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Images: Gaurav Thombre
It’s 5:30am and I can already see bright orange hues of a dawning sky and hear the sounds of a city awakening from deep slumber. Here, in Kolkata, days begin early and finish early. Shaking off my stupor I quickly call Gaurav and Alameen, the two people who are critical to my work in this charming and chaotic city that I call home. Today’s itinerary involves having to look at this city like I have never done before – as a tourist on a great Eastern adventure.
Even though the official name of the city was changed to Kolkata long ago, in my head the city is still Calcutta. And we were ready to discover a sense of adventure off-road in this iconic city in a vehicle designed for it – the Land Rover Discovery Sport.
Our final destination for the day was Rajarhat, New Town in Kolkata for the Land Rover Experience where participants had already experienced the awesome capabilities of the Discovery Sport at a specially designed off-road track. Now we all know about the Land Rover DNA and how every SUV sporting the green oval badge is a robust off-roader in reality. For me however this is a somewhat limiting description of the vehicle. I would rather describe the Discovery Sport as an all-roader, for it is amazingly versatile in all conditions.
Negotiating through the chaos that is Kolkata, the Discovery Sport impresses straight away. Despite its size it doesn’t feel intimidating to drive in the city. In fact, the Discovery Sport’s ability to induce a sense of calmness catches us unaware. It’s a great thing to have in a vehicle of discovery because only when you’re calm will you notice and remember. The plush and comfy interior enhances the experience while you cut through all types of obstacles the urban jungle can throw at you. What’s more, the 5+2 seating configuration adds practicality to your adventures. These seats have fore and aft adjustment allowing flexible use of space for luggage or to maximise passenger legroom. So, take your family along or just plonk the adventure baggage inside – there’s room for all.
Across the city and into Rajarhat, New Town, we meet the able members of the instructor gang at the venue. They will take each participant of the Land Rover Experience through the off-road course safely. I am paired with Yogesh and we are off. The first set of obstacles don’t seem particularly difficult – an axle articulation obstacle where deep pits dug into the ground allows one suspension unit to be totally compressed and the other fully extended at all times. The second is a side incline that allows me to experience just how much the Discovery Sport can tilt without any fear of toppling over. But these really are more about warming up as I soon realise. As time wears on and we drive deeper into the course, the challenge posed by each obstacle keeps increasing until we reach the high point of the course. Ahead of us is a deep pit followed by a steep hill made of loose dirt. The pit is deep enough to swallow the tall Discovery Sport in its entirety so that a man standing at ground level would see nothing of the vehicle. From the base of that pit to the crest of the hill would be a good 20-25 feet. It seems like an impossible task when Yogesh tells me to first drive into the pit and then out of it. Yet, just five minutes later I am on the other side, marvelling at the ease with which the SUV performed such a challenging task, courtesy the All-Terrain Progress Control that modulates throttle and brake inputs to ensure that the Discovery Sport maintains the same speed on off-road terrain. Meanwhile, the Hill Start Assist system prevents the vehicle from rolling backwards on a slope for a full three seconds, allowing the driver to move his foot from the brake to the throttle safely. On the other hand, Hill Descent Control assists the driver with controlled descents of difficult slopes by maintaining a constant speed and applying braking separately to each wheel. The system works automatically to slow the vehicle and maintain the speed relative to the selected gear range and accelerator pedal position.
More obstacles come and go but nothing stops the Discovery Sport. It ploughs through the mud, glides over the ruts and wafts through the slush without missing a single beat. All thanks to the Terrain Response System that Land Rover invented. This system optimises engine, transmission, differentials and chassis systems to fly out of low-traction scenarios. Select the mode according to the terrain ahead and you are sorted.
Normally, when you think of such terrain you would associate it with something that looks rugged and tough. The fact that a vehicle that is clearly equipped for the urban jungle with lovely leather upholstery and a panoramic sunroof can shine so brilliantly in a genuine jungle is simply fascinating. Its brilliant Meridian system delivers exceptional audio quality all thanks to the 10 speakers and dual channel subwoofer. In more ways than one, the Land Rover Discovery Sport turns out to be one luxurious yet utterly versatile adventure. One that I would take to the Joypur forest in Bankura, about 150km from Kolkata to enjoy to the hilt.