MONTEBELLO, Quebec— We’re on the grounds—65,000 wild acres—of the world’s largest log hotel, the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello.
Unfortunately, we never got to see the hotel, just a large section of its 100-plus square miles of undeveloped acreage.
Land Rover Canada uses part of the forest for its Land Rover Experience Driving School. For us, however, our hosts have carved out a testing route through mud and water and over rocky hills to show off the redesigned 2013 Land Rover LR2’s capabilities.
It’s interesting that most buyers who will shell out $37,250 to $42,350 for the LR2, depending on which of the three trim levels they select, generally will never take it off road.
But they could, as we learned. And we also learned to respect and appreciate the off-road toughness of this car-based premium compact SUV. US sales for the LR2 aren’t all that high, mostly because they’ve been siphoned off by Europe, where sales are up 53 percent this year. Thus, the few that make it here—2,417 through the first nine months of 2012—easily find homes.
In 2012, Land Rover has enjoyed 20 percent sales growth in North America (41 percent global growth) and even higher brand awareness. Much of that is attributable to its premium compact sibling, the Evoque, which was named North American Truck of the Year.
But the LR2 is more representative of the brand’s swagger and DNA. For 2013, it’s got a new 2.0-liter turbocharged engine (240 horsepower, 250 lb.-ft. of torque) that’s lighter and more powerful than the 3.2-liter inline six it replaces.
Driving from Montreal to the test facility, we experience the LR2’s sophisticated ride on highways, through construction zones, and over back roads with varying degrees of smoothness and frost heaves.
Snow squalls and wind buffet the LR2, but we’re cozy in the cabin with heated seats and steering wheel.The available cold weather package adds a heated windshield and washer nozzle jets (for both headlamps and windshield).
Those washers got a good workout as my co-driver, Greg Carloss of Maryland Public Broadcasting’s MotorWeek TV magazine, and I make a pact to finish the off-road course with the muddiest LR2. We pretty much accomplished that, and also muddied the HD camera he affixed to various surfaces of the LR2. During his driving segment, Greg is frustrated by a hesitant driver in front of us. It was the equivalent of a horse reneging at a jump in an equestrian competition.
Finally, Greg develops some patience, and waits for the slow poke to get well out of sight before plowing through the terrain.
Getting in and out of the vehicle, even in relatively dry spots, resulted in mud being spread over the fine leather and carpet of the LR2’s interior. Somehow, it didn’t seem to be like sullying similar surfaces of, say, a S500 Mercedes. The LR2 has that air of aristocratic luxury that is used to such wilderness treatment and easy cleanup. If this LR2 were put up on a lift, it certainly would show some serious scratches on its skid plates.
Perhaps the best piece of video from this excursion came in a sand pit after we’d left the mud and water temporarily behind. From behind the steering wheel (did we say the LR2 offers the driver a commanding view?) it looked as though we were driving over a physical cliff.
“Feet off the gas and brake,’’we’re advised. “Let the Hill Descent Control (HDC) do its work.’’As the nose pitched down (think the old rollercoaster rides at Revere Beach or Nantasket), we braced for a rocket-like downhill run. Instead, the HDC took over and eased us down smoothly.
The previous generation of LR2s had a dial to select the available Terrain Response settings—general driving, grass-gravel-snow, mud-and-ruts, and sand. The new version has buttons. A small change, but somehow not as intimidating.
The system’s algorithms are now such that all the traction, stability, and anti-roll feedback is factored in to the all-wheel-drive’s control module as are Corner Brake Control (CBC), Emergency Brake Assist (EBA), the Hill Descent Control, and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) systems.
As a result, all-wheel-drive has been taken to a new level.
The LR2’s AWD system is front-wheeldrive weighted; only sending a bit of torque to the rear wheels under normal conditions, but the system can pre-engage at rest to reduce wheel-spin from standing starts. Land Rover feels it gives the benefits of full-time AWDwith the efficiency and fuel economy of an on-demand system.
Part of the Land Rover tradition is that functionality helps drive design. Narrow Apillars (windshield posts) improve visibility as do the hood castellations that help aim the LR2 on the track, whether paved or rutted. The short overhangs and high underbody (8.26-inch ground clearance) help maximize approach and departure angles—the offroader’s version of scraping the front or rear of a car when entering or leaving a steep driveway.
Should you buy an LR2, we highly recommend taking the driving course at the chateau. Then you’ll both see the log-built chateau and also stay in it.