following the adrenalin-filled morning, but the exhilaration of ripping around in brand new Jaguars and Land Rovers was well worth it. The vehicles are amazing, and as I can attest, are becoming way more appealing to younger drivers.

Father’s last word: Back to the books boy, or you’ll never afford one.

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About Rob Rothwell