Sochi’s 'Krasnaja Poljana' mountains are quite something. No, it’s not the greenery or the amazing views over the hills. It’s not even the clean water that flows through the rivers, or the diverse wildlife that it holds, which takes your breath away. It’s the roads. They’re rough as hell; full of huge rocks, gravel and mud. Perfect then, for testing a 4x4’s off-road abilities. So when Land Rover organised an expedition through Sochi's 2014 Olympic projects and future facilities to celebrate its partnership with the city’s future Winter games, it was a perfect opportunity to see what the British brute was made of. With Rock Crawl set on the Terrain Response system in the Range Rover Vogue, the ride height adjusted and the low-ratio gearbox selected, seven other Land Rovers and I made our way up the steep side of a mountain. The slipperiness of the mud and gravel along the way doesn’t pose much of a problem for the 2.7-tonne Vogue. Thanks to some boffins at Land Rover’s base in Gaydon, the Terrain Response system senses what all four wheels are going through and locks front or rear differentials according to where it thinks necessary. At the toughest of climbs, I can see both differentials are locked, the 4x4 information display screen telling me so with a drawing of the chassis. It isn’t particular helpful when you’re trying to navigate your way down a narrow path – in fact, it’s downright distracting – but it’s good to know that the $105,000 plus you’ve just spent on your brand new 4x4 has gone towards something useful. The way to the top also includes some tight, uphill hairpins. The kind you usually see on World Rally stages; the kind that require a yank of the handbrake to get round. Still, as ever, nothing is a problem for the big Rangy and we get through those in a flash. Soon we reach the end of the ascend. 1700 metres above ground, we arrive at a waterfall turned blue by the setting sun. Looking at the Vogue as it stands there on a muddy slope, I realise that there are probably few other ways of getting to this height without breaking a sweat or getting your shoes dirty. An OAZic might get up here just as easily, but I doubt its driver would feel fit enough, as I did, to do the whole climb all over again. In truth, that’s the real appeal of a Land Rover: minimum effort by the driver, maximum effectiveness on road (or dirt). If the Queen was sitting in the back seat throughout our climb, she probably wouldn’t even have realised she was on anything other than asphalt. Although she might have spilled her tea just a bit... If in seven years’ time you decide to take a holiday in Sochi you’ll notice the new ski and bobsleigh tracks built of the Winter Olympics. But if you don’t really like winter sports and you own a Land Rover, there’s always a very good off-road alternative.
Published on Jun 20, 2012