Monday, July 24, 2006

The Land Rover Experience


My brother had the misfortune to draw the short straw today and took some visitors to the state to the Launceston Airport, normally a two hour drive, in a borrowed Land Rover. Not, I hasten to add, one of those old clunkers with the canvas top and spare tyre mounted on the bonnet; this was a modern Land Rover, two to three years old, but so gutless he may as well have driven a bus.

Lyndon is taller than average, but not Guinness Book of Records tall. The first thing he noticed when he got in was that he couldn't see the instrument panel. The airbag and mouldings around it are done so cleverly, he could only see the extreme top and extreme bottom of the instruments. No problem, lower the steering a bit. That meant that now he kept hitting his knees on the steering wheel. Some cars have a sort of hump under the driver's control area where the transmission goes through, which takes a little bit of space away from inside the cab, but in the case of this Land Rover its more like they just decided no-one ever uses that space, so why have it at all? The feeling is something like sitting on the floor of the car to drive it. So, with sore knees already, he raised the steering column all the way to the top, which was less painful although it did block out any view of the instruments at all. And just for safety's sake, the accelerator pedal is attached at the top, not the bottom, so his foot throughout the journey kept slipping off and being trapped under the pedal. The seats are uncomfortable and narrow, and the correct position for the right knee, apparently, is jammed up against the door handle so you get that sore knee you were trying to avoid another way. In Lyndon's own words, "the internal layout of the vehicle is just stupid". Sitting in the driver's seat, he looked through the top 10 cm of the windscreen, the bit that the wipers miss because they're too short, and the bit that is obscured when he tried to keep the sun out of his eyes by putting the visor down. That's right, in modern Land Rovers the visor isn't a sun-shade but a privacy protector. Too bad you can't see the road but at least when you hit something, no-one will know who you are until the ambulance arrives.

Checking the mirrors was a bit pointless. Although motorised, the passenger-side one couldn't be aimed anywhere near the road behind the car; the best it could do was show him what was interesting about that barn he just passed, in the second paddock away from the road. The centre mirror wasn't much more better, showing as it does the back seat centre headrest.

This is a vehicle with a lot of gadgets and buttons. For example, there is the radio, which requires a code to be entered to use it. Its unlikely that anyone in the rear seat could reach the radio, and one would presume if the passenger tried to change your station you could slap his hand away. But still, the code makes double sure. The passenger isn't likely to fiddle with the radio anyway, though, because he is sitting in comfort with his own separate temperature and air conditioning controls. So if he's comfortable at 30° and the driver at 10°, no worries, each to his own and obviously each air molecule will stay on its own side of the car. The aircon controls are easy to find, glowing, like so many of the controls, like a radioactive isotope on heat. Pity the clock has no backlighting at all, since its used far more often.

As for the ride itself, it was apparently a joy, if you count taking over a minute to go from zero to 60 kmph joyful. The engine and the road ride were both noisy, the indicators are on the left and the light switches on the right, which is normal for right-hand-drive cars but this isn't one. Once engaged, the cruise control speed can't be changed unless it is cancelled first, which caused the car to lurch even when he was doing the set speed when he disengaged it. Envision this: you are cruising on the highway at 110 kmph with cruise control on, you know this because you are psychic not because you can see the speedometer, because you can't. You come to a town with a 60 kmph limit. Even though you are doing 110 kmph, you have to cancel it with a lurch, pull your foot out from under the accelerator where its slipped again, maneuver your leg into a position where the knee is jammed into the steering wheel so the foot can reach the brake pedal, reduce the car's speed to 60, and re-engage the cruise control at the new setting while trying to stop the passenger hacking the radio code. The sun hits you in the eye, so you instinctively reach for the visor - and the next thing you know, they're trying to get you out of the vehicle with the Jaws of Life.

You shout "Nick off, I haven't had an accident, I just pulled in here to get some petrol!"
"But aren't you horribly wedged in there?" they ask.
"Yes," you reply, "but that's just the way she's built."

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