You have to respect Land Rover for daring to dream up so many cool car toys: invisible hoods, remote driving, really good speakers in the Autobiography. One of those ideas, which is effectively “off-road cruise control,” has become a reality. I tried it on the new Range Rover Diesel. And I hate it.
New for 2016, Land Rover has officially dubbed this feature All Terrain Progress Control (ATPC). Here’s the idea: turn it on, set your speed, and the truck will do its own brake and throttle up over and through any obstacle.
Steep hills, rock scrambles, just flick the switch and all you do is steer. Neat idea and yes, it really works. When it works.
While exploring the Spanish countryside with Zach Vlasuk from Kelley Blue Book riding and shotgun and Nathan Hoyt representing Land Rover PR in the back, we wound up at Dakar Rally-racer Pep Villa’s house.
When I say “house,” I mean 1,000-acre estate and off-road course. Naturally Land Rover led us there for lunch and the opportunity to be dazzled be their truck’s mountain goat impression. Here’s a taste of what goes down on these grounds, before you go calling us a bunch of sissyboys for playing on a track instead of a trail:
Onto the track we went, rolling up on an extremely steep rock face in the Range Rover diesel where I rolled down the window for a polo-shirt’d off-road instructor.
“Now here we’re going to try the All Terrain Progress Control,” he reported.
Finally! The moment I’d been eagerly anticipating since I noticed that little button on the console. Getting paid to drive someone else’s truck off-road is great, but does mean submitting yourself to the intense tutelage of driving instructors. Now I could finally relax and let the truck take the blame if we toppled down the hill.
Our minder carried on:
“You won’t need to push any pedals. Just steer it up the obstacle.”
“Now just flick it into low range, good, rock mode, just there yep, the ATPC button, uh-huh, and four clicks up on the cruise control plus-button.”
Those clicks were setting the speed to about 2 kilometers per hour, you adjust it faster and slower the same way you would regular cruise control on a highway.
Then he said something about which line we should take, but I was too busy beaming with pride over masterfully operating the SUV’s complex control panel to listen. Bet those lifestyle-bloggers take seconds longer to find the “low range” switch!
“Off you go!”
I released the brake and the truck tip-toed toward the beginning of the ascent. Then stopped, and instead of a speed the gauges read: ATPC NOT AVAILABLE.
I rolled down the window for the instructor who was already tapping it.
“Did you hit the brake?”
“Nah man, feet of the pedals just like you said!”
He ran through all the controls again, another sweat bead appearing each time he confirmed something was in the right setting.
“Let’s try turning it off and then on again,” I offered. Fixes everything else, right? I only realized something really was broken when the guy said “go ahead.”
But after a restart and another lap through the activation ceremony the ATPC was working and walked us up a steep, slippery climb that assuredly makes new Range Rover owners squeal in delighted terror when they come out to this facility for one of those “Experience” camps.
Here’s what it feels like: the car is driving itself. No, I mean, really. You’re giving it suggestions on where to go but the vehicle’s settling itself, applying the perfect amount of traction at all times, and scampering up a slope I actually couldn’t do in sneakers. And this thing was wearing all-season road tires.
The vehicle compensates for wheel slip at each tire independently, even pauses at crags before applying just the right amount of throttle to clear them smoothly.
So basically it’s incredible. And I hate it.
Imagine if you could climb in a Porsche 911, take it to the track, hit a button and steer it toward the apexes while it executed brakes, throttle, clutch, and gear changes. You’d be impressed with the technology and disappointed by the experience.
Of course I’m biased, I’m an off-road enthusiast. With tremendous respect for Land Rover’s engineers at being able to execute this technology, I don’t really understand when it’s really going to be used, or why.
The average Range Rover first-owner who’s inexperienced off-road can’t rely on it completely, and anybody who’s on the trail for fun is going to want to have the fun.
And then there was the whole part about ATPC inexplicably not working the first time we tried to set it. Kinda makes the tech feel like having Captain Ron as your off-road tour guide. When it’s awake, it kicks ass. But relying on it is a terrifying prospect.
So perhaps like ATPC has a lot more potential to get people into trouble than out of it! I’m picturing Mr. James L. Richguy taking his new Range Rover off the lot, onto the beach, and straight into the ocean because “hey, ATPC will save me!”
Suppose there’s a third option; that people with some off-road skill will use this feature to supplement that when they’re tired or have trouble with a particular option. But those folks probably have 4Runners anyway.
I know, more likely people will only get that option if it’s bundled with other stuff and never use it after the dealer demo anyway. But at least Land Rover is still experimenting with ways to make their 4x4s more interesting and off-road capable. And they absolutely are more capable than ever.
I’ll just stick to climbing rocks in it myself.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.