Kodiaq

Skoda came late to the SUV game. But when it arrived, the Yeti rewrote the rules on how a small 4×4 should be. Now the company aims to do the same thing with the Kodiaq, a larger vehicle whose all-road ability, seven-seat practicality and sensible pricing is aimed directly at the heart of Discovery Sport territory.

Based on the latest technology used throughout the Volkswagen Group, the Kodiaq is designed to be as family-friendly as possible. Not all models have seven seats, just as not all have four-wheel drive, but with a choice of five engines, two gearboxes and four trim levels, it’s unlikely that you’ll fail to find one to suit your taste.

That’s if it’s to your taste at all, of course. The Yeti stood out by virtue of its distinctive styling, but the Kodiaq is more conservative, looking smaller than it really is and even appearing quite car-like from some angles. Apparently the nextgen Yeti will take the same approach when it arrives later this year, which you might say is a bit of a pity.

Far be it from us to talk of trivial stuff, but it did occur during the launch that this is a vehicle whose design is particularly sensitive to the colour you paint it. We drove one in signal red, which definitely deivided opinion; ours would be that unless you want to hide in the scenery, a bright colour helps.

Inside, the Kodiaq feels just like a Skoda should. It’s beautifully put together, of course, and the dash on the SE L spec model we drove was highlighted by a very elegant, very modern touch-screen media system that looked crisp, made logical sense to use and responded promptly to inputs.

This helps make it a pleasing and entirely inoffensive place to sit, as do good, comfortable seats with a commanding view of the road ahead. Behind you, the second row can be slid far enough back to let one six-footer stretch out behind another – naturally, there’ll be a push-me-pull-you sort of compromise to be made if there are people sat in the third row too, but our tester was only a fiveseater so that one’s going to have to wait for another day.

What we were able to do was drop the rear seats, which is dead easy as it’s just a question of pulling a lever and watching as the backs drop to click into place and sit near-flat on the fixed squabs. They left a step in the load floor on the Kodiaq we drove, but once you’ve played about with the seven-seat options and/or the various cargo handling accessories on offer, there’s no reason to fear being stuck with one like that.

Our Kodiaq had the 1.4 TSI engine, in 150bhp form and mated to a manual gearbox. Yes, a 4×4 with a 1.4-litre petrol engine… last time we came across one of those, it was an old-generation Dacia Duster from the early nineties.

Happily, the Kodiaq bears no resemblence to that sad shed of a thing. The engine is brisk and full of torquem the gearbox is a picture of smoothess and the overall standard of handling and, in particular, ride shows none of the harshness that’s blotted Skoda’s copybook in the past. It doesn’t exactly reflect well on how much attention we were paying, but at the end of the launch route we remarked that we had barely noticed what the Kodiaq was like to drive – a sure sign of a car with no vices.

The petrol engine is not to be feared, and if you value serenity you’ll fi nd it quieter than the 2.0 TDI diesel we had a quick spin in afterwards. Both are very acceptable, however.

What the launch route didn’t include was any off-tarmac work worthy of the name (even though we were tantalisingly close to Salisbury Plain, which was a bit frustrating). So that too will have to wait for another day – however with Off-road mode available as part of the Drive Mode Select option on 4×4 models, we fully expect the Kodiaq to be as capable as mechanically similar machines like the new VW Tiguan – which has previously impressed us in genuinely difficult conditions.

As it is, the pictures on these pages make it clear that Skoda is marketing the Kodiaq as a vehicle for people who want to keep going after the road ends. Within reason, we expect it to excel at that – it’s clearly not for hardcore mudplugging, and you wouldn’t want to cane it through clawing thorns, but on the sort of known-quantity rough tracks that make up almost all the off-roading people do in the real world, it has the makings of a true do-anything family holdall.

Land Rover Discovery

There were no surprises when pictures of the Discovery 5 surfaced. Like the Discovery Sport but taller, wider and with familiar traits from previous Discoverys like the stepped roof, the D5 is clearly the top dog in what is now Land Rover’s most rounded model family.

Crucially, however, there’s always the risk that someone will label it, ‘just a rebadged Range Rover’. There’s no denying that this Discovery looks closer to its poshest relations than before, especially at the front. What this Discovery needs to do, though, is drive like a Discovery. There needs to be segregation here compared to the Range Rover. Unlike in the old Discovery 4, you have a choice of engines ranging from the 240hp 2.0-litre Sd4 diesel to the 340hp 3.0-litre Si6 petrol unit.

We tested the one in between, a 258hp 3.0-litre Td6 version, and while that doesn’t have significantly more power than the Sd4 engine, there is around 20% more torque on tap (443lbf.ft against 369lbf.ft). Simply put, the Td6 engine is superb. Essentially the same unit as the old SDV6, it does a fine job of hauling the vehicle up to speed. Having shed 480kg in weight over the old Disco 4, it’s no wonder this new Discovery feels lighter on its feet. Naturally, it’s no featherweight still, so you can’t start thinking you’re in a sports car – but you can at least think heavyweight boxer rather than sumo wrestler.

There’s more good news too as each engine is mated to the brilliant eight-speed ZF gearbox. On the road, the Discovery 5 feels very composed. It still has that Discovery 4 glide, and it’s very easy to settle into. The steering is nicely weighted for a vehicle this size, making it easy to position in town and when entering the sort of bends you’ll find on a typical B-road.

Again, it’s easy to cover ground quickly. Yes, there will be a little body roll in the corners, but it’s minimal and to be expected when you’re pressing on in a vehicle of this stature. Big is one conclusion everyone seems to draw from their initial greeting with the Disco 5.

But no, it doesn’t feel like a Range Rover. There’s more to it than that. It feels multi-purpose. It feels versatile. It feels Discovery.

Admittedly, when you sit in the driver’s seat of the new Disco, the fact that it utilises the same steering wheel and switchgear as the Range Rover can undermine that argument. But having parts from a car that is significantly more expensive is surely a string to the Discovery’s bow.

Being the new kid on the block, the Discovery has other perks too. These include the Intelligent Seat Fold system, which allows you to raise or lower the middle and back rows of seats all at the touch of a button; the stadium seating that means the (very usable) back row gets as good a view of the road ahead as the driver; the on-board wi-fi and hundred different USB slots to help kids keep shtum for weeks. There’s even heated seats for every single row and bum.

Everyone should be safe, too, as you carry the kiddiewinks to school in a vehicle awarded with a full fivestar NCAP safety rating.

Forget the party pieces and on-road manners for a moment, though. Take the Discovery 5 offroad and you understand why Land Rover is so excited about it.

There’s no escaping that you are subject to a far more digitised experience than you had 28 years ago in a Discovery. The latest Terrain Response 2 algorithms, combined with All-Terrain Progress Control, Hill Descent Control and cameras on every panel, mean it can all feel a little disconnected.

However, all these electronic aids mean no terrain is safe from the reach of the Discovery. Even over severe rocks, it brings a level of composure, while traction control settings can adjust automatically to solve the equation the landscape poses ahead. Our impression is that the Discovery 5 will go further than a Disco 1 or 2 could manage, at least in standard spec.

A 900mm wading depth also enables the Discovery to do a good impression of a narrowboat heading down your nearest canal.

Notwithstanding this, the new Discovery looks and moves much better than a boat. The fresh exterior, while not to everyone’s taste, has sharpened it up over its predecessor. Yet it still feels like a Disco 4 – only nimbler.

The problem with the Discovery is the Range Rover. Or more accurately, the Range Rover’s problem is now the Discovery.

The version we drove was a Td6 HSE Luxury: yours for £75,965. That sounds like insane money for a Discovery, but this is a seriously high-spec machine which echoes the Range Rover with some of the touches in its cabin.

The question is that with the Discovery being such an all-rounder, with seven usable seats, brilliant storage space, luxury taken straight from the Range Rover and more capability than you’ve ever seen in a thing with four wheels, why would you spend possibly an extra £25,000 on a Rangey?

The answer is that snob value is a powerful thing. And you can expect the Range Rover to keep on moving upmarket. With what may just be the greatest ever Discovery now on its case, it might have to.

Subaru

Hard as it is to believe, the Subaru Forester is two decades old this year. We’re on to the fourth-generation model, and even this is already midway through its life cycle. What started out as an Impreza on stilts is these days an SUV in its own right. It’s still at the car-derived end of the scale, but it remains instantly recognisable as the sort of vehicle Subaru has been doing so well since long before the rest of the industry figured out that by crossing cars with off-roaders, it could create something for which punters en masse would go wild.

The current Forester follows a familiar pattern. There’s an allindependent layout, a choice of flat-four engines and, at the top of the range, a turbo-nutter model. What we have here is the sensible choice – the 2.0D diesel, albeit in top-dollar XC Premium form. This has all the usual rangetopping stuff, like leather, sat-nav, memory seats and a powered tailgate. But even in standard form the Forester is a very well equipped car, and we’d question the need to spend another £2500 on it. Whichever way you go, you’ll get an SUV with a very well made interior.

It’s not all flash and clever, but the surprise and delight comes from the feeling that everything you touch is carved from rock. The controls are excellent, and well laid out to make piloting the vehicle an easy job, and a superb driver’s seat gives you loads of adjustability in every direction.

There’s plenty of stowage space around the cabin, too, and the media screen on this model is very nice – though a major irritation with the sat-nav is that having given it a postcode, it still demands a street name before it will start taking you there. In the back, the seats are set high enough to provide an excellent view. Headroom could be better, though (the sunroof, which is standard, doesn’t help), however knee room is okay even with the seat in front fully back. For cargo carrying duties, the rear seats drop with a 60:40 split to leave an almost completely flat floor. There’s a slight step, but it’s smoothed over by a flap so as to allow big items to slide into place. You can drop the seats using levers in the boot sides, too, which is nice and convenient. But the tailgate aperture isn’t the biggest, and there’s a bit of a lip to get your luggage over on the way in and out.

Overall, however, the Forester scores well for practicality. It’s a pleasing vehicle to drive, too. The diesel engine has enough power to get you about briskly, but really you’re driving it on torque – of which there’s plenty, all of it available from way down low in the rev range. Add in a gorgeously slick manual gearbox and you’ve got an SUV that takes no effort at all. It’s not wearing on the ears, either.

The engine does its stuff very quietly and, with little in the way of road or wind noise, it’s as refined as you’d expect and then some. It’s lovely and smooth, too – 225/60R17 tyres strike a good balance between agile handling and supple ride, and there’s almost nothing in the way of vibration from either the road or the drivetrain. There’s little in the way of thumping, either, with speed bumps and jagged pot holes damped out skilfully. You do hear and feel them, of course, but at a distance that’s wholly acceptable.

Body movement is well controlled, too – part of our test route is to take the idiot’s line over a series of diagonally set speed pillows which can throw a vehicle from side to side, but the Forester soaked them up well. That level of compliance is impressive when combined with a genuinely entertaining level of handling that lets you use the vehicle’s all-wheel drive platform to the full. It steers positively and holds on as well as you’d expect, allowing you to work the drivetrain to fire it out of corners for fun.

This is the stuff of all-round competence, and when you add in a sure-footed presence on rough, unmade tracks and sloppy surface mud, you have a vehicle which really is ticking all the main SUV boxes. Ground clearance is a very decent 220mm and, while Foresters with low range are a thing of the past these days, the combination of all that low-down torque with a good, deep first gear means you can ease if over uneven ground with a strong degree of confidence.

Subarus aren’t easy things to get a discount on, but even at list price the Forester looks like good value. With its build quality backed up by a long warranty, it’s the sort of vehicle you keep for way more than the standard three years. Thats’ how it’s always been with Subarus – and this Forester continues to build on its manufacturer’s hard-won reputation for making cars people keep for life.

Revised one-tonne pick-up is cheaper to run, thanks to a much smaller engine, and gains longer equipment lists to go with an amended model range

Isuzu

There’s been a move towards smaller engines in the car market as a whole. But in the world of pick-up trucks, where once every model had a 2.5-litre turbo-diesel, things have diverged.

Up top, the Ford Ranger offers a 3.2-litre option and the old 2.0 TDI in the VW Amarok has just been replaced with a 3.0-litre unit. But now here’s the Isuzu D-Max, fi ve years on from its arrival in the UK, heavily downsized from its old 2.5-litre engine to a new lump displacing just 1898cc.

Can such a small engine work in a mainstream one-tonner? That’s the question Isuzu needs to answer if the D-Max is to maintain the huge success it’s achieved since 2012.

There’s more to the new D-Max than just a smaller engine, however. Its styling has been freshened up, its cabin has been improved and all models now feature hill start assist and hill descent control. Audio systems are new across the range, too, and the front bumper and bonnet have been redesigned to give pedestrians a better chance should the unthinkable happen.

The D-Max tested here is the range-topping Blade double-cab, complete with the optional sixspeed automatic gearbox. This would cost £27,999 plus VAT on the road (that’s £33,599 once the tax man has taken his share). This is a lot less than you’ll pay for some double-cabs. But price apart, does the character of a topspec truck sit comfortably with that of such a small engine?

CABIN AND PRACTICALITY

Double-cabs’ interiors can feel a bit utilitarian compared to those of similarly priced SUVs. But between its underlying design and the lavishly dressed-up treatment given to the model on test here, there’s nothing about the D-Max to make you feel like a second-class citizen.

In particular, this is a truck which highlights the fact that hard plastics don’t need to feel cheap. All too often, where they occur in everyday vehicles it’s because they’re being used as a way of saving money, and they’re scratchy and brittle as a result. Here, though, while the dash surface has no give, the plastics in which it’s trimmed feel dense, stout and there for a reason. It’s a strong truck and they belong in it.

The infotainment module, on the other hand, doesn’t feel as if it belongs. That’s not to say it’s bad, but its 9” screen sits proud of the facia in a frame so large as to totally dominate the rest of the dash. It even sticks up far enough to obscure access to the lidded tray behind it on the dash top, and beneath it is a bank of buttons that’s the opposite of intuitive – and, you’d think, of the purpose of having touch-screen controls in the first place.

With sat-nav and phone pairing functions, the unit does have plenty of power, and you’ll learn its controls quickly enough. Aside from its awkward appearance, our main concern would be that the display is hard to read in direct sunlight.

Another feature of the Blaze model is its quilted leather seats, which look fantastic and are in the main good and comfortable. We found ourselves getting achey on long journeys, however, and they could do with a little more lateral support.

The driving position is good, though, and there’s plenty of adjustment in all directions. You’re not so well provisioned for stowage, with a large cubby box doing most of the work here. And we’d have expected such upmarket seats to have come with adjustable lumbar support.

A welcome surprise, however, is that even with the front seats fully back, the rear bench can still take a couple of six-footers. The seat-backs are well sculpted to accommodate your knees; the thick cords on the map pockets do dig in somewhat, and headroom is adequate rather than generous, but there’s a good view out the side and you don’t feel at all cramped.

When you’re carrying cargo or equipment that’s too delicate or valuable to be chucked in the load bed, the rear seat-back folds down to create a totally flat platform. That’s a nifty little practicality bonus; the generally usable nature of a onetonner needs no introduction, but as far as this goes the Blade model comes with a damped, wide-opening tailgate and a choice of loadspace cover options.

ON THE ROAD

With 164bhp and 265lbf.ft, the new engine is a touch higher on power than the old 2.5-litre unit – but down significantly on torque. This has no apparent bearing on its ability to shift the vehicle, but you do hear it revving considerably more in the process.

The auto box obviously has some bearing on this, requiring what sounds like a good bit of effort to keep it wound up. In particular when the engine is cold, the result is an amount of revs which can verge on the alarming; it does settle down as it begins to warm up, but even then it’s quite vocal.

There’s no shortage of pull, however, at any position in the rev range. Top torque comes in at 2000rpm and you can hold it on the brakes for a moment as you keep the engine warm in anticipation of fi ring it into a gap in the traffic – which it does with all the briskness you’d hope for. Even just stamping lazily on the loud pedal gets a result, actually, though between the relatively high engine speed for max torque and the need to bring the gearbox into life, you need to put in more work than that if you want it to really spring into action.

The box does have a manual over-ride option if you want it, and we found that it’s also very good at keeping you from running away on steep hills. Lift off the throttle and it’ll stay in a low gear to enable compression braking – the result is a gale of noise from under the bonnet until the engine matches its revs to the situation, but for sure it works.

Given the constant references we’re making to noise, you could be forgiven for assuming the D-Max didn’t impress us on the motorway. In fact, the opposite is the case – the engine settles down well at speed, with an acceptably low level of droning that can be knocked out by the stereo without having to turn it up stupidly loud. Wind noise is there, as is some thumping from down below, but you could do a lot of miles on this engine without life becoming rude.

The D-Max handles tidily for a double-cab, too. Its steering is free of vices and while body roll is there, it’s controlled and predictable. We drove the vehicle with no more than light loads in the back, certainly nothing like enough to influence the springs’ performance significantly, but the wayward bouncing that used to be a pick-up keynote was as good as negligible.

For an entertaining drive in a double-cab, we’d choose a manual every time. However even in this form the D-Max can be hustled through corners with enough zest to put a smile on your face and not enough wallowing to wipe it back off again. Its ride quality is perfectly acceptable, too, with no sign of this model’s 60-profile tyres letting through any more patter or harshness than you’d expect anyway in a one-tonner.

OFF-ROAD

We certainly wouldn’t choose a 255/60R18 fitment for off-road work. If you’re serious about getting your D-Max the way you want it, however, less elevated models than this run on 245/70R16s – still not what you’d call a common idea of the perfect rubber for all-terrain efforts, but evidence that you can get a 16” rim around Isuzu’s brakes, which of course opens up a world of options in the tread pattern of your choice. Lift it a little, for example, and you could be running a D-Max on 235/85R16s.

But before you do that, make sure you know how capable it is in standard form – because unless you really do have tough stuff in mind, as it comes out of the showroom the D-Max is one of the most agile and tractable trucks there is. We’d like to see a locking rear diff at least on the options list, but even without this the vehicle is very sure-footed over uneven terrain and side slopes. With low box engaged, once again the smaller engine makes no apparent difference. Whether the 1.9-litre unit is as effective in the most torque-sapping conditions is something we can’t yet say, but long, steep hills don’t faze it so long as the traction is there.

BUYING AND OWNING

A sound, tax-efficient ownership proposition is at the heart of the pick-up market, and the D-Max has ridden that fact to success. The new engine means lower emissions and fuel costs, so we don’t see that changing – even if it’s not quite as refined as before, even in this topspec Blade form. What you get here is a handsome truck with plenty of kit, real built-in ability and a price which, at £27,999 plus the VAT, undercuts many of its similarly equipped rivals.

You also get a hefty looking warranty covering you for five years or 125,000 miles, and if your annual mileage is 6000 or less you’ll only need to take it in for a service every couple of years. With Isuzu’s traditionally solid build quality behind it, all this points to a truck which, even if it’s not the most just-so you can buy, ought to last and last. Our one concern would be if the engine’s working as hard as it sounds at times, as it’s the unknown quantity in the equation – but if that warranty isn’t an example of a car manufacturer putting its money where its mouth is, we don’t know what is.

VW's new Passat R-Line estate embodies understated style and performance. Image: Mark Stone

VW’s new Passat R-Line estate embodies understated style and performance. Image: Mark Stone

Mark Stone casts his eye over the VW R-Line 4Motion Passat Bi-Turbo Estate.

A model that’s been an intrinsic part of the VW line up for over 40 years, the Passat has represented the brand’s medium sized saloon, coupe saloon and estate since its introduction. As with most evolutions the Passat has increased in size over the years, the physical expansion offering owners improved versatility and practicality, the latest model illustrating the Passat’s multi-role capabilities.

The most noticeable difference in the Passat is the new corporate VW front, the slender, full width grille and new LED headlights and twelve individual LED daytime lights giving the new Passat a determined if at times sinister countenance. Complimented by a deep splitter and auxiliary forward looking lighting, it’s the R-Line spec as tested that takes the new look to its ultimate conclusion. High defined arches, an upwardly flowing shoulder line, chromed window surrounds and twin ovoid tailpipes and a ground hugging stance emphasized by 235/45 shod 18” Monterrey alloys coalesce to give the new Passat and understated yet broodingly purposeful presence.

Four large doors and a deep tailgate provide access to the spacious interior, the R-Line race design inspired ergoComfort leather and fabric seating, soft touch surfaces and minimalist layout all coming together to give up to five full sized occupants a feeling of purposeful and comfortable well being. For those seeking a more conventional interior, the S, SE Business and GT specifications still provide more than ample equipment and comfort but for long distance drivers, the R-Line should be a serious consideration.

Adding to the R-Line’s sporting overtones, the thick rimmed, squared off, multi-function sports steering wheel enhances the driver’s feel of the car whilst the 8” central screen and 12.3” virtual instrumentation provide exceptional levels of feedback, car status along with a second, more detailed 3D satnav readout.

Working in conjunction with the immediate directions displayed on the head’s up display, the trio of satnav outputs allow the driver to constantly check that the required direction is being maintained whilst the colourful on screen dials constantly maintain fuel consumption, economy of driving, mph and kph information along with fuel used and remaining. Basically, if there’s information that isn’t on show, it’s not actually worth knowing.

The black roof lining accentuates the cabin’s embracing sensation; the new Passat’s increase in size has significantly improved head, shoulder and leg room whilst the estate’s luggage space now provides 650 litres of space with the rear 60:40 split rear seat in their upright position or 1,780 litres with the seats folded. And for those who need it an extra 100kg can be carried on the roof along with 2,200kg of braked trailer capacity courtesy of the folding tow hitch.

POWER OPTIONS

Beneath the bonnet petrol, diesel, Bluemotion and plug-in hybrid engines are available although for most it will be the varying 1.6 and 2-litre diesels that are likely to form the bulk of sales especially for the estates models, power outputs varying from 120hp to the 240hp as tested. Similarly, for those who require a degree of off-road capabilities, the Alltrack offer 150hp or 190hp diesel units.

The R-Line on test was fitted with VW’s latest Euro6 specification 1,968cc 16v, 4-cylinder bi-turbo diesel that delivered 240hp and 500Nm of torque. Twin turbos mean assistance is available from the instant the driver hits the throttle, the smaller turbine handing over to the larger unit at around 2,200rpm which means the car hits 60mph in 6.3 seconds and progresses onto a 147mph top speed, the 7-speed DSG transmission giving the driver the option of standard automatic drive, sport, sequential and paddles.

There are also the optional settings of normal, sport, comfort and eco all of which change the overall characteristics of the car whilst enhancing either economy or performance although the automated 4Motion AWD system remains constant throughout. Paired to a 50 litre fuel tank which gives the Passat a 625 mile range an extended and very mixed 2,450 mile drive from Holland down through France to the border with Spain and back saw the VW return a more than acceptable 45.2mpg mean average with a motorway best of 58.1mpg.

Complete with variable climate settings even sustained high speed motoring in 38 degree heat had no effect on the VW’s performance of consumption. Similarly, the 11.7 meter turning circle gives what is actually quite a sizable car useful maneuverability, whilst minimal driver effort was required on motorways, general A-roads, B-roads and narrow passes, the Passat equally at home whatever the circumstances. The most notable aspects of the latest bi-turbo Passat are the impressive reserves of power, the planted, surefooted, neutral feel of the car even when pushed hard on corners, the sheer comfort and ease of driving, the constant yet uncomplicated amount of feedback the onboard systems generate and the all round radar and camera systems that keep the driver abreast of approaching vehicles and the car’s general surroundings.

TAKE NOTE

If there were negatives they were the at times slightly harsh ride and tyre noise generated by the Continental ContiSport tyres, on all but the smoothest of surfaces the rubber transmitted both into the cabin and the steering wheel. Similarly, the head up display was for me to low given my ideal driving position the end result being that since I had to lower my head to see it, the facility was for me redundant. However, slightly shorter drivers will be able to take advantage of the multi-function display.

However, in no way do these minor critiques detract from the R-Line 4Motion Passat Bi-Turbo Estate in any way. This new VW is extremely accomplished, impressively capable, delivers economy especially over long distances, provides the driver with notable levels of ergonomic comfort and ease of driving combined with a stress free, comfortable environment and looks that belie the car’s levels of performance. Equally, Volkswagen’s almost legendary levels of quality and attention to detail also shine through to produce an estate car that really is able to be all things to all drivers.

PRICE TAG

As tested the Passat Estate R-Line 2-litre BiTDI DSG 4Motion will set you back £37,515 although fortunately it only says Passat and 4Motion on the tailgate. And like all VW’s a variety of favourable purchase, lease, contract and service plans can be had all of which make ownership or possession reasonably attractive. And with decent taxation figures this new Passat should keep your accountant happy in respect of company car expenditure.

 

 

FAST FACTS
Model VW Passat Estate R-Line Bi-Turbo 4Motion
Price £37,515
Engine 1,968cc 4-cyl 16v bi-turbo diesel
Transmission 7-speed DSG
Performance – Top speed 147mph
CO2 emissions – g/km 140
Economy – combined mpg 45.2

 

 

Isuzu's D-Max Fury is as in your face as it gets. Isuzu D-Max Fury-MY16. Image: Mark Stone

Isuzu’s D-Max Fury is as in your face as it gets. Isuzu D-Max Fury-MY16. Image: Mark Stone

Mark Stone takes a closer look at the Isuzu D-Max Fury pickup.

If there’s one thing that can be guaranteed it’s that Isuzu’s D-Max pickup is and has never been a shrinking violet. Not only does this pickup collect awards on what seems to be a monthly basis, the Isuzu D-Max more than proves its worth in a variety of rolls.

In basic trim the D-Max still rates as one of the hardest working vehicles of its type at an extremely competitive price. It also makes no bones about the fact when it comes to luxury and refinement it still remains one of the most commercially orientated. And whilst there’s nothing remotely wrong with the fact, if you’re looking for a double-cab that’s more of a fashion or lifestyle statement, the Isuzu D-Max pickup probably wouldn’t be your first choice.

INTRODUCING FURY

The latest of the D-Max specials is the Fury. Large and in charge and as subtle as your average earthquake, the bright Magma Red paintwork, distinct but slightly smaller rims and additional external trim scream that the Fury edition has arrived. Aimed at younger buyers who need a double-cab 4×4 as both a working vehicle and all round transport, the Fury’s appearance offers the visuals of a far more expensive machine yet offers a significant saving over the mechanically identical yet more expensive Blade, Utah and Huntsman models.

Sat on the D-Max’s familiar steel ladder frame chassis and satin effect 5-spoke alloys and 255/65R17 Bridgestone Dueler H/T, the vivid red bodywork is enhanced further by the addition of distinctive steel sump and rear diff guards, a substantial black light rail that carries two small banks of Lazer spotlights in addition to those set below the front bumper.

Fully colour keyed even down to the red Isuzu badge, only the black detailing and roller load bed cover adds external contrast. As with all D-Max, the high shoulder line and squared load bed give the Isuzu an angular profile that continues around the tailgate and four large doors, the running boards in the case of the D-Max more or less mandatory for easy of climbing onboard.

Riding on independent double wishbone and gas filled double-action shock absorbers at the front and rear rigid axle, semi-elliptical springs and anti-roll bar, the 1.5 meters square and half a meter deep bed is one of the most practical of its type. Capable of carrying 1,063kg along with an additional braked 3,500kg trailer capacity, once again figures that are some of the best in their class. And when traveling off road the 235mm ground clearance, 300, 230 and 220 approach, departure and ramp over angles and front and rear overhangs of 905mm and 1,295mm ensure the D-Max is off-road ready.

LOOKING INSIDE

Inside the cabin hard, wipe clean surfaces are at times at odds with the black and red leather trim, the amalgamation of utility and luxury at times an eccentric combination. Sat to the rear of the leather steering wheel, white on black baton instrumentation and minimal readouts are simple and clear to see as are the main controls. Big and chunky with easily determined detents as to why Isuzu have chosen to install a satnav and infotainment system with such microscopic controls seems at times strange.

Space wise the Fury provides genuine accommodation for five adults with the bonus of a folding rear seat that instantly increase load capacity whilst two cubbies beneath the rear seat squabs house the tool kit and jack. But whilst the cabin offers twin glove boxes, a dash mounted cubby and four cup holders, oddment stowage for mobile phones and other smaller items could be improved upon.

POWER MATTERS

Under the hood the Euro5 2,499cc two-stage twin turbo diesel delivers 163hp and 400Nm of torque, the 4-cylinder 16v unit common-rail unit powerful but commercial in nature meaning throttle response isn’t quite as instant as some drivers would probably like. Mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox, for the majority of the time the Fury runs in rear wheel drive, a rotary selector engaging both high and low ratio 4WD, the system’s reaction almost immediate. Fed from a 69 litre fuel tank, whilst the Fury fell rather short of the indicated factory figures, a final average figure of 26.7mpg over 232 varied miles was still acceptable.

Up and running, no matter how leisure orientated the Fury might appear it is still a truck. Sensibly weighted, the power steering ensures the Fury remains light to drive even when fully laden the 12.2 meter turning circle is still easy to achieve. Similarly, whilst remaining fully maneuverable on or off road the new rearview mirror reversing camera display isn’t to my mind a roaring success. Apart from the fact you have to look up and away from the wing mirrors, it tends to suffer from bright light reflections rendering the camera useless.

Off road, the 4×4 system copes easily with changes in surface and demands although as always, disengaging the traction control, (at times overly enthusiastic on the D-Max), allows full power to be quickly applied when the situation demands. On the road the view is commanding, the cabin reasonably quiet and comfortable although without any load onboard the ride can be choppy on all but the smoothest surfaces, the rear becoming light on tight or damp corners. Drop in half a tonne and the character changes, the Fury feeling far more refined.

HOW MUCH?

Price wise the basic Fury costs £19,999 on the road the example on test a heftier £24,830.50p due to the various options. And whilst you could live without most of the options to do so would to have missed the whole point of the Fury. Although the sports bar and Lazer lights add £1,069, the Roll ‘n’ Lock load cover £1,122-50p and the black and red Fury leather trim at £1,325, they form an intrinsic part of this D-Max. I would however have to give serious thought to the £930 Pioneer Media & Satnav and cargo bed rug at £385.

As always keeping a close eye out for the Fury benefiting from one of Isuzu’s numerous offers, whilst the Fury might not be the most refined of its type, it still remains one of the most willing and financially viable of the double-cabs. And whilst the Fury is most defiantly loud and proud it’s probably all the better for it.

 

FAST FACTS
Model Isuzu D-Max Fury
Price £24,830-50p (as tested)
Engine 2.5 litre 4-cyl 16v twin-turbo diesel
Transmission 6-speed manual
Performance – Top speed 112mph
CO2 emissions – g/km 192
Economy – combined mpg 26.7 (factory figures)

 

 

 

Is all-independent suspension and torquey turbodiesel engine enough to make the Shogun a worthy player in the modern premium SUV arena? It may have lost its way a little, but it is still a sound bet as a family estate with genuine off-road ability

 TARGET RANGE:  £8000 – £30,000 

The Shogun has developed into a crossover – a crossover between the old and the new. When the third generation of this popular 4×4 blasted on to the scene in 1999 it seemed to be leading the way, shunning the heavy separate chassis and rigid axles of its predecessor in favour of monocoque construction and all-independent suspension, backed up by refined new engines and slick-shifting transmissions. When the time came to leapfrog the technical advances of its key rivals in 2007 we expected something truly futuristic from this innovative company, lightweight construction with space-age materials, perhaps, integrated electronic communications and driving aids, advanced transmissions with fully automated four-wheel drive controls…

What we got was little more than a facelift of the previous model; even the much vaunted facelift for 2015 turned out to be little more than that – a deeper more integrated grille and the addition of daytime running lights – which means it’s the Shogun that’s been soundly leap-frogged by the opposition, so much so that in the 2016 edition of our expansive 4×4 Of The Year comparison we nudged the latest Shogun out of the top-range SUV category and shifted it into the hard core group along with the last of the Land Rover Defenders, the Jeep Renegade and the Suzuki Jimny.

That may seem like a bit of a comedown for a vehicle selling itself as a luxury estate – but could it be the exact opposite, a congratulatory recognition that the Shogun is one of the very few that have stuck to the original crossover concept, that heady blend of hard-core off-roader and luxury limousine that was kicked off by the Range Rover in 1970? Most of the other premium players in this arena have long ago shrugged off any pretence of being off-roaders adopting instead a whole range of technological advances aimed at enhancing their highway performance, refinement and gimmick-led convenience features, vehicles that pay lip service to their mud-plugging origins while pandering to the passion for fashion of the rich and the famous.

With its clunky five-speed transmission and manual-shifting four-wheel drive transfer case, vague steering and add-on electronics the Shogun feels like an old truck to drive compared with the latest offerings from Land Rover, Nissan, Jeep and even the once junior-league players Kia and SsangYong, but the fact that the Mitsubishi can hold its own against true hard-core off-roaders while offering much better interior comfort and space marks it as one of the few remaining vehicles of its type that still has real all-purpose capability, and therefore ideal for anyone valuing uncomplicated seven-seater family practicality and competence over the flighty demands of fashion.

There’s also the consideration that the short-wheelbase Shogun retains, even nearly a decade on, the dynamic Dakar-inspired styling that gives it classic, muscular and still youthful high street appeal as well as enhanced off-road capability with its short front and rear overhangs.

From 2007, in line with the focus on practicality, Mitsubishi dropped the frivolously thirsty petrol V6 from the range and offered only the 3.2 DI-D turbodiesel engine, tuned for 168bhp and returning little better than 30mpg, pick a model from at least 2010 to enjoy the higher performance and better consumption of the upgraded 197bhp unit promising better than 36mpg with the manual transmission, 34 with the automatic. We’ve long favoured this engine for its strong torque and have even excused its relative noisiness because of the almost stirringly sporty exhaust beat at cruising speed. It is, nevertheless, a dated engine; compare it with the 3.0CRD of the Jeep Grand Cherokee which develops a headier 247bhp, returns better than 37mpg and emits 198g/km of CO2 compared with 224gm/km for the long wheelbase Shogun, so you won’t be buying one on the grounds of efficiency alone.

 Our verdicts 

We appreciated the improvements for the fifth generation Shogun of 2007, but hardly felt any genuine excitement because it didn’t offer anything dramatically new – other than aiming even higher than before in pitching itself right in Discovery 3 territory. Of our first experience with the new model, in the March 2007 issue, we wrote: “The Shogun has moved further away from the slightly agricultural workhorse; it’s aimed squarely at the executive SUV market and there is now a new top-spec Diamond to head the familiar line-up of Equippe, Warrior and Elegance. The Diamond features 20in alloys, sports grille and lots of chrome trim for an extra £2000 over the Elegance. Is it really worth the extra cash for a bit of shiny trim? Perhaps not.”

We were no more excited about the Shogun when, a few months later, we were able to put one to the test in comparison with some similarly priced rivals, a SsangYong Rexton and a Nissan Pathfinder. In our Summer 2007 edition we wrote: “The fourth-generation model has arguably stepped back in time in terms of styling, with a leaner, squared-off version of the previous car’s more rounded, muscular haunches.” We approved of the way the spare wheel had been mounted a little lower than before, improving the view through the rear screen, but were not impressed with the price – we complained that at £34,696 the Equippe didn’t have the leather upholstery, heated seats, cruise control, satnav or front fog lamps of the higher-specification models, making the claims of this being an affordable luxury car seem less obvious. We did like the clever “hide and seat” rear seat arrangement, in which the bench simply folds up out of the boot floor; it’s a substantial item that’s heavy to operate, and really only capacious enough to accommodate children.

On the road we appreciated the lusty nature of the engine, the responsive transmission, good steering feel and sharp handling that enhanced driving confidence. Off-road we criticised the long rear overhang, in spite of which it outclassed the Rexton and Pathfinder in difficult terrain. In the final verdict, the Shogun lost out to the Nissan that had better on-road performance and refinement, and more capacious seven-seater accommodation.

side slope capability, hill descent control, axle articulation, approach and departure angles and hillclimb ability. The Shogun came ninth out of 12, losing out to more focused rivals such as the Jeep Wrangler, Toyota Land Cruiser, the Land Rovers – and, surprisingly, the Volkswagen Touareg. We commented: “The aspiring Discovery rival not only lags way behind the Land Rovers, but also plays second fiddle to the Nissan Patrol and Toyota Land Cruiser as an off-road force to be reckoned with. The Shogun has tidied up its act with improved styling and better road manners, but off-road it remains decidedly average. Naturally a short-wheelbase Shogun would be a better bet for anyone looking for a very competent off-road plaything.”

The significance of this comparison has faded over the succeeding years, as most of the other premium SUVs involved have erred in the direction of on-road enhancements, leaving the Shogun as a more genuine, even if not Wrangler-competent, off-roader. Our comment when pitted against the hard-core Defender, Jimny and Wrangler in our most recent 4×4 Of The Year competition: “Now completely unsuitable for the Prestige section, the Shogun fits more neatly into this group. Mitsubishi has refused to update its once luxury flagship – it still has the spare wheel on the back door, just like all its new best friends in the hard-core group.” The Shogun came third behind the Wrangler and the Land Rover, but not by much, racking up a score of 80 per cent against the winning Jeep’s 88 per cent.

Pretty much everything we felt – and still feel – about the Shogun is reflected in our most recent evaluation: “Just because the Shogun’s beginning to look a bit long in the tooth doesn’t mean it’s no longer good. The bold sporty styling gives it a pleasing individuality; the turbodiesel is one of the strongest in terms of stump-pulling off-road torque and it sounds good under power on the highway. There’s no question about its strength and reliability.”

 Which one to buy 

The Warrior specification always struck us as the best value, and you’ll still need in the region of £10,000 to acquire a reasonable-mileage example from 2007, Sheffield Car Centre (01142 572032) were offering a still-gleaming black seven-seater with 99,400 miles, full service history and long MOT at £10,795. The specification is excellent, including full black leather with heated front seats, satellite navigation, climate control, tinted glass and 18-inch alloys. You will pay less for a three-door, for example £8250 would have secured the similar-age black 90,000-miler with warranty and new MOT from Perrys of Mansfield (08448 154452).

Meanwhile the base Equippe is hardly spartan, it has cloth upholstery but includes air conditioning, electric windows and central locking, with front and side airbags; it has traction control and electronic stability systems, which explains why a clean, well-maintained example could easily ask as much as a higher-mileage Warrior or Elegance. The Elegance has an electric sunroof and enhanced stereo, pay upwards of £8000 for a reasonable-mileage, well-maintained early example, more like £14,000 for a post-2010 example with the uprated engine, Milton Keynes Mitsubishi (01908 224234) were advertising a metallic grey towbar-equipped 69,000-miler for £13,995, with full service history and long MOT.

The Diamond has enhanced interior trim and adds little touches such as parking aids and bigger alloys, enough to boost the price to a good £1000 more than an Elegance of similar age and condition. Bedford Car Centre (01234 217777) had a metallic black one-owner 2010 model with 71,000 miles going for £15,990, black leather interior, moon roof, CD autochanger, rear DVD screens, side steps and xenon headlamps.

During 2011 the Shogun was updated for the 2012 model year, the main mechanical enhancement being the retuned engine to meet Euro V emissions standards. Cosmetic details include a revised grille and colour-keyed front bumper, a new style of 12-spoke alloys and black roof rails on the outside, with better quality materials for the interior trim and enhanced instrument illumination. Badging also changed, with SG2 as the entry level but impressively equipped with keyless entry, climate control and integrated Bluetooth, and more luxury in the SG3 and SG4 versions, which have SD card satnav, DAB radio and reversing camera as well as automatic headlamp and windscreen wiper functions. Second-hand five-door SG2 versions are rare, but we spotted a smart Cool Silver example with manual transmission on a 12 plate with 29,000 miles at Fownhope Mitsubishi (01432 273791) priced at £18,995, not only a one-owner car with towbar and BFG all-terrains, but one originally bought and subsequently fully maintained by that dealer. A similar-age SG3 five-door with 30,000 miles, Granite Brown with cream leather with a full service history, was going for £22,950 at Speeds of Loudwater (01494 512525), a car that was once their own demonstrator so sold with a full service history and a six-month warranty.

We were attracted to the Cool Silver 2015 SG4 being offered for £27,900 at Humphries and Parks of Maidstone, a pristine car with only 11,000 miles, not bad since we’ve seen cars two years older and with higher mileage asking similar money.

There are special editions worth looking out for. The Black – oddly enough available in Frost White, Cool Silver, Orient Red and Granite Brown as well as Diamond Black – is based on the high-spec SG4 and has a satin black styling kit including 20-inch wheels, black spoiler, door mirrors, grille and headlamp bezels, door handles and side steps. These are naturally rare second-hand, Holwood Cars of Keston, Kent (01689 326848) had a white 12-reg 39,000-miler on offer at £32,990, not bad for a car that cost over £38,000 new.
Keep an eye out for good deals on new and nearly new examples. The Shogun remains desirable but with interest in the new-tech Outlander PHEV on the increase, some outlets might ease the asking price on Shoguns just to move some stock. Autoecosse of Dundee (01382 780852), for instance, had a selection of range-topping unregistered SG5 models with 100 miles on them priced at £37,300, list price £40,299; Grenson Motor Group of Crewe (01270 359971) wanted a mere £36,299 for an unregistered SG4 with 10 miles on it, £4000 off the list price.

The most desirable three-door is also the most recent special, the Barbarian launched in July 2014, with gloss black and silver Le Mans alloy wheels, L200 Barbarian style leather interior with carbon inserts, DAB digital radio and alloy pedal kit, look for a low-mileage nearly new ex-demonstrator, for instance the 2000-mile 65-plated automatic with extras including satnav asking £28,995 – a saving of a good £3000 over the new list price – at Brindley Mitsubishi at Cannock (01543 406620), though Grays of Holbeach (01406422129) had a new Barbarian with tinted glass and sidesteps, only 20 miles on it on offer at a stunning £27,750.

Several dealers had ex-demonstrators for sale, the gleaming black SG3 on a 65 plate with just 1900 miles caught our eye at Westway Motors of Northampton (01604 651033), priced at £30,990 with electric sunroof, side steps, Rockford premium audio and HD navigation, a snip compared with the £34,744 list price.

ENGINE DRIVETRAIN CHASSIS BODY AND INTERIOR
One of the reasons for buying a car with a chain-driven camshaft rather than a belt-driven one is that the chain generally lasts the life of the engine so you escape those high-cost services at 80,000 or 100,000 mile intervals involving a belt replacement – a significant point for anyone buying a higher-mileage second-hand car to consider. The Mitsubishi 3.2-litre DI-DC turbodiesel has a chain – but the nylon-faced chain guide has a habit of wearing away at around 80,000 miles causing the chain to dislodge with consequent damage to the engine. Since a replacement is cheap and easy, it’s worth having this done on any car showing anything near 80,000 miles. Cars used for heavy towing duties have been known to overheat, so check for signs of “mayonnaise” under the oil filler hinting that oil and water are mixing through a damaged cylinder head gasket. Otherwise the engine is generally reliable, apart from problems that can affect any turbodiesel, such as a clogged-up exhaust gas recirculation valves; some owners may have blanked this off to avert the problem, with a slight performance improvement as a bonus, but check that the car has an MOT report showing the emissions aren’t seriously affected.

Manual gearboxes can be troublesome, probably because they’re having to deal with the massive torque of the turbodiesel engine. Listen for excessive whining noises, particularly in top gear, during acceleration or on the overrun. Also check the synchromesh, any crunching or resistance to change might indicate impending failure. Also make sure the clutch takes up smoothly and progressively, without any grinding or chattering noises, or a shuddering feel, which suggests an expensive problem developing with the dual mass flywheel. Automatics are generally trouble-free but have been known to overheat if used for heavy long haul towing; an acrid smell from the transmission dipstick might indicate that the transmission has overheated at some time. In any case the automatic transmission fluid should be changed regularly at six-year intervals so check that this has been done on any older model you’re buying.

Sagging springs aren’t unusual on an older car, particularly one used for heavy towing, so make sure it sits level. Damper wear shouldn’t be a problem even on cars dating from 2007, but again if it’s one that’s been used for towing the rear dampers may have suffered leading to a tendency to ‘wander’ on the road, though this could also be down to worn rear suspension bushes. Either way, reject any car that doesn’t feel crisp and stable. Power steering failure is rare in this latest generation, but it’s worth checking that the steering works quietly from lock to lock, check for leaks from the power steering pump and the steering assembly. Anti-roll bushes can soften, which could cause the car to pull to the left under braking. Brake pads tend to wear quite quickly, it’s more important to check that the discs aren’t warped, brake hard at speed and reject the car if you feel a wobble from the front wheels, a feeling that’s nothing like the clattering of the antilock system; that’s also known to fail so make sure it’s working on any car you’re thinking of buying. Listen for the rumbling groan of worn wheel bearings, a fairly common problem on older cars.

Rust is unlikely to be a problem on cars of this generation, though underbody damage from over enthusiastic off-roading could have given corrosion a hold, the spring housings are particularly prone to corrosion if grit and water are left there after an off-road outing. Check the sills for signs that dents or scrapes have been patched with filler. The bulging wheelarches are also prone to picking up scrapes from undergrowth, look for signs of hairline scratches hidden under colour polish. On a long wheelbase Shogun make sure the pop-up rear seats do pop up properly and that the floor underneath them is still sound, muddy boots can damage the surface and initiate corrosion. On a three-door check under the boot floor covering anyway for signs of water ingress, and also check for stains on the headlining on any car with a sunroof. The quality of the interior materials is better than in previous generations and shouldn’t show much wear, even so it’s worth taking a test drive over a side road with a broken surface to check for excessive squeaks and rattles from the dash. Make sure the satnav works, systems on earlier cars are known to have failed.

 Or you could consider… 

TOYOTA LAND CRUISERJeep Grand CherokeeSsangYong Rexton


This is the most natural alternative to the Shogun, because it’s another veteran that hasn’t succumbed totally to the modern rush for performance and refinement. With its blandly sleek and aerodynamic body it lacks the dynamic visual appeal of the Shogun but it outdoes the Mitsubishi in several areas, one being the retention of the traditionally primitive 4×4 requirements of separate chassis and rigid rear axle, along with dual range transmission giving it significantly better off-road capability. The front suspension is independent, which does detract from ultimate off-road agility, but some high-specification versions have a locking rear differential and traction controls that help to overcome any deficiency in this area. The 3.0-litre turbodiesel is more refined, more economical and cleaner than the Shogun’s rumbling 3.2 DI-D, and it can seat eight in comfort.

The iconic Jeep name ought to mean something to anyone looking for a serious off-road estate, but it just hasn’t been available in the UK long enough to develop anything like the Shogun’s reputation for hard work and reliable performance. However, in spite of its American feel the modern Grand has much to offer as an all-round SUV, since it’s every bit as competent off-road as it is on tarmac featuring a form of terrain response, height-adjustable air suspension, hill descent control and traction controls, while convenience features include a rear parking-aid camera and a panoramic sunroof. Power is from the efficient and economical VM-built Fiat Multijet II V6, the interiors of high-end versions are clad in sumptuous leather and electronic enhancements include cutting-edge electronic driving aids such as lane change warning, traffic sign recognition and autonomous braking.

What, really? It’s a Compact compared with the Shogun, but it’s a seven-seater, so offers similar interior comfort in a more natural car-like environment. It’s not the most refined of modern SUVs, but with its new smoother and cleaner 2.2-litre turbodiesel and seven-speed automatic combined with taut suspension and crisp steering it’s arguably a more pleasing vehicle to drive – and it will also tow a three-tonne trailer. It even challenges the Shogun off-road with its separate chassis offering good articulation; it also has a dual range transmission, traction controls and hill descent control. Equipment levels are excellent, including keyless entry and climate control in all models, leather upholstery in all but the base version and DAB stereo and satnav in the range-topping ELX, all at a price that undercuts the cheapest new Shogun.

The increasing demand for better safety, refinement, efficiency and luxury hasn’t prevented the Wrangler from surviving as the only truly uncompromising off-road adventurer, with all the iconic style and presence reflecting the very origins of the 4×4 breed

 TARGET RANGE:  £10,000 – £30,000 

£10,000 – £30,000

The Wrangler is a rare pleasure. While for most modern 4×4 owners the ideal off-roader is something that resembles a large luxurious hatchback, the Wrangler stays true to the ideals of genuine cross-country adventurers and rides above the whinges of the ignorant masses who say it’s too big, too cumbersome, too uncomfortable and too thirsty. The Wrangler is none of those things, it’s perfect in every respect to perform the task for which it was designed, that is to be the only truly competent hard-core off-roader that can handle tough off-road conditions straight out of the box. Anyone who chooses to criticise it as an automotive dinosaur is welcome to skedaddle in their bland mass-market tarmac-friendly Qashqai and leave the Wrangler to those of us who understand the difference between splashing through the odd muddy puddle and conquering the uncharted wilderness.

The demands of the wider public have already diluted the off-roading strengths of the Jeep brand as a whole, the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee are highway hustlers, business machines, school-run posers, and even though the Renegade in Trailhawk guise strives to keep the off-roading aspect alive it’s still no match for the mighty Wrangler when truly rugged terrain bars the way. What’s kept the Wrangler true to its roots is the continuing high demand from hard-core Jeep enthusiasts who wouldn’t countenance any significant departures from the tried and trusted off-road formula.

What makes the Wrangler special as an off-roader is the continuing reliance on a strong separate chassis suspended via long-travel coil springs on rigid axles offering excellent articulation and drive from powerful engines through a dual-range transmission. There’s also traditional outdoor-action functionality in the fact that the roof can be removed, the doors can be lifted off their hinges and the windscreen can be laid flat, paying classic homage to the open-air simplicity of the wartime Willys original. Oh, yes, there has been a sop to the concerns of quivering, faint-hearted observers in that the Wrangler emerges from the factory with less ground clearance than it could have, in case some hare-brained innocent with sub-standard driving skills assumes it’s going to handle like a Ferrari. It’s only a token sop, however, since the Wrangler is shod with tall 30-inch tyres and can be fitted with 32-inch mud-terrain tyres without modification, and there is an excellent selection of aftermarket upgrades to give the Wrangler the mountain-domineering stance it deserves.

The choices are simple, pick a two-door for ultimate off-road agility, or the longer-wheelbase Unlimited four-door for more general family or expedition practicality. Most will opt for the 2.8 CRD turbodiesel, a VM Motori unit with balancer shaft, common rail injection, four-valve with twin overhead camshafts, variable geometry turbocharger and cooled EGR system, which in the Wrangler is tuned to deliver 174bhp and a hefty 295lb ft of torque. There’s more power and refinement from the petrol V6 alternatives, but note that the later 3.6-litre Pentastar unit is significantly more efficient, with 280bhp on tap, while the earlier 3.8 can offer only 196bhp. Neither can match the turbodiesel for torque or overall economy, though you’d need to drive it very carefully to achieve the claimed 28.5mpg. Base Sport and hard-core Rubicon models have six-speed manual transmissions, others have a four-speed automatic.

 Our verdicts 

Looking back at our first report on the Wrangler it seems that we weren’t overly impressed  – perhaps we were just expecting more from an all-new model which, although substantially different in most respects from the TJ Wrangler it replaced, retains much of the character and feel of the older model. We wrote: “Jeep claims that on-road ride and handling have improved, but the two-door is still bouncy and the ever-present wind noise is the trade-off for that traditional Jeep upright windscreen. Inside is a homage to unpleasant grey plastic, while the lack of any soft-touch surface anywhere in the car became apparent after a couple of hours behind the wheel when elbows started to develop pressure sores from the hard plastic of the cubby box on one side and the door armrest on the other.” These are comments that in retrospect seem laughable considering that the only true rival to the Wrangler was a Land Rover Defender, itself not short of hard surfaces and wind noise. All became clear as the report continued: “Starting at £18k the Wrangler is competing head-to-head with the big hitters in the soft-roader SUV game, making it an expensive and under-equipped left-field choice.” In reality, of course, the Wrangler was never intended as a rival to any soft-roader, and as for being expensive, we note also with some retrospective amusement that in the same July 2007 issue we ran a full road test of the Wrangler against the Defender, in the verdict of which we criticised the Jeep Unlimited Sahara for being expensive at £22,090 compared with the Defender 90 County at £22,630. Hey, we’ve always loved Land Rovers for their hard-core British bulldog qualities, but our pro-Defender bias also showed in awarding the Land Rover a full 5/5 rating for its off-road capability compared with a mere 3/5 for the Wrangler which “bottomed out too easily in comparison with the Land Rover.” Come on lads, be fair, we were pitting a short-wheelbase Defender against the long-wheelbase Wrangler.

We put that right in the September issue, when we took a much more professional approach in comparing these natural rivals in what we billed as a “Clash of the Titans” to determine once and for all the World’s Best Off-roader. We put the cars through 12 separate off-road tests, and seemed surprised at how well-matched they were – check the table (below) to see how they fared.

The winning margins in most of the tests were so slight as to be almost immaterial, but eventually the Defender was declared the winner on points. Perhaps we developed something of a guilt complex after giving the home contender the points in that test, because in the following issue we ran a ‘Trail Tribute’ to the Wrangler Rubicon, primarily as a reminder to all that the ‘Rubicon’ name derives from the famous Rubicon Trail, a track winding over the Sierra Nevada from Georgetown to Lake Tahoe, and the fact that the popularity of the trail has ensured that Jeep should provide ‘trail ready’ vehicles. In the case of the Wrangler Rubicon that includes the locking front and rear differentials, pretty much a necessity for any vehicle destined to have its wheels being lifted off the ground on such a rocky traverse. Combining our approval of the diff locks and the iconic styling of the vehicle, we wrote: “Wrangler’s Rubicon is a fantastic 4×4 – an open-air trails specialist with not one, but two, ‘unstick’ buttons on the dashboard. It oozes power and burbles over rocks effortlessly. It makes us want to drink Budweiser and listen to roots country music, then close our eyes and dream we’re in Colorado…”

Nevertheless, the rivalry between the Land Rover and the Jeep continued year after year in our annual 4×4 Of The Year features, sometimes the Defender taking the hard-core crown, sometimes the Wrangler. Those decisions were naturally based on ultimate off-road aspects, but from a more general standpoint we have to admit that capability is one thing, comfort and refinement another, and on that score the Wrangler wins hands down.

 Which one to buy 

If you’re serious about off-roading you’ll need to be looking for a Rubicon, since this is the dedicated hard-core version boasting heavy-duty axles with locking differentials, electronic sway bar disconnect, lower low range gearing, sill guards and off-road tyres. Unfortunately you’ll search long and hard to find one, since these weren’t high on the distributor’s import list and were available to special order – and most who bought these superbly stylish, iconic off-road playthings have kept them. Order a new one and you’re looking at over £31,000 for a two-door, nearly £33,000 for an Unlimited.

The Rubicon is naturally a higher-cost option and is only available with the thirstier petrol V6 engine, so for easier money you might consider a base Sport, originally available only in two-door form. Equipment isn’t marvellous, but does include a stereo and electric windows. Power is from the 2.8-litre CRD turbodiesel and transmission is a six-speed manual, not a bad choice as an off-road plaything since there are many aftermarket upgrades such as suspension lifts and locking differentials to allow you to tailor the car to your own requirements and in your own time. Note that some will have had modifications of a different type fitted, such as the 2007 model in Rescue Green with side steps, satin black alloys and privacy glass, priced at £13,495 with 50,000 miles on it at Chesham Car and Van Sales (01494 783364). Nene Overland in Peterborough (01628 671250) had a similar-age model in red, 33,000 miles with a more useful American Expedition Vehicles suspension upgrade for the same price.

For true off-road enthusiasts it must seem surprising that the Wrangler has had such strong appeal to boulevard poseurs, but it can’t be denied that the Unlimited in particular has much of the musclebound styling appeal of the late lamented Hummer but in a slightly more manageable package. This appeal is reflected in the plethora of highly modified and highly priced examples with Kahn and Deranged upgrades which include quilted leather upholstery, machined aluminium pedals, 20-inch satin black wheels, brake calipers in liquid gold (presumably real gold to judge by the price), smoked headlamps, vented bonnet, bull bars and uprated stereo, if this is the sort of thing you want you’ll need a good £50,000 to achieve it.
For a plain unmodified car expect to pay at least £9,000 for an early Sport and up to £18,000 for a nearly-new example with 20,000 miles.

The Sahara is the more luxurious alternative with air conditioning, parking aids, traction control, Kenwood stereo with DVD player, DAB radio, Bluetooth and accessory functions and cruise control, look out for models with the £1200 optional sat nav. Cars Today of Worcester (01905 672080) were offering a 2009 Unlimited with 57,000 miles for £12,490 including tow bar and new BFG all-terrain tyres. Chris Variava of Nottingham (0115 855 3040) had a 2014 2-door in black with just 4500 miles at £23,895.

Demand for the Sport was low enough for the model to be dropped, with the higher-specification Overland becoming the top model with the 2011 upgrade, featuring leather upholstery and satnav as standard; Cargo of Huddersfield (01484 559595) claimed the £20,986 they were asking for the white 51,000-miler with grey leather interior made it the cheapest 13-plated example in the UK. Look out also for even better-equipped X edition and Black edition specials, though again the enhancements aren’t aimed at improving off-road ability.

The Wrangler still has rarity value so don’t expect any nearly-new bargains, ex-demonstrators show up occasionally such as the 2015-registered yellow Sahara Unlimited with 4000 miles being offered by Westaway of Northampton (01604 651033) at £27,990, a little over £2000 under the new list price.

ENGINE DRIVETRAIN CHASSIS BODY AND INTERIOR
Used examples with the V6 petrol engine are quite rare, which is probably just as well since the older 3.8-litre unit isn’t as reliable as it should be and has a habit of drinking oil at an alarming rate, with dire consequences if you don’t remember to top it up. The later 3.6-litre unit is more reliable as well as being significantly more powerful; if you’re buying an older petrol Rubicon make sure to check the oil level and listen for any unexpected knocking or rattling from the engine suggesting that it might have been run low at some time and suffered excessive wear; there should be no smoke from the exhaust. The CRD is more common and a good engine, though it needs a cam belt change at 100,000 miles so check this has been done when buying a higher-mileage example. Check that it’s had proper service attention, oil filters are awkward to get to and can clog up, reducing oil flow through the engine.

The automatics are generally trouble-free, but check that there’s no knocking or shunting when shifting between forward and reverse, that changes are smooth and that the kickdown is suitably responsive. If you prefer a manual make sure the box doesn’t jump out of gear as you apply acceleration, check that shifts are not excessively notchy and that the clutch releases progressively. It’s a heavy car and the clutch can wear excessively especially on any car that’s been used for towing, where the clutch may have been regularly slipped while making a smooth getaway. Check that the transfer case operates properly, especially on a car that has been used exclusively on the road.

Apart from checking for signs of rust on the separate chassis and off-road damage to the sills, which is quite likely on a standard low-riding car that’s been taken carelessly off-road, the most important consideration is to make sure that the suspension and steering bolts and ball joints are all in good condition. The track rod in particular can be put under severe stress when off-roading in rough terrain, and a loosened securing bolt can result in unexpected wheel wobble. Worn ball joints can lead to a similar problem, which can be exacerbated on cars with taller than standard off-road tyres if they haven’t been balanced properly or if a suspension lift has altered the caster on the front wheels. Brake calipers have a tendency to seize, so check that the car stops straight and true when braking hard. Also make sure to try the handbrake, the simplistic cable arrangement is notorious for being difficult to adjust when they begin to slacken.

Body panels aren’t particularly prone to corrosion, and interiors, although seemingly abounding in cheap plastic, don’t fall apart easily. Electrical problems are not unknown, so make sure all the relevant features work as they should, such as the remote central door locking, electric windows and stereo. Because the Wrangler is nominally a convertible, with a separate hard-top, have a look under carpets and check the upholstery for signs that it’s been left out in the rain with the roof off.

 Or you could consider… 

LAND ROVER DEFENDERTOYOTA LAND CRUISERMITSUBISHI SHOGUN


We’ve always considered this to be the closest true rival to the Wrangler, and although it has a much more dated feel to it it’s not much less comfortable inside than the Wrangler and has significant advantages as a hard-core off-roader, whether for business or pleasure use – spare parts are reasonably priced, there are many independent repair and maintenance specialists all over the country and there’s a wide range of types to choose from the short-wheebase 90 to 110 commercials, high-capacity and double-cab pick-ups. The Land Rover is also rated to tow 3500kg, much more than the Jeep is legally allowed to handle, and in its later incarnation with the Ford Puma turbodiesel engine reliability is significantly improved.

We wouldn’t consider this a natural alternative to the Jeep, because it’s altogether more of a comfortable estate than an uncompromising off-roader. With the proviso, of course, that it still has quite impressive off-road capability. Under the sleek and aerodynamic body is a level of traditional primitive 4×4 in the form of a separate chassis, a rigid rear axle and dual range transmission. The front suspension is independent, which does detract from ultimate off-road agility, but some high-specification versions have a locking rear differential and traction controls that help to overcome any deficiency in this area. The 3.0-litre turbodiesel is no less refined than the Jeep’s 2.8 CRD, and it also has better ride comfort and significantly better interior comfort, along with eight-seater convenience.

Chalk to the Jeep’s cheese, perhaps, but in spite of its monocoque construction and coil-sprung independent suspension there’s still something primitive about the Shogun, so unrefined compared with other mainstream luxury 4×4 estates that we decided in our latest 4×4 Of The Year comparison (Winter 2016 edition) to place it in the hard-core section along with the Wrangler and Defender. Like the Land Cruiser it’s certainly more of a family wagon than an all-out off-road adventurer, high-specification models including a fold up extra rear bench making it a useful seven-seater, but with its super select transmission, strong and reliable turbodiesel engine and traction controls it will give a good account of itself in tough off-road conditions.

The all-new high-tech Discovery will be an automotive tour de force, but for those who favour genuine all-terrain capability and superior practicality, the current Discovery 4 will be hard to beat. Buy one now before it’s too late

 TARGET RANGE:  £50,000 

With an all-new high-tech, futuristically modern Discovery on the way, you’d think Land Rover dealers would be falling over themselves to shed remaining stocks of new and nearly new Discoverys still in their showrooms and on their forecourts, but a check of prices being asked suggests that they’re hardly being given away. There’s good reason for that. The all-new Discovery may be an exciting prospect, but it’s unquestionably been designed to compete with other premium road-biased luxury SUVs, aimed at outclassing the BMW X5, the Volkswagen Touareg, Mercedes-Benz GLE and the like. Some would argue that the Discovery 4 had already achieved that, but only in the eyes of enthusiasts who appreciate its iconic styling, the dominating road presence, and the unbeatable off-road competence. There are, however, vastly more wealthy people the world over – and Land Rover is now firmly established as a world brand – who have neither the need nor the interest to drive off-road, and seek style, refinement, performance and cosseting luxury in a purely road car, people for whom the current Discovery just looks too bulky and feels too heavy, an automotive dinosaur clinging to its primitive off-road values. The new Discovery will also be an good off-road machine in the same way the Range Rover and the new Discovery Sport are, but that’s a by-the-way factor, just as it is with its other premium rivals.

The new Discovery is still a big car, still a seven-seater, and the styling is still eye-catching enough for it to stand out among the mass of blander-styled rivals, but – like the Range Rover Evoque – it inspires thoughts of performance and high-street image rather than mud-plugging practicality; it’s lost the iconic styling themes that so caught the public imagination at the launch of the original Discovery in 1989 and has continued to do so through three more generations. The Discovery 4 may not appeal to the mass of luxury car devotees, but for anyone who does want a car that not only has class-leading off-road capability but also looks the part, not to mention boasting as much modern electronic wizardry as anyone actually needs, as well as superb estate car and seven-seater capability, it’s the only sensible choice.

Capable and comfortable both on and off the road

The power plant of choice is the lusty 3.0-litre Jaguar turbodiesel, boasting a lively 241bhp while the 443lb ft available from a lowly 2000rpm made it the industry’s torquiest six-cylinder passenger car diesel at the time of its launch. The twin-turbo set-up give it better emissions and even better fuel economy than the 2.7 TDV6. Four-wheel drive is permanent, with low range selectable for tough off-road conditions, backed up by an enhanced version of Land Rover’s acclaimed terrain response system that includes a ‘sand launch’ control which prevents the wheels from digging in when driving away in soft sand. The hill descent control also has ‘gradient release control’ which keeps down initial acceleration to reduce the fear factor of descending very steep inclines.

The Discovery has always impressed us as a towing vehicle, so we’re hardly surprised at its continuing success in Tow Car of the Year awards; trailer stability assist is naturally included.

The 2.7 TDV6 was an option in the base GS, both it and the 3.0 TDV6 originally being available with six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, though the manual proved unpopular and was later dropped. A slimming of the range in 2012 saw the inevitable introduction of the more powerful SDV6 twin-turbo diesel matched to an eight-speed automatic, a combination that not only delivers usefully more power and performance, but also manages to outclass the earlier engines in its low CO2 output; it also allows the fuel-saving start/stop feature. The new gearbox coincided with the introduction of a rotary-knob gear selector – which lies flush to the centre console until the ignition is switched on, whereupon it rises to a usable position, backed up by paddle-type selectors on the steering wheel.

 Our verdicts 

Our first chance to savour the dynamic delights of the Discovery 4 was for our 4×4 Of The Year contest for 2010, featured in the January edition of that year – and it will come as no surprise that it outclassed all others to emerge the overall winner. That’s even though we’d focused on “value for money” in picking the various category winners on that occasion, which could have been enough to put the Discovery out on cost alone, except that we were so struck by its overall on-road and off-road competence and the sheer feeling of elegance and luxury we experienced while driving it. As for value, the Discovery seemed like a bargain compared with the 2010 Range Rover, which at a fiver short of 80 grand impressed us as, “the finest car Solihull has ever built and undoubtedly one of the best cars in the world today.” We commented: “It’s a 4×4 that few will afford, so with the Range Rover too much of an elitist choice there was only one other car in the running. The Discovery also costs a chunk of money, but sit in a Shogun or a new Land Cruiser and then sit in a Discovery and you’ll appreciate that some things in life are worth paying that bit extra for.”

There was more reason for our excitement over the Discovery than the smart interior. “On the road the 3.0-litre engine and improved suspension have transformed the Discovery, and it’s finally able to return decent fuel economy. Off-road it remains the peerless off-roader that other manufacturers must aspire to. Put a set of aggressive tyres on a Discovery and it’ll run rings around the Defender. It is, in short, one of the best off-road cars in the world.”

The Discovery returned in our May 2010 edition when we pitted a 3.0 TDV6 HSE against a Toyota Land Cruiser on an off-road site at Bala in Wales. We had nothing but praise for the Land Rover’s effectiveness: “On-road improvements have not affected its off-roading ability. Our Bala test site provided some extremely greasy, deep mud ruts, equally greasy steep descents and ascents plus some deep water for wading. Land Rover’s Terrain Response in mud and ruts mode just ate up the sticky, boggy Bala terrain with no slippage or hiccup whatsoever. Shod on standard road tyres and weighing the equivalent of a small bungalow, you’d possibly expect some difficulty in such boggy terrain – the Land Cruiser did struggle – but the Discovery didn’t bat an eyelid.”

The revised interior, styled more to match that of the Range Rover, also impressed us: “A sweeping dash line and a plethora of soft leather and velour trim around the windows and brushed chrome plus the more refined wood effect all create a luxury feel. The seats have good lumbar support and there’s plenty of seat adjustment and all the controls are well laid out and easy to locate. The Discovery is not cheap but you get a lot of performance and style for your money.” Our verdict at that time summed it up: “The Discovery hasn’t won so many plaudits and awards for nothing. It has raised the 4×4 bar a huge notch by making it hard for others to compete.”

The Discovery won the 2011 4×4 Of The Year contest as well with the verdict: “This is a 4×4 you will enjoy driving every day; throw in seven adult seats, class-leading off-road performance and a 3.5-tonne towing capacity and the Discovery adds up to the perfect 4×4 package that nothing else can beat.” You’d think that by now our enthusiasm for the car would have eased, but the continuing upward transformation of Land Rover products generally means the only real competition the Discovery still has comes from its own stablemates; by 2013 the only car that could beat it in our 4×4 Of The Year contest was the Range Rover Evoque, because it was excitingly new, stylish and quick, but by no means as complete an off-road package as the Discovery. Certainly by last year’s contest its age was beginning to tell, but not by much – apart from the winning Range Rover Sport and second-placed Range Rover only the Jeep Grand Cherokee scored more points in the Prestige group, and that was largely because the Jeep was cheaper, not a better car to drive, nor more practical or ultimately classier.

 Which one to buy 

The GS was the original entry level, with SX an equipment-enhanced mid-ranger and the HSE the luxury range-leader. Entry-level does not mean basic; the upholstery of the 2.7-litre TDV6 GS seven seater may be cloth rather than leather, but the wheels are smart 18inch alloys and the specification includes all the main technological advances including the all-independent air suspension, terrain response, dynamic stability control with trailer stability assist, Bluetooth phone system, five inch TFT information display and keyless push button start. The 2.7 was the most affordable option, but not a popular one so rare second-hand; expect to pay up to £20,000 for a well-maintained early example, for instance £19,950 was being asked for a green 66,000-mile 2010 example at Cambrian Garages of Aberystwyth (01970 580958). However, even though the 3.0 TDV6 GS is a step up the equipment scale with its 19inch seven-spoke alloys and an adaptive feature on the automatic transmission, it needn’t be costlier, we’ve seen higher-mileage examples on offer from £17,000. It’s worth looking for something special, though, like the gleaming forest green 10-plated car with the optional leather upholstery, 63,000 miles and a full service history, going for £20,990 at Edwards Car Company of Corsham, Wiltshire  (01225 744920).

The 3.0-litre TDV6 XS boasts roof rails and edges into luxury territory with leather upholstery, the seats being manually adjustable but featuring heating for the driver and front passenger. Other features include cruise control, front park distance warning, front fog lamps, automatic headlights, rain sensing windscreen wipers, a nine-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system, touch-screen hard-disc drive navigation and an iPod/USB connectivity module. Prices will vary significantly depending on what options were fitted; £37,000 would get you a manufacturer-approved 2013 model in Corris Grey with 20,000 miles, bright pack including 20inch alloys, and DAB digital radio from Grange Land Rover in Barnet (0208 226 3220), or pay £30,997 for an immaculate Nara Bronze 25,000-miler with full service history from Guy Salmon of Stafford (01785 292840).

The HSE steps up the equipment with 19inch seven spoke alloys, xenon headlamps with automatic high beam assist, a rear view camera with parking aid, keyless entry, electric front sunroof and two fixed glass rear ‘Alpine’ roof panels, premium Windsor leather upholstery, eight-way adjustable electric driver and passenger seats including electric adjustment for the driver’s side bolsters. There’s a hard-drive satellite navigation system with voice control, and the Harman/Kardon audio is a premium system with 14 speakers and high-power amplifier. This was also the most popular choice so will be more common second-hand, it’s worth looking out for a post-2012 model which will have  the mighty 251bhp SDV6 turbodiesel engine with the eight-speed ZF transmission, not to mention the 17-speaker enhancement to the Harman/Kardon audio setup with its massive 825-Watt amp. Unique Prestige of Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire (01992 465533) had a £27,990 price tag on a superb-looking grey 2012 one-owner 75,000-miler with cream leather, side steps and tow bar; I.C.E.Motor of Merstham, Surrey, (01737 644955) were asking £34,995 for a gleaming black 2013 example with just 35,000 miles, side steps, privacy glass and rear-seat DVD players with twin headsets and games consoles.

The current range has the cloth-upholstered SE as the base model, again these are thin on the ground, the £39,995 being asked by Lookers of Chelmsford (0844 659 3846) for a 2015 model, a one-owner car with 5000 miles on it – quite likely a demonstrator – may seem a lot considering the new list price for an SE is £41,600 on the road, but it does have the optional leather (worth £1575). More common are SE Tech versions which have leather upholstery, satnav and front parking sensors, Wimbledon Land Rover (0208 128 1143) were asking £41,990 for a Fuji White 2015 example with 4000 miles, a fair drop from the original £47,500 new list price. The HSE adds a sunroof, but the most prestigious of all is the HSE Luxury, which includes the front and rear camera, pay £40,000 for a 2014 model with 40,000 miles or give Taggarts of Glasgow (0844 659 6914) £58,990 – £1000 off the list price – for a new Yulong White car with the £800 Black Pack of gloss 20inch wheels, black grille and privacy glass.

ENGINE DRIVETRAIN CHASSIS BODY AND INTERIOR
Reliability is generally good, but turbocharger seals can fail calling for ridiculously expensive repairs, so ensure that the engine runs smoothly and doesn’t make unexpected hissing or whining noises – all the more reason to be wary of examples being sold cheaply privately or at auction, it’s worth paying the extra for an ‘approved’ car from a main dealer and make sure any warranty cover includes turbo failure. As with any turbocharged engine, it’s recommended that the engine should be left to idle after a run before switching off to let the turbo cool down gradually. Note also that a cam belt change is due at around 100,000 miles, and since this isn’t a simple operation on these turbodiesel engines a full service including cam belt change will cost around £1000 at a main dealer, so bear that in mind when buying a car close to that mileage.

Though manual gearboxes were available on some early examples they’re rare; if you find one make sure the change quality is slick and positive, and if you feel any shuddering or vibration when engaging the clutch walk away because it may point to impending failure of the dual-mass flywheel. Most cars at the £25,000 level will have the earlier six-speed automatic, and there shouldn’t be any problems with this in cars of this age – even so, check that there isn’t a transmission warning light aglow among the dashboard indicators, see that changes are smooth and kickdown responsive. Check that low range selection works properly, some cars may never have had low range engaged. Later cars with the eight-speed transmission may have the start/stop function, check that it works.
Check that the car sits level on its air suspension and that the height adjustment function works, since compressors have been known to fail. Listen for knocking noises from the front suspension; the wishbones have complex hydraulic bushes that are prone to damage and are expensive to replace. On higher-mileage cars check the state of the brake discs and argue £500 off the asking price if they look excessively worn or scored. Check that the electro-mechanical parking brake works properly – if it doesn’t, or makes screeching noises when you apply it, walk away because repairs are expensive.

Corrosion or fading paintwork is unlikely to be a problem on cars just a few years old, so the main thing to look for is accidental damage; for instance there might be signs of overspray under the bonnet if a wing has been replaced. Also check the sills for signs that the car has been subjected to over-enthusiastic off-roading. On high-end versions make sure the optional surround camera system works properly and that the intensity of the image on the TFT screen is correct, and while you’re about it make sure the parking indicators, particularly those in front, do work. Also make sure the rear seat-folding mechanisms work smoothly.

 Or you could consider… 

Volkswagen TouaregJeep Grand Cherokee OverlandToyota Land Cruiser


This is one of the smart luxury estates that the new Discovery seeks to displace, but with its soft and ultimately forgettable urban styling it’s a very different type of SUV from the current Discovery. Blisteringly quick in 4.2-litre petrol V8 form, economical with the 3.0-litre turbodiesel, the Touareg is an ideal choice for anyone who wants a prestigious car with good road manners and good towing ability, but without the ‘look at me’ highway presence of the far more charismatic Land Rover. It’s as good off-road as any other pretentious road-biased modern premium crossover. Latest models come only with turbodiesel power, even the base SE is leather-upholstered and features a fuel-saving coasting function on the 8-speed automatic. Comfortable and luxuriously outfitted, the Touareg loses out only in not having a seven-seat option; look for nearly-new low-mileage deals on SE and R-Line models under £40,000.

Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

This very American looking estate may not seem to be the obvious alternative to the Discovery but the Grand has much to offer as an all-round SUV, as competent off-road as it is on tarmac. The fact that it shares much of its drive train with the Mercedes M-Class may provoke some additional interest, though current versions have dropped the Mercedes CRD turbodiesel in favour of the efficient and powerful VM-built Fiat Multijet II V6 unit. Like the Discovery it has a form of terrain response, height-adjustable air suspension, hill descent control and traction controls, while convenience features include a rear parking-aid camera and a panoramic sunroof. The luxurious leather-clad interior of the range-topping Summit, with its cutting-edge electronic driving aids, suits the £52,000 new-car price which puts it right in upper Discovery territory, but bargains abound in the form of the many nearly-new 2015 examples available for around £42,000.

Toyota Land Cruiser Invincible

On the face of it the Toyota has almost as much to offer as the Discovery, but appearances can be deceptive – from behind the wheel it feels disappointingly dated, as if Toyota are afraid of developing it too far from its off-roading roots. Latest versions use a new super-efficient 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine, economical but hardly exciting in the performance department. Good equipment includes a copycat terrain response system and top models have surround-view cameras, electrically modulated suspension and a premium 14-speaker hi-fi system. The Land Cruiser also offers seven seats in its higher-specification versions and although the tailgate is a one-piece lift-up type the glass window panel can be lifted separately for convenience when loading small items. It’s not exactly a cheap alternative to the Discovery, but look out for good offers as dealers seek to clear stocks of 2015 models with the older 3.0-litre turbodiesel.

For many, the appeal of this stylistically unremarkable Nissan is something of a mystery, but it’s rapidly become the world’s favourite SUV. You’ll have to work hard to find a four-wheel drive as versions are rare, and you probably won’t want to drive it very far off-road, but there are other reasons to consider the ubiquitous Qashqai

 TARGET RANGE:  £5,000 – £25,000 

The Qashqai has to be one of the most surprising success stories of our age. Not only has it been the only SUV to consistently feature in the top ten best-sellers list in the UK, demand worldwide has been so great that the Sunderland factory has been churning them out at the rate of nearly one a minute, with over half a million of the latest-generation models built in less than two years since its launch.

What is it that makes this car so popular? The styling is as mainstream as it gets and we’ve always considered the interior to be the most uninteresting we’ve ever been in, but then we are off-road enthusiasts and tend to look for the traditional off-road hints that nowadays are really only visible in Land Rovers, Jeeps and a few hard-core Toyotas. As with most other modern SUVs, four-wheel drive is no longer the essential requirement, so most versions of the Qashqai, particularly those with the smaller, more efficient engines and transmissions, are front-drive only. Even so, it’s hard to see the Qashqai appealing to everyday motorists on account of its styling alone, so we’re left with the feeling that it’s just plain good marketing with eye-catching advertising, wide availability and keen pricing that have won this car so much favour. Whatever the reason, the popularity of the Qashqai means a huge selection of second-hand models to choose from – just check that the one you’ve laid eyes on at that local dealership actually does have four-wheel drive.

When it was launched in 2007, the Qashqai was a conventional five-door five-seater, but a year later the Qashqai+2 appeared, with a longer wheelbase and longer body to incorporate a third row of seats, though in fairness these are only big enough to accommodate children. Otherwise the Qashqai+2 is mechanically identical to the original. Either version could be specified with 1.5 dCi turbodiesel or 1.6-litre petrol power, but 4WD versions were available only with a choice of 2.0-litre petrol or turbodiesel engines. These in turn could be specified with either six-speed manual or automatic transmission, a conventional six-speed type in the dCi turbodiesel or a CVT type with the petrol engine, this latter combination promising to be more economical than the manual. The four-wheel drive system is amusingly described as All Mode, which is a lie since it doesn’t have the key off-road feature of low range gearing; however, the system does mean the Qashqai drives through the front wheels when the going’s good but seamlessly adds drive to the rear wheels when required in slippery conditions; there’s also a lock function that engages 4×4 permanently at low speed to help with more tortuous off-road conditions.

A facelift for the 2010 model year saw a front-end restyle aimed at giving the Qashqai a better air of sophistication and enhanced street presence. The bonnet is restyled, along with the bumper, grille and headlamp treatment, while the rear features red LEDs in the tail light in place of the conventional bulb of the original. The dashboard design is also better, with more oddment storage. Top models get a speed limiter and the Tekna gets quality Bose speakers.

One of the more controversial enhancements for 2010 was the installation of diesel particular filters in the exhaust systems of turbodiesel variants. While undoubtedly effective in improving the quality of diesel exhausts the DPF has an annoying tendency, especially in cars used almost exclusively for short city drives, of clogging up and disrupting engine performance.

More significantly in late 2011 the 1.6 dCi engine was made available with 4WD offering improved economy, especially when specified with the stop-start system. Ultimately only this and the 2.0-litre dCi were offered.
The current model from 2014 is available only with the 1.6 dCi unit, and brings the Qashqai right up to date with the latest technological driving aids. Nissan’s ‘Safety Shield’ features on high-specification versions include forward emergency braking traffic sign recognition and parking assistance. What it doesn’t offer is the seven-seater option since it’s built on a new compact floorpan, but refinement is better and the braked trailer rating is up from 1400kg to 1800kg.

 Our verdicts 

Nissan is only one of many manufacturers who’ve claimed to have invented the crossover concept. The Qashqai was something of a late arrival in that respect, but we still felt the need to explain Nissan’s thinking in replacing the conventional but nevertheless popular Almera and Primera hatches with a more unconventionally-styled car belonging in the more niche-like SUV corner of the market. In our introductory report on the new car, in the April 2007 issue, we explained: “Nissan’s research shows drivers of mid-range family cars want something other than a traditional hatch, saloon or mumsy MPVs. Nissan decided they’d like something that looks like an SUV, but doesn’t necessarily need a 4×4 drivetrain. This is that car.” Were they right in shrugging off the traditional hatch image? The best-selling cars in the UK last year were the totally traditional Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa, Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf – but the new Qashqai was right in there in fifth spot. We didn’t foresee that level of success at the time, mainly because we weren’t sure about the styling. We wrote: “The snub nose, raised haunches, well-defined wheel arches and protruding bonnet ‘muscles’ set the Nissan apart from its dumpy Korean 4×4 rivals. The rear three-quarter view even has more than a whiff of Audi Q7 or Hyundai Santa Fe about it. Shame the effect is spoilt by the flowing waistline terminating at such bug-eyed headlamps.”

We summed up the situation in the March issue of 2008, when we published our first road test of the Qashqai: “The ever-changing face of 4×4 motoring has never been so eclectic…”, which made it quite difficult at that time to find suitable rivals for the Nissan: is it a crossover? An SUV? A soft-roader? The answer is none of these, though the 4×4 version has SUV pretensions. Hence in our comparison we pitted it against another oddball city pose vehicle, the Jeep Patriot, and the slightly more off-roady Hyundai Tucson. We decided the Jeep was affordable and spacious but didn’t like the plasticky interior; the Tucson was cheap but dated with a dull interior, which left the Qashqai an easy winner with its quality feel and practical loadspace. We said: “It drives as smoothly as a premium sector saloon with a smooth ride, sharp handling and refined engine performance.” It fared less well as an off-roader – the best we could say about it was that, “it’s no greenlaner.” In October of that year we welcomed the arrival of the seven-seater Qashqai+2; We reported Nissan’s claims that the +2 is not geared for adventurous off-roading: “The All-mode 4×4 system provides enhanced ‘family-safe’ traction on icy or mud-covered tarmac roads.”

We damned the Qashqai with faint praise when it featured in our 4×4 Of The Year comparison for 2009. We described it as, “another crossover variation that’s introduced the term ‘urban SUV’ to the UK 4×4 market. The Qashqai is selling like hot cakes thanks to keen pricing, though most of the range is 2WD-only. Though a tad dumpy in appearance this city-friendly 4×4 is roomier than a des-res flat in Knightsbridge and can carry a lot more luggage than a hotel bellboy, while build quality and equipment count is closer to prestige levels. Not expected to tackle anything more than a soggy field or a stony track.”

In the Winter 2013 issue our 4×4 Of The Year feature included the 360, the last significant addition to the Qashqai range before the arrival of the all-new 2014 model. Apart from describing the all-round parking-assist view afforded by the four-camera setup, we at last made our true feelings about the Qashqai’s interior known: “We can’t help wondering if the popularity of the Qashqai has something to do with the understated interior which must appeal to the many who can’t cope with having lots of gadgets and switches to play with. The styling of the interior is ordinary to the extent of being quite dull, particularly in the mass of plain plastic of the heavy-looking dash panel.”

Our final comment on the latest model may suggest we’re out of touch with motoring reality, considering the sheer public popularity of the Qashqai. It’s partly because we are – to repeat the point yet again – off-road enthusiasts so can’t take the Nissan seriously as a 4×4, but it’s also partly because we’re driving enthusiasts, and the Qashqai doesn’t kick our butts there, either. In our 4×4 Of the Year comparison for 2016, published in the recent Winter edition, we commented: “With the lusty 128bhp engine the Qashqai performs well, but it can hardly be described as a car that’s exciting or memorable to drive. It’s a car you drive because it’s a requirement for efficient family transport rather than one that demands to be taken out on a Sunday afternoon just for the thrill of it.”

Not saying we’re wrong, but the many thousands of satisfied Qashqai drivers can’t be wrong either, so if a popular, well-equipped, practical and roomy family car is what you want, a Qashqai might be the ideal choice.

 Which one to buy 

There were originally three equipment grades, all well-equipped with electric windows front and rear, electrically operated and heated door mirrors, Bluetooth integration, air conditioning and remote central locking. Even the entry-level Visia has a trip computer and stereo, front, side and roof airbags and automatic door locking. Hard to say how much you’d pay for an early one of these, since we haven’t seen any on sale anywhere, but around £3000 for a well-maintained one would be a fair guess. The mid-range Acenta has rain sensing wipers and automatic headlamps, cruise control, rear park distance sensors and remote controls for the stereo. The air conditioning is upgraded to a dual-zone system and there’s a six-disc autochanger in the dash. Expect to pay up to £10,000 for a reasonable-mileage later example with a good service history, earlier examples are significantly cheaper, we spotted an ’08 model with 86,000 miles on it but with a full service history on offer for £4993 at GP Cars of Hatfield (01992 843852).

The range-topping Tekna gets the panoramic sunroof as standard along with Xenon headlamps, front fog lamps, 17inch alloys and an added touch of luxury in the leather upholstery with heated front seats. Brand Trading of  Westwood, Nottingham (01773 607808) was offering a 73,000-mile 2010 metallic silver car with the 2.0 dCi engine, full service history, four new tyres and a year’s MOT for £9750.

The facelift for the 2010 model year saw the arrival of the N-Tec, the key equipment upgrade (shared with the Tekna) being the Nissan Connect system which integrates Bluetooth connectivity with a five-inch touch screen satnav and upgraded stereo with MP3 and USB connectivity and a colour reversing aid camera. The N-Tec also has 18inch alloys to offset the rear privacy glass and satin silver roof rails. What you’ll pay for one will depend on condition and mileage: we spotted a 2011 2.0 dCi with just 23,000 miles going for a smidgeon under £14,000 at KC Jones of Oswestry (01691 721964).

Petrol examples are rare, but potentially less troublesome than an older turbodiesel – no turbocharger or DPF filter to go wrong – so worth considering if you don’t do a high annual mileage; we saw a smart one owner 2010 Tekna in creamy-brown Caffe Latte with 32,000 miles on it, with the CVT transmission, going for £12,000 at Available Car of Cannock (0800 804 6503). Whether you’ll choose a 360 over an N-Tec or Tekna is almost purely a matter of whether you need the gimmicky all-round camera parking aid; there are dozens of used 2013 360s around, but very few are 4WD versions; we did see a Storm White example at MJA Car Sales of Walton (01932 509944) for £18,000.

Best buys must be the many nearly-new models being offered at good discounts by dealers nationwide – many of them 4x4s ordered in expectation that four-wheel drive versions would have more appeal, but ending up ‘on the shelf’ as 2WD versions proved more popular. Look out particularly for ex-demonstrators, many of which will have had optional extras fitted and will therefore be better value than their face-value price may suggest. High-specification versions are particularly worth looking at – we’ve seen several 1.6 dCi Tekna models, original list price over £26,000, going for anything from £20,000 with under 5000 miles on them. One of the keenest deals we saw was the £27,290 being asked for a red 2015 Tekna, an ex-demonstrator with 5000 miles and over £3000 worth of extras, including the protection pack, 19inch black alloys, detachable tow bar, hood deflector, illuminated side bars, sports pack and chrome design pack, a Nissan Cared4 vehicle on sale at Trenton of Hull (01482 763997).

ENGINE DRIVETRAIN CHASSIS BODY AND INTERIOR
The 4×4 versions of the Qashqai all have engines with chain-driven camshafts, so won’t suffer the fate of so many of the 2WD 1.5 dCi versions that experienced premature cam belt failure. However, it pays to beware of higher-mileage 2.0 dCi cars that have an air of hard use about them, as it seems that consistently revving the engine to the red line to get the best performance from it can lead to premature main bearing failure. Some cars have had the chances of this reduced by an adjustment that reduces the power and torque output, which in the longer term might be a good thing. An extended warranty was applied from late 2013, if buying a nearly new car check that this warranty still applies. Otherwise make sure the car idles and drives smoothly, later models with diesel particulate filters can suffer from clogged filters if used purely as urban runabouts – the DPF needs a regular long run on a motorway to burn out the collected carbon deposits. Also listen for excessive whistling or whining noises from under the bonnet, accompanied by excess black exhaust smoke on acceleration, which might indicate a failing turbocharger.

If the car has manual transmission make sure the changes are smooth and baulk-free because linkages can wear prematurely. Also reject any car where the clutch does not release and engage smoothly or requires excessive pedal movement to release. The high torque of the 2.0 dCi engine can cause excessive clutch plate wear if you’re in the habit of letting it slip as, for instance, when waiting for a gap in traffic or waiting for the lights to change. The automatics are generally more reliable though the high sixth gear may not actually engage automatically when cruising around at city speeds and may need to be selected via the manual mode; if top gear doesn’t engage fuel consumption may suffer. Rear differentials can be problematic, listen for excessive whining or clanking from the rear end, more importantly make sure the car proceeds smoothly in a tight turn without any jerky feeling through the steering or scrubbing of the wheels, which might indicate that the vehicle’s All-Mode four-wheel drive system is actually engaging unnecessarily, which could be the cause of damaging strain on the rear differential.
A common fault on early cars is premature wear to the rear damper bushings, resulting in a rattling noise when driving on a less-than-smooth road. Replacing the bushes need not be an expensive job but have it done before you pay for the car or look for one that’s already been repaired. The causes of this problem were supposedly sorted for the 2010 facelift, so ought not to affect later models. Check the brake discs for excess wear or scoring, on a test drive make sure that the brakes work smoothly with no juddering, as warping of the discs is fairy common.

Some cars seem to suffer from excessive condensation on the inside of the windscreen, possibly as the result of a poorly sealed screen. If there’s a damp smell inside the car reject it. Check that the air conditioning works effectively, failure caused by a deteriorating condenser matrix is not unknown. Check for any sign of cracking on the windscreen or the panoramic sunroof. The boot is a good size, check that the plastic panel over the latch is properly secured, using it as a lifting handle can break it. Also note that the folded rear seats don’t give you the completely flat floor that you’d expect from a practical SUV. If you’re regularly going to carry three passengers on the rear bench, make sure whoever gets lumbered with the centre position is comfortable there – most people find it awful, because the bench is so clearly shaped for two. A hi-tech problem that could apply to many modern cars is that the Bluetooth system may not work properly with android or Windows phones, worth checking before buying.

 Or you could consider… 

FORD KUGASKODA YETITOYOTA RAV4


The latest generation Kuga is an impressively high-tech car, with a surprising feel of quality about it, while the superb traction and stability controls combine with good performance and excellent road manners to make it one of the more engaging SUVs to drive. All versions have the Ford SYNC system offering voice activation to make phone calls, select a CD track or have a text message read out to you. Equipment levels are excellent throughout the range, with extras including the clever ‘kick-ass’ boot release, which opens the tailgate when you wave a foot under the rear bumper – as long as you have the key on you, of course. Four-wheel drive is an ‘intelligent’ self-acting system, like the Qashqai aimed more at on-road traction than off-road adventuring, but the styling is arguably more adventurously SUV and the interior is far more interesting.

The styling may be a little off the wall but there’s no doubting the practicality of this more estate-like urban SUV not to mention the value-for-money pricing. It may be a dated design but the facelift of 2014 included more efficient engines and up-to-date technology, plus the introduction of the Outdoor version with enhanced off-road features. Build quality is good, it has impeccable road manners and if specified with the 167bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel it has more the feel of a Golf GTi than an SUV. Look out for high-specified versions with electronic park assist, a useful feature in any city-bound car. The Yeti is hardly designed or styled for hard-core off-roading but it’s worth looking for examples with the ‘rough road’ package installed, which includes a thermoplastic tray designed to protect the engine and transmission and covers for the fuel and brake lines.

Once a niche-market fun car, the RAV4 has transformed itself into another mid-range crossover-cum-SUV clone, but then it’s not a car you buy for its looks, its appeal is the promise of the traditional Toyota strengths of  good build quality and excellent reliability. It’s as big and comfortable as the Nissan, possibly more practical with its easy one-movement rear seat fold giving a completely flat load floor, and it has a more interesting interior if you don’t mind the excess of chrome trim on the higher-spec versions. With four-wheel drive you get the 2.2-litre turbodiesel or a 2.0-litre petrol engine, neither of them offering exhilarating performance, but the Toyota is at least a bit more involving to drive than the Nissan Qashqai. However, a used Toyota RAV4 will probably be more expensive than a similar-spec Qashqai, but should also hold its value.

 

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