It was the annual Easter Jeep Safari last week, and this year’s concepts got us thinking of all of those that have gone to Utah in the somewhat recent past.

Concept vehicles are often overtly fanciful prospects. Sleek, smooth and futuristic, with the promise of technology that, frankly, is very futuristic. And it’s all a bit distant.

But not Jeep, though. The concepts they take to the Easter Jeep Safari each year are often current models on all kinds of steroids, that take on the Utah trails and look backwards as much as they look forward. This combination results in concepts that actually move and seem as real as they do outrageous.

So, without further ado, here are some of the best and most interesting/bizarre ones from the last decade.

 

 The Grand One – ‘17

This was a 1993 Grand Cherokee. With 100,000 miles on the clock it was bought by Jeep on Craigslist, before undergoing a restomod inspired by the glorious nineties. All to celebrate the Grand Cherokee’s 25th birthday.

It retained the original 5.2-litre V8, got a new cold-air intake and exhaust, before having the wheelbase stretched by three inches, the suspension raised by two, 33-inch BFGs and heavy gauge rock-rail cladding. Exterior styling was only tweaked slightly, but it was the changes inside that won hearts.

It wasn’t just the charmingly dated sky-blue bodywork that made the Grand One retro gold.  A plaid flannel headliner took you straight back to pre-millennium, as did the wired car phone and a backseat Gameboy. Plus, a sticker of David Hasslehoff on the drivers’ side inner door panel, exclaiming the Grand One “Hoff Tested, Hoff Approved”. That’s why everyone loved this concept.

 

Quicksand – ‘17

The Quicksand is mad in a whole different way. It started life as a Wrangler Rubicon, and harks back to the Moonshine hot rods of the 1960’s.

The result, as you’ve surely noticed by now, is a very striking one. The bobtail, chopped roof and a Moon tank that smuggles a winch give it that crazy hot rod charisma. Oh, and the 6.4-litre Hemi V8 on the other end of those eight velocity stacks – which can be routed via a rear exhaust or the two trumpets behind each of the front wheels – adds to the character too.

To keep it Jeepy, it got Dana axles – 44 front and 60 rear – with a lengthened wheelbase. It also had big BFG Mud-Terrain tyres, 32-inch at the front and 37-inch at the back.

It’s hard to choose one word to describe the Quicksand concept, but we’d probably apply beautifulcrazy.

 

Safari – ‘17

This one is less desirable off the bat than some of the others here, but will definitely garner plenty of glances.

The first thing you’ll notice is the fact that the doors are transparent. The addition of ‘windoors’ – aluminium frames draped in clear vinyl – helps the Safari in its bid to be a vehicle focussed around its passengers. Obviously you can see a lot from inside the vehicle, and this is aided by tilting the seats outwards and there’s even a roof-mounted drone to scout the trails or to look over cliffs and stuff.

It’s not just about seeing things, though, with typical Jeep upgrades to the axles, decreased front and rear overhangs, a 2-inch suspension lift and 35-inch mud tyres. There’s also a stainless-steel work surface that slides out at the back, and an on-board ARB compressor to easily readjust the tyres for driving on that tarmac stuff again.

 

Crew Chief 715 – ‘16

If there’s one particular model fans have been urging Jeep to make for ages, it’s a modern-day pickup. And that’s why the Crew Chief 715 was such a hit.

Taking inspiration from a ‘60s Kaiser M715 military truck, which was based on a Jeep Gladiator pick-up, this concept started as a four-door Wrangler, was retrofied with styling changes predominantly at the front and then given a five-foot pick-up bed. This was huge. Literally. Many of those who drove it questioned whether it was too big.

Its tyres were military spec and measured forty inches, with a four-inch lift to the body. The axles were both upgraded to Dana 60s, and an on-board air compressor allowed tyre pressure to be changed with ease.

The Wrangler’s 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 was retained in the Crew Chief with the addition of an intake and a freer exhaust in conjunction with a five-speed automatic transmission.

 

Shortcut – ‘16

There’s not too much to say about the Shortcut. The headline is that despite retaining the two-door Wrangler’s wheelbase, the Shortcut is 26-inches shorter than the stock vehicle. It’s lost its back seats and roof, gained 35-inch tyres and is very red. It looks like a kid’s toy but bigger, and it’s completely awesome.

 

FC 150 – ’16, Mighty FC – ‘12

Another small Jeep, the FC 150 is built up on top of a 2005 Wrangler and again, looks like a toy. It wasn’t perfect, but it oozed charm. The sixties styling just makes you smile, so it doesn’t matter that the concept is no more than a retro body tacked onto a Wrangler frame.

But this isn’t the first forward controlled concept Jeep have taken to Utah. The Mighty FC came four years before the FC 150 and was also inspired by the original vehicles produced for nine years from 1956.

This was a bit bigger though with the Wrangler Rubicon starting point being extended. The pick-up bed had drop-sides and due to the relocation of the cab measured eight-feet. Mopar portal axles were installed, along with coil-over assemblies and uprated track arms and track bars. A Warn winch was added, too, meaning the Mighty was definitely the more rugged of the forward control concepts to grace Moab.

 

JK2A Staff Car– ‘15

Another concept referencing the military history of the Jeep brand, the JK2A Staff Car looks incredible. Even more so when you read that it isn’t a restoration, or even a restomod.

Let’s call it a retromod. The Jeep engineers wanted to see how close they could get to a World War II military Jeep – starting with a JK Rubicon.

As you’d expect, a lot of things had to be changed to get it ready. And the Staff Car is genuinely jaw-dropping. The doors are gone, the sills have been raised and the B-pillar moved backwards. Throughout everything that doesn’t look period appropriate has been made to look so or pulled off. Immense effort has been poured into fitting out the concept with accurate details such as the 20-foot antenna and the bumpers from an Egyptian military Jeep.

Whilst this is very much a tremendous and historically accurate concept, there are a few Easter eggs thrown in. For instance, the gear knob is a hand grenade, and the four-wheel drive lever is a shell casing. But best of all, is a bottle opener mounted by the instrument panel, labelled for ‘Official Use Only’ and the cooler that looks like a box of ammo.

 

Max Performance – ‘14

Every year there are some concepts adapted for extreme off-roading, so there’s a long list to choose from here. But, due in part to both its name and how extreme it is, we’ve chosen to feature the Max Performance.

The black and blue concept – surely a metaphor for how it wants to be driven – featured a non-production four-inch lift, with Fox remote-reservoir shocks with locking Dana 60 axles and Warn locking front hubs. Fortified concept wheels were necessary, and installed along with a Rock-Trac transfer case with a 70:1 crawl ratio. It kept the JK Wrangler’s V6, but got a cold-air intake and a cat-back exhaust system.

A Warn winch was added, as was a Stinger front bumper to avoid somersaulting – yes somersaulting. It was kitted out with just about everything from the Jeep Performance Parts arsenal, including a swathe of LED lighting, rock rails and skid plates and a Mopar hood.

Concept touches like the tyre carrier and the easy open fuel-cap cover add practicality, as do the hardwearing Katzkin leather interior. The blue steering wheel rings at ten and two are a nice touch, as are the five trail badges signifying the Moab courses it has conquered.

 

Stitch – ’13, Pork Chop – ‘11

Much like the ‘4SPEED’ debuted this year, the Pork Chop and Stitch concepts championed lightness as a means to improve off-road capability.

Both are Wrangler offshoots that do without doors, back seats or solid roofs. They’re also stripped of their carpets, with body panels made lighter and things like spare wheels omitted and even the fuel tank was downsized in the quest to lose weight.

Coming two years later, the Stitch is a little more civilised, gaining a mesh tailgate, bed cover and cockpit canopy. Plus, the Sabelt bucket seats appear a little more substantial than the red Recaros in the Pork Chop.

They might not be equipped with the extensive options list that most of the other concepts are, they couldn’t winch themselves out of bother for example, but given that the Pork Chop weighed almost 400kg less than a stock Wrangler, wouldn’t they just glide over obstacles?

 

J-12 – ‘12

Another nod to the Gladiator pick-up series, the J-12 concept was a heightened rendition of the JK-8 conversion offered by Mopar for the now-outgoing Wrangler. Starting with a Wrangler Unlimited, 18-inches were added to the back of the frame which allowed for the spare wheel to be rehoused under the bed floor. The pick-up bed ended up being a full six-feet in length, and the hood and front wings took styling inspiration from the Gladiator trucks of old.

Jeep being Jeep, a Mopar suspension lift of three-inches was fitted along with uprated axles, sway bars and 36-inch tyres wrapped on 16-inch steelies.

 

Blue Crush – ‘11

The Blue Crush was inspired by the King of the Hammers desert racing series, and as such is a hard-hitting off-road machine.

It was powered by an all-aluminium seven-litre V8, laying down 540bhp through a performance transmission. The suspension was beefed up too, with internal bypass shocks and front stabiliser bar and massive 39-inch tyres that required custom driveshafts.

The roll cage was inspired by Baja racers and racing seats were added, whilst smaller, lightweight aluminium bumpers replaced the stocks.

 

Nukizer 715 – ‘10

Another pickup truck and another homage to the Kaiser M715.

The Nukizer 715 was smaller than the Crew Chief, and combined a two-door Wrangler and an aftermarket pick-up bed. The front end was crafted from carbon fibre over a stretched frame. The total length ended up at 124-inches, with a Dana 44 axle at the front, a Dana 60 at the back and a 2.8-litre turbodiesel running through a manual four-speed. It looked awesome and only heightened the call for a production Jeep pick-up truck.

 

Wrangler Overland -’09

Like the Nacho debuted this year, the Wrangler Overland was really just a blueprint for what you can make with the aftermarket Mopar accessories.

Tailored to be a self-contained campsite, the rear seats have been removed and the floor covered in utilitarian rubberised matting. It got a two-person roof tent and awning, water resistant seat covers and a dash bin that powered a host of accessories.

The suspension was lifted three-inches and a rear traction sway bar installed, plus 35-inch tyres around 17-inch off-road steel wheels. Expected to be off the beaten track, the Overland concept was embellished with extra underbody protection and steel bumpers, plus a snorkel and windscreen and bumper mounted LED lights.

This may not be an extreme concept, but it is a very cool template.

 

Wrangler JKL – ‘08

This was awesome.

Again, it doesn’t have a very long story to tell aside from the fact that it was a JK Wrangler which was extended to have a 110” wheelbase. Other than a lengthened and strengthened chassis, the JKL received 37-inch tyres and a 6.1 litre Hemi V8.

 

So which is your favourite? Let us know in the comments below.

The new XV is the first SUV on Subaru’s Global Platform – which will eventually underpin all the company’s vehicles. It’s good news for customers, because the XV and Impreza – which is also based on the new platform – take the top two places in EuroNCAP’s league table for child occupant protection.

It’s designed to route energy more efficiently through the body of the car in the event of a crash, and the engine is mounted in a cradle which carries it underneath the passenger compartment.

But to avoid that eventuality, the XV now features autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning and rear cross-traffic alert, linked in to Subaru’s EyeSight system which uses a pair of cameras to create a 3D image of the road ahead. The XV will self-steer to a degree, too, to keep you on the straight and narrow, and if you try to pull away before the car in front, it’ll kill the gas.

And it looks after you the rest of the time, too. Inside, the XV’s cabin feels more modern than the old model’s, with a slick design and excellent build quality. The dashboard is dominated by a large screen which does the stuff you want it to but not the stuff you don’t – i.e. the heating and air-con which get traditional buttons.

We like the all-round view from the vehicle, too, as well as the space in the front seats. The rears aren’t as good – one six-footer can sit behind another, but not without compromise.

The rear seats drop down to leave a cargo floor with a sizeable step in it and a sloping front section. There’s a high lip at the tailgate aperture, too – because the floor is set low to allow the tallest possible luggage space.

The XV’s seating position is quite sporty, as is the vehicle’s willingness to be driven with verve.

The new platform is stiffer, with a low centre of gravity as well as a side-to-side balance of weight which flatters Subaru’s all-wheel drive system, letting the vehicle grip more tenaciously while steering and handling with greater feel and sharpness. It feels alert, and it also covers the ground very smoothly, with real composure.

You might not be surprised by any of that, but you’re unlikely to be expecting the XV to slay any giants off-road. Incredibly, though, we took on some mud on the luanch – the kind you really wouldn’t fancy having a go at on the wrong tyres. They wouldn’t have done this, of course, if they hadn’t tested it first. But this was on standard 18” tyres with the regulation amount of air in them. There was wheelspin, and a certain amount of sideways action as the vehicles found themselves a way through, but the fact is that we didn’t once see one getting into difficulties.

There’s no low box and the short stroke of the suspension means that although ground clearance is good, lifting wheels will always be an issue. But a standard CVT gearbox to some extent overcomes the absence of low range and, with Subaru’s X-Mode system now fitted, the XV’s traction control kicks in at lower speeds to prevent wheelspin.

There’s also a very effective hill descent control system whose set speed can be fine-tuned by dabbing the pedals, allowing you to tackle surprisingly rough terrain with much more control and finesse than a crossover estate normally allows.

Overall, there’s more off-road ability here than we believed possible in a car of this nature – Subaru is a past master at making estates perform in the mud, but the company has excelled itself here.

That’s the icing on top for a vehicle which makes a very good first impression indeed. And it’s a good first impression in more ways than one – because with the XV’s new platform set to go under the next Forester and Outback, Subaru has some very good times ahead.

Read the full review in the next issue of 4×4, out 9th February.

Following last year’s success for the Skoda Kodiaq, VW has decided to add a new seven-seater to their own line-up – Tiguan Allspace.

Essentially, this is a Tiguan with added flexibility. It’s 215mm longer than the regular Tiguan and the wheelbase has been stretched by 109mm. With your elongated Tiguan you get the privilege of ‘occasional seating’, which thankfully doesn’t mean you can only use them for birthdays and weddings.

What it does mean is that VW hasn’t tried to make out they’ve harnessed technology from the Tardis and applied it to the Allspace’s back row of seats. Instead, they freely admit these two pews are for the petite individual who is likely to be more interested in discussing with you the delights of Peppa Pig rather than available legroom.

There are a few other subtle differences between the Allspace and regular Tiguan, too. At the front, a taller grille and revised bonnet visually helps with raising the front in order to counter the extra bulk at the rear. The rear doors are longer and the shoulder line has been reworked, while off-road versions get amended bumpers and underbody protection. Even with the Tiguan’s growth spurt, it’s not an oversized vehicle and remains attractive.

The model we recently got our hands on was an SE Nav 2.0-litre TDI 4Motion 147bhp variant. Bit of a mouthful, but before we break it down for you, it’s worth knowing that this is the example VW estimates will be its top seller.

The ‘SE Nav’ denotes the starting point as you head up through the Allspace spectrum, past SEL and onto the R-Line derivatives. There’s a focus on providing high spec’d vehicles here, so all versions are generously equipped from the off. This base SE Nav, for instance, has the 8” colour touchscreen and Discover Navigation system.

VW estimates suggest that 95% of Allspace sales will be diesel, emphasising that TDI still pips TSI in this category – for now. You can get the 2.0 TDI unit in more powerful guises, and while initially sceptical about the 147bhp being able to haul the Allspace and seven people around, it will satisfy you completely, with a surprising amount of shove to serve up when prompted. Regarding the petrol units, the 1.4 TSI is only available in 2WD, leaving the thirstier 2.0 TSI. It may have 177bhp, but the TDIs can talk the torque.

There’s a mix of manual and autos on offer, but it’s the latter we’d advise you towards. Family life can tire you out, so why not let the car do the work for you? That is the idea after all. Plus you get paddles and a manual shift setting should you wish to take control and with the DSG ‘boxes being the best in the business, their slickness is difficult to play down.

Inside, it can look a little conservative – but as usual with Volkswagen, it’s all in the detail. The soft-touch plastics give an assuring feel of quality, while the cloth seats look up for a battle with the kids in the war of cleanliness. Controls are positioned well and easy to navigate.

And what of this ‘occasional seating’? A tether either side of the middle row flips them down and the occasional two are simple to put up or down. You can have a very spacious five-seat Tiguan or a seven-seater that will cope with the capability of swallowing a decent shopping trip.

Bigger boot, more seats, and more eventualities covered – what’s not to like. VW has quietly gone on and added that extra flexibility without harming the goodness already established in the Tiguan.

Prices start at £29,370, with the one that impressed us costing £34,905.

Jeep Compass

We drove the new Jeep Compass on its European launch in the summer. But now we’ve tried it out where it matters – here in Blighty.

Again, we had a spin in the 2.0 Multijet II diesel, but this time we also tried out the 1.4 MultiAir II turbocharged petrol equivalent. In versions of the Compass with four-wheel drive, both produce the same figure of 170bhp when mated to Jeep’s nine-speed auto box (there’s also a 140bhp version of the 2.0-litre unit with a manual box, but that’s for another day).

So our test was really about the two engines. At cruising speeds, there’s nothing to choose between them. The gearbox transitions are smooth and both are similarly quiet and comfortable.

Inside, the cabin is cleanly laid out and the touch-screen infotainment system is simple to navigate. The vehicles driven here were both in range-topping Limited spec, which means seats trimmed in full leather and, at the front, both heated and vented.

Again, the leather-wrapped steering wheel feels good and solid and the cruise control regulators are straightforward to operate. For taller drivers who require the seat further back, however, the restricted headroom that comes as a side product of the panoramic sunroof isn’t ideal.

We found the Compass’ ride to be notably informative over something as slight as cats’ eyes, and on uneven streets and B-roads this was amplified. It wasn’t uncomfortable by any means, but for something with off-road credentials in the wheelhouse we hoped for a smoother deal on everyday surfaces.

Talking of off-road credentials, we didn’t get to test these as the route set out for us to follow on the launch stuck exclusively to tarmac. There is, however, a Trailhawk version of the Compass coming during 2018 – and if you like the look of the vehicle as your next off-road giant-slayer, it will certainly be the one to wait for.

Back in the here and now, the biggest difference between the engines in driving terms is how they work with the automatic gearbox. Both may produce the same power, but the diesel has 258lbf.ft from 1750rpm while the petrol only gives you 184lbf.ft at 2500rpm – and the difference is very apparent.

The petrol engine doesn’t cover the auto box in a lot of glory. Unless it’s bullied, we found it sluggish when pulling away – bridging the gap between dangling yourself in front of traffic at roundabouts and steaming across them can be a frustrating task. A window of opportunity in between these extremes does exist – it’s just smaller than you might expect.

There are similar delays in power delivery when building up speed – and if you over-compensate, your wrists are slapped with torque steer. Downshifts on a decline caught it out a few times, too – we found it shifting down a gear too many and over-revving loudly as a result.

The diesel is a lot better behaved. The sooner the torque comes in, the happier the gearbox is. It doesn’t feel as if there are too many gear ratios in the mix, it copes better with downshifts and it’s less anxious and more refined in city centre traffic.

In every other way, the Compass is comfortable in urban environments, with light steering making it easy and untaxing to manoeuvre around town. Its contemporary styling makes it look like it belongs, too – which, trivial though it may sound, is no small concern on the school run.

Visibility is less than fantastic, however. There are blind spot indicators to help you out, but the C-pillars do dominate the view over your shoulder.12

On the whole, though, the Compass is a solid entrant for Jeep into the medium SUV market. We’d certainly choose the 2.0-litre diesel, however, whose extra torque works far better with the auto gearbox, making it much nicer to live with, and in Limited trim the cabin is a really nice, plush place to sit.

It is, however, on the expensive side. The 2.0 MultiJet II auto 4×4 lists at £34,295, and the vehicle we drove on the launch had options on it which would have taken that to £39,645. How that will look alongside the best of the Compass’ many excellent competitors in the medium SUV market is open to question – though taken on its own merits, this new Jeep certainly does have a lot to recommend it.

Compass

First time Jeep launched a vehicle called the Compass, it was a bit rubbish. It was 2006, and the company felt like it could do nothing wrong – so it brought a deeply American vehicle to Britain and figured it would sell, because back then everything sold.

What followed was a financial collapse that ended up with Jeep becoming part of the Fiat empire. And however cynical you might feel about that, the result is that today’s Jeeps are properly global products.

The Renegade was first, and its sales have been astronomical. So much so that having sold 300,000 vehicles in 2009, Jeep shifted 1.4 million last year.

Now, aiming to play the same game, here’s an all-new Compass. It’s halfway in size between the Renegade and bigger Cherokee – and it’s set to give Jeep an extremely serious presence in the compact SUV market when it goes on sale at the end of the year.

If you doubt Jeep’s global credentials, you might be interested to learn that UK Compasses with be built in India. You don’t need to spend much time inside the vehicle to see that it’s distinctly European in character, too.

Jeep says the Compass will be the ‘most capable’ vehicle in its segment. Backing that up is the presence of a Trailhawk model in the range, bringing with it dual-ratio gears – and the ‘Trail Rated’ badge that says Jeep considers this vehicle worthy of its off-road heritage.

As with the existing Renegade and Cherokee, the Trailhawk model will be a niche seller. But all Compasses will have a decent level of off-road ability built in, with 3mm metal underbody guards as standard and a rear suspension setup allowing 20cm of articulation.

So this is going to be more than just another me-too model in an already crowded segment. You could argue that real off-road ability is irrelevant to most buyers here, and by extension that it’s a gimmick, but Jeep clearly believes that its brand means something, even to people who buy soft-roaders. And amen to that.

First and foremost, though, this is a family car. Entry-level models won’t even have four-wheel drive. Obviously we’ll leave those to one side; assuming you want the real thing, your choice will be between a 1.4-litre petrol engine and a pair of 2.0-litre diesels producing 140 and 170bhp. All 4×4 models will get a nine-speed auto box as standard.

There are three main trim levels, with Trailhawk out on its own as a specialist model. All are well equipped, with the range-topping Limited giving you an exceptional kit list including a particularly impressive multimedia system.

We drove a Limited with the 170bhp diesel engine, as well as a similarly powered Trailhawk. The most obvious difference aside from the off-road stuff is that the Limited has a full leather interior; the leather itself is less than entirely plush, but does feel hard-wearing.

There are some hard, scratchy and cheap-feeling plastics around the cabin, too, particularly to the lower dash surfaces and rear door trims. The dash itself is good and stout, however, though the floor console is a bit flappy – give it a couple of years and we’d be listening out for creaks and squeaks from it.

It’s easy to get into a good driving position, however – and even with the front seat set all the way back, a six-footer can still slide comfortably into the back. That’s a very pleasing surprise in a 4×4 of this size – though in the Limited we drove, a full-length sunroof meant headroom in the back was badly lacking. The Trailhawk was just fine in this way, however, though a high waistline and rather eagerly positioned C-post means the view out is nothing to write home about.

So your kids might not be overly enamoured of the Compass. They’ll like this, though: when Jeep’s designers were coming up with a ‘look’ for the vehicle, they took inspiration from sources including none other than Iron Man. ‘Machine with character’ is the phrase they like to use, and you’d be hard pushed to say the Compass lacks it.

It doesn’t lack for cargo carrying skills, either, thanks to rear seats which fold acceptably close to flat. They don’t leave any step to get your stuff over, either, and loading up in the first place is aided by a good, low lip with a hard-wearing plastic covering.

On the move, the Compass is impressively quiet. The diesel engine is quiet at all speeds and the ninespeed box is as smooth as you like, meaning progress in stop-start city traffi c is hassle-free. Our test route included a lot of urban driving, which was completely undramatic – even when the surface got broken up and pot-holed, the suspension dealt with it more effi ciently than we expected, with crashy responses almost completely absent.

We didn’t really get the chance to experience the Compass’ handling, however we can say that its ride and refi nement are genuinely impressive – as is its braking. Off-road, the Limited dealt tidily with rough, unsurfaced tracks – and the Trailhawk demonstrated a strong level of climbing ability, whether over loose stones or bigger, axle-twisting rocks. We found that even in low box, however, it was necessary to use Hill Descent Control to keep on top of its speed on even quite shallow drops – putting the auto box into manual mode and dropping it into fi rst did prevent revs from building up in some situations but, once the vehicle was already descending on HDC, switching it off provoked an immediate lurch forward.

Overall, however, there’s no doubting that with the extra hardware Jeep has given the Compass, it’s going to add something new to the compact SUV market. It may not be the most sophisticated vehicle in its class, but not a lot will be able to match it for standard kit – and Jeep says that its price will be pitched in to the middle of the market.

There’s more to life than just kit, though – which is one of the lessons Jeep learned from the original Compass. This time, the vehicle itself has been designed to appeal to European tastes – showing that of all the lessons they’ve learned, the main one is that the Renegade worked like a charm.

Like it or not, Jeep would be mad not to follow that formula. The Compass does just that – but the need to demonstrate real off-road skill shows that this is a formula that’s unique to Jeep itself. It’s one they’ve got right before – and thus far, everything points to them having done it again.

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.

Ssangyong Korando

Once seen as a byword for crumminess, Ssangyong is making huge leaps forward with every new model it brings out. The 2017 Korando is a final facelift for a vehicle that’s been around for half a decade – but even this might surprise you if you still assume the Korean 4×4 specialist is stuck in the last century.

As facelifts go, it’s a mild one. The front-end styling has been revised to bring it into line with more recently introduced members of the Ssangyong family, and there are new designs for the alloys and steering wheel.

Yet the difference between this vehicle and the last Korando we drove (way back in 2011 when it had just arrived in the UK) suggests not a mild tickle-up but a quantum leap forward. There’s been some evolutionary change during that time, not to mention the arrival of a far superior diesel engine, but the improvement is still startling.

In the cabin, the dash plastics have just enough texture to feel pleasing and it doesn’t creak, groan or squirm when you lean on it. The new steering wheel feels good in your hands, and the controls it carries are clear and unfussy.

That goes for the whole of the cabin. Finding the button you want is always easy, as is operating the infotainment system – and so too is getting a comfortable driving position, thanks to a seat with a huge range of adjustment. If you’re used to sliding it as far back as possible in whatever car you drive, first time you get in one of these you might find yourself sitting too far from the wheel.

Stowage is generous, too, with a big glovebox and cubby as well as two useful bins in the centre stack and floor console. It all adds to the feeling of this being a vehicle you can use without having to fuss about anything being awkward.

In the back, you’d have to be sitting behind someone pretty immense not to have enough knee room. Again, it’s easy to get comfortable – and if you’re carrying cargo rather than people, the 60:40 rear seats fold flat with a light and easy one-shot action to create a floor that’s as long as possible and as good as completely flat. There are more recent arrivals on the SUV scene that don’t come close to being as good – especially as the lip at the back is nice and low.

The Korando we tested was the range-topping ELX model, whose already high standard kit list is augmented by leather and heated front and rear seats. For those in the back to get that luxury remains unusual even on a premium vehicle, so it’s an impressive touch – as is the fact that the leather itself feels like leather, not plastic.

Other kit on this model includes a heated steering wheel, front and rear parking sensors with a rearview camera, sat-nav, Bluetooth, a 7” touch screen and 225/55R18 tyres on diamond-cut alloys. Plenty of good stuff for your money, then.

Those big rims do bode ill for ride quality, however. And when you pilot the Korando across the sort of broken surfaces we have to endure all too often in the UK, things do at times verge on the crashy. There’s a certain amount of vibration through the drivetrain, too, so refinement is hardly its strongest point.

Overall, however, for what is ultimately a budget vehicle the Korando drives very acceptably. More than that, in fact, it can be quite enjoyable to hustle through corners – and the 2.2-litre engine has no shortage at all of shove.

Mated to the optional automatic gearbox, a six-speed Aisin unit adding £1125 to the price of the car, the engine is quite vocal but, more than that, very willing to get you moving. It doesn’t take off like a scalded cat when you floor it from the lights, but it builds speed steadily – and we found that for overtaking moves in the 30-45mph band, it’s very effective indeed. Waiting patiently for the national speed limit sign to arrive as we exited a village on the test route, we banged in the throttle and, for a moment, had to check to see that we hadn’t accidentally driven off in someone’s V8 instead.

Not all versions of the Korando have four-wheel drive, but all the versions we’re interested in do. To this end, you can add £1500 to any ‘prices from’ stuff you see about it, though the ELX model tested here comes as standard in 4×4 form.

This helps add peace of mind to a 2000kg towing limit, and while it’s no Rexton off-road the Korando does have a good degree of capability. Obviously, ground clearance will be a limiting factor, and you wouldn’t choose such low-profi le tyres for this kind of work either, but the engine’s torque supply is admirably suited to hauling it up steep hills from tickover, even without the benefit of low box.

Something else it doesn’t have is hill descent control, and even with fi rst gear selected manually on the auto box it was necessary to use cadence braking to avoid a runaway ride. For this reason, we’d say the Korando could be a viable choice if you need something to use regularly on sandy or gravelly terrain, but mud, ruts and slippery hills are less likely to suit it.

Overall, this is a very credible SUV. Without laying it on thick, it ticks almost every basic box, and while it does feel a little last-generation in places it’s certainly not last-century – and for Ssangyong, that really does represent a step forward on the path it’s taking from joke brand through also-run and left-field choice to part of the mainstream. It’s well on the way. Certainly, it’s still a left-field choice, with low prices – and a five-year, unlimited mileage warranty, don’t let’s forget – key to what it offers.

Ssangyong dealers don’t offer the sort of discounts some of its rivals’ do, however. That helps bring some excellent cars closer to the £23,500 on this car’s screen – and when you factor in the likely effect of depreciation, and of the relatively high emissions the 2.2-litre engine produces, it’s less cut and dried.

But as it was with Hyundai and Kia, Ssanygong is moving from a price-based offering to one that leads with its products.The Korando has made up ground during its time – and though this fi nal facelift is a mild one, it helps suggest that when the next model comes along, it will represent another quantum leap forward. For now, it’s a better bet than ever.

It is no secret that Ford is the dominant manufacturer in the UK in terms of small, family cars. They are also one of the top sellers of sub-compacts, compacts, and family vans in Europe. Now the company is investing heavily in trying to build its market share in the crossover and 4×4 arena. They do well enough in the States, but can Ford really compete in Europe?

The European SUV, crossover and 4×4 market clearly belongs to Nissan/Renault and their very popular Qashqai SUV. Other major players include Opel/Vauxhall, Audi, and BMW. All of the major competitors have long established reputations for putting out robust vehicles capable of withstanding considerable punishment. The big problem Ford is up against is not one of matching the quality and pricing of the competition; it is one of perception.

Ford has long been considered a master of the family car. What’s more, they are the preferred nameplate for family cars that are reliable yet affordable. Trying to compete in the higher-priced crossover and 4×4 market could be challenging. For 2016, the company is pushing hard with the Edge, Kuga, and EcoSport. The latter two are in the midst of major facelifts to improve their ‘sex appeal’.

saf2The African safari experience is on many to-do lists, but few people consider the option to drive the vehicle yourself, plan your own route and camp in the wild. Shaw Safaris in Tanzania will hire you a bespoke Land Rover Defender 110 with an itinerary to suit your own pace. It doesn’t get much better.

 

We crept up along the track, inching forward as the Defender 110’s 300Tdi chugged happily away, keen not to disturb or agitate the wild animal basking in the warmth of the Tanzanian sunshine alongside us in the scrubland. A convoy of Toyota Land Cruisers ahead had previously halted when the huge male lion decided to investigate (and have a nibble at) the All Terrains, but moved on once the lion had lost interest in the unpalatable rubberwear. Now it was our turn to enjoy the beauty of this magnificent African beast up close. “Am I safe here?” came a rather nervous voice from the passenger seat as my other half leaned out of the Defender’s window to come almost face to face with the lion, slumped on the ground below just a metre away.