Land Rover Bigfoot says snow, what snow?

Lumbering like some sort of wheeled AT AT across the icy wastes of Finland (not actually the planet Hoth, though it feels like it), the Land Rover Defender Bigfoot is a pretty definitive answer to the question: do I need winter tyres?

Winter tyres, Land Rover Bigfoot style
Winter tyres, Land Rover Bigfoot style
You do if you want to go punting about in snow drifts that would bury your typical hatchback up to the roof. And, given what's apparently on the way, this 38-inch wheel and tyre combo might not be such a ridiculous modification.

The chance to drive Bigfoot, or one of two, um, Bigfeet built by Land Rover Special Vehicles, is the highlight of the Nordic Adventure programme run by the brand's events team and open to anyone (well, anyone with deep pockets...) who fancies a few days of luxurious accommodation and incredible off-road driving.

Finnish what's started
Our sampler visit to Finland is somewhat truncated, both by Finnair's inexplicable reluctance to leave Heathrow and a tighter schedule for this press trip. And while it seems daft to fly out of a snowbound London to visit ... snowbound Finland at least the Finns seem able to cope with more than a light dusting of snow without going completely bonkers. That'll be that famously chilled Finnish demeanour in action then. That or the fact they live with it for months on end.

Don't get stuck, that'd be embarrassing...
Don't get stuck, that'd be embarrassing...
Either way, -26 is no great shakes out here, the dry cold burning with intensity almost as extreme as the heated seats of our Evoque as we head north from Helsinki for our meeting with Bigfoot.

Our late arrival means we miss the night drive through frozen forests but the fact I get the Evoque stuck turning into the hotel's driveway demonstrates my English snow driving skills are probably best left untested, at least until the morning.

If you go down to the woods
We get a taste of some of the night drive route the following morning and it is, frankly, absolutely stunning. The Evoque - studded tyres in place - is more than able to keep up with its grown up Range Rover brothers and the magical quality of the frozen Finnish forests is breathtaking.

Not like the M25 in the snow, safe to say
Not like the M25 in the snow, safe to say
Our destination is Land Rover's ice field where various handling and slalom courses - plus a steering circle for gatecrashers Jaguar- have been laid out for us to explore the abilities of the Range Rover line-up. The Evoque proves chuckable and fun (we'll have another crack atthat Nurburgring lap...) while powersliding a Range Rover surrounded by wood panelling and ruched leather feels improbable, totally inappropriate but rather good fun.

Man up
The car we're all excited about has a field all to itself though. Mainly because anything else here - Range Rover included - wouldn't get more than a few metres before getting stuck.

Yummy mummy on the school run, Finnish style
Yummy mummy on the school run, Finnish style
After the chintz of the Rangie it's one hell of a culture shock climbing into a Defender. It's all a good deal more heavy duty and no nonsense in here. Leather and wood? Nah, metal, vinyl and rubber, all of it black.

One might feel precarious way up here on massive 38-inch tyres but, in all honesty, the Bigfoot does everything it can to imbue you with a sense of indestructibility.

A full roll cage helps, ditto the hugely over engineered sense that nothing will stop it. And not much will.

Snowman, not actually abominable
Originally built by Land Rover Special Vehicles as support for press events around the world, the Bigfoot first saw action in Morocco but has since trodden soil in Iceland and other varied and extreme environments across the globe. A bit of snow shouldn't be too much trouble then.

Fancy pants Evoque this is not
Fancy pants Evoque this is not
To offset the effect of the huge tyres the Bigfoot is actually equipped with an Ashcroft Underdrive, cable operated by a pleasingly old-fashioned looking red lever bolted to the side of the transmission tunnel. This and pneumatically operated ARB diff locks that engage with a hiss of the compressor and a hearty thunk are all a world away from the one-touch Terrain Response of the 'civilian' Range Rovers we've been driving. This is proper stuff, chassis reinforcement, extra long travel dampers, heavy duty drag link and track rod on the steering mechanism and huge cutaways in the bodywork to accommodate the tyres underlining this is lumberjack shirt and combat pants Land Rover, not Prada and Jimmy Choos.

Takes a while to get going though, the earlier five-speed 2.5 TD5 Bigfoot lacking the anti-stall of its later six-speed brother. And once under way even with fleet footwork it'll take you 33 seconds to reach 62mph. Not that you'd want to on the compacted ice with these tyres apparently, their comfort zone being softer ground of sand, snow or mud.

Off to the Bigfoot playground...
Off to the Bigfoot playground...
Carve your own path
The Bigfoot is a truly physical vehicle to drive, as you might expect given the way it looks. It's the first vehicle we've driven here with a clutch and it requires a good shove at that, and having grasped the long, fiercely vibrating gear selector it takes firm, deliberate action to shift into the next gear. By which time there's a real possibility you'll have come to a complete standstill. Even with much of the bodywork removed the steering lock is seriously limited too.

Our chaperone suggests getting a feel for it all by following in the tyre tracks already made around the edge of the vast, snow-covered field that's acting as Bigfoot's playground today. There's no huge gradient, or any obstacles as such, just limitless metre-deep powder in the centre. "Go on, put your foot down and just drive into it," comes the order.

You wouldn't want to get stuck round here
You wouldn't want to get stuck round here
If you've ever made the transition from bashed piste to virgin powder on skis or snowboard the sensation feels familiar, even if it's a bit unusual from behind the wheel of a hulking great Defender.

That same sense of peace, of floating suspended on millions of snow crystals and carving in smooth arcs across a pillow-soft surface is there, the low sun glinting through the cloud of snow in my wake. Which is all very poetic considering all I'm really doing is hooning about in a snowy field in an over-tyred Landie. Still, simple pleasures.

The Finnish Land Rover Nordic Adventure costs a not insubstantial £4,976 based on two people sharing. A rather more affordable £99 winter driving course is available across the UK at any one of 10 Land Rover Experience centres.


P.H. O'meter

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Comments (39) Join the discussion on the forum

  • remkingston 09 Feb 2012

    Looks cool.

  • scholesy 09 Feb 2012

    To be honest for £5000 I would rather buy a modified defender over here and enjoy it in the snow! wink
    I wonder how much it costs to have special vehicles customise a defender to this extent, anyone?

  • thinfourth2 09 Feb 2012

    Mmmm underdrive lust

  • Stuart 09 Feb 2012

    I was just starting to wonder where the obligatory "here's me doing an impression of a tea pot in front of a vehicle" shot was, but you've left it right until the end to lull me into a false sense of hope. biggrin

  • soad 09 Feb 2012

    Now that's what you call fun - video looks great. biggrin

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