Overland across the Gobi in the Land Rover Defender: Discovery Channel

David Khoo

We discover how well the Land Rover Defender handles itself during an epic 1700km overland expedition through the Gobi Desert with Wearnes-StarChase Mongolia


Land Rover doesn’t just talk the talk, it walks it too, and this was especially apparent when we blazed a trail through the Gobi (yes, as in the Gobi Desert!) in a cavalry of chunky-dory Land Rover Defenders.

Put it down to personal prejudice, but we’ve always regarded the new age Defender as the spiritual successor to the Discovery 4 (especially given how posh the Disco 5 has become), especially with its rugged chic looks and compelling blend of comfort and off-road competence.

Of course, classic Defender purists will have the exact same impression of the latest ‘new age’ Defender!

To them, it has upped the posh factor in terms of accoutrements and affordability, although we should qualify that there’s no impact to off-road ability!

You can almost imagine the war-cries as we charged across the arid Omnogovi (Ömnögovi) and Dundgovi (Dundgobi) regions of the Gobi, with the huge cloud of dust created by our convoy’s passing easily mistaken for that of an invading force.

Mind you, this is no laughing matter considering we’re in the land of Chinggis Khan, who built the largest contiguous land empire in history – you might be more familiar with the more common ‘Genghis Khan’ spelling of his name!

Except we’re not on a trail of conquest (unless you’re talking about the Defender conquering our hearts and minds), because we’ve joined the Wearnes – StarChase Land Rover Defender Experiential Drive Event for customers (our batch is from Singapore, Mongolia and Taiwan) on an intensive immersive insertion into Mongolian culture.

That’s kinda the point of an iconic 4×4 like the Defender right? See the world, experience the unfiltered majesty of Mother Nature, make new friends, stomp mountains into submission… and that’s exactly what we did on this expedition.

It’s hard to think of another environment better-suited to the Land Rover Defender’s manoeuvres than this bleak bit of Southern Mongolia. The Terrain Response system would be put through its paces, especially since we would be rocking, rolling and rumbling over shifting sands, rocks, rubble and ruts.

We were lucky enough to find ourselves behind the wheel of the Defender 110 V8, which features a supercharged 5.0-litre V8 that punches hard to the tune of 525hp and 625Nm and sings as lustily as a Mongolian long song.

Both on-road and off-, the V8 is an elemental force of nature that is happy to cruise along, yet rock the boat when the occasion calls for it. The air suspension quickly adjusts to absorb the imperfections of all manner of surfaces, yet provides ample body control when you’re storming off the beaten path and tackling aggressive articulation.

The intense, 1700+km three-day overland expedition would take us from the capital of Ulaanbaatar (UB for short) to bask in the splendour of the White Stupa (or Tsagaan Suvarga) on the first day – which was once the floor of an ocean.

Following the White Stupa, the convoy would head to the award-winning Three Camel Lodge for a night in a ger (a traditional light, strong and easily portable round structure that can be quickly disassembled / assembled), before driving to Khongoryn Els (also known as Duut Mankhan or ‘Singing Sands’) for a trek up the massive sand dune to view the sunset, before a night of campfire mingling and ‘glamping’.

If you ask us, the Defender is ideally suited for a nomad’s lifestyle and the perfect vehicle for Mongolia’s expansive steppes, thanks to its comfortable cabin and ‘go-anywhere’ credentials, which enable one to experience the call of the wild in all its glory.

Like the Mongolians themselves, the Defender is agile and fluidly adaptable to ever-shifting elements and changing circumstances. It was similar to the traditional ger we stayed in at the Three Camels Lodge, because the Defender’s iconic, functional form belies the warmth and cosy hospitality of the interior, which serves as shelter from the harsh environment.

It’s not all open plains and wild trails, because paved roads (of sorts) do exist in Mongolia, especially leading in-and-out of the capital of Ulaanbaatar. However, for the most part, meaningful travel to the wildest (and most scenic) reaches of the country occurs over relatively unmarked stretches of the Gobi.

Some popular off-road marques require you to work hard at tackling the off-road bits. However, to the Defender’s credit, it does the heavy lifting for you, especially with off-road mode left in automatic, so you can literally just get in and drive.

You need to apply common sense, avoid unnecessary speed and remember the Defender won’t let you defy the laws of physics.

Besides, what’s the hurry? The fun is not just in the journey or the destination, but more importantly, the camaraderie forged between the participants of this epic expedition and the ability to slow down and smell the flowers.

After all, cars are just that… cars. It is the people brought together by a common passion that energises the entire experience.

Organised by the Mongolian arm of Wearnes – StarChase (the JLR dealer in Taiwan, Mongolia and Singapore), this inaugural exploratory expedition was to assess the interest levels from Land Rover / Range Rover owners in the region.

For folks like this author who hails from a veritable concrete jungle like Singapore, every off-road excursion is an eye-opener, because you’ll need to take some time to recalibrate your senses to re-engage your off-road sensitivity.

Moreover, if you’re new to the off-road experience, the route is ‘friendly’ enough for one to easily get into the groove with.

Putting a price-tag on these experiences is just the empirical portion, but the less tangible, emotional elements are priceless.

PHOTOS Wearnes-StarChase Mongolia


defender gobi desert land rover mongolia offroad driving wearnes automotive

About the Author

David Khoo

From PR to product planning and content creation, David is a big petrolhead who has been dabbling in the car trade since 2001. His stories often take an eclectic slant from the predictable and he's able to craft a compelling read that lets you see the cars (often old!) in a new light.

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