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.

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We have always been very positive about Fiat’s little Panda 4×4; it’s a competent and capable, road-biased, small SUV. With the introduction of the new Panda Cross, that view has now changed…

If you work in a quarry, then you are used to things that are pretty big. All the mechanical equipment used is big, the holes in the ground can certainly get big, and the piles of rock, rubble, sand and general geological detritus can quickly turn into small mountains as work progresses.

The new Jeep Renegade will arrive in the UK in early 2015 and we have been to Italy to drive it. That might seem a little odd for a US vehicle, but the Renegade is actually built in Italy, thanks to the partnership with Fiat. It’s great to report that in Trailhawk form, this is a proper off-roader; while also quiet and comfortable on-road as well.

 

One oft forgotten, or even ignored, land-locked country in Africa has much to offer the off-roader, Malawi could well be the ideal holiday adventure drive you’ve been looking for

DRIVING MALAWIWords and photography: Nick Redmayne

“Twenty five vehicles rolled by clients. All these have been due to driver error…” It wasn’t the ‘welcome pack’ I’d expected from Safari Drive. Along with this A4 treatise, which could have been subtitled. “Bad shit happens when you drive fast and loose on gravel roads…”, was a full colour picture of a lovely 110 Land Rover Defender… on its roof, offering inelegant views of its sump plug to any that cared to look.

I’d first considered driving around Malawi during a visit in 2011. However, an unfortunate combination of misappropriated aid money, a shiny new presidential jet and the expulsion of the British High Commissioner had resulted in nationwide fuel shortages as donor nations unaccountably suspended payments. Two presidents on, in 2014, I was back.

This was the car that dragged the Discovery from its cheekily chic origins into the world of true luxury SUVs. It was bigger, bolder and packed with new technology – and it was also more reliable

Land Rover Discovery 3 TARGET RANGE: £5000 – £18,000

The Range Stormer concept car that wowed visitors to the North American International Auto Show in 2004 was a clear indication of the way Land Rover was planning to distance their premium products from the company’s agricultural roots. That concept was eventually developed into the Range Rover Sport, but many of the design cues were used to hoist the already popular and stylish Discovery to new heights of elegance and road presence, with sharper styling and new technologies aimed at reasserting its 4×4 pre-eminence among the new generation of luxury 4x4s from other premium car-makers such as BMW, Lexus and Porsche.

The crisper frontal design of the new Discovery 3, with its designer headlamps, inset foglamps and the clamshell bonnet came straight from the Range Stormer, along with the newly patented Terrain Response system; so did the body-on-frame construction resulting in a stronger all-in-one bodyshell. The Discovery 3 was designed from the start as a seven-seater, the stepped-roof design allowing the three rows of seats to get progressively higher towards the rear, which combined with the large rear glass area makes for a light and airy atmosphere for all seven passengers, the seats being quite comfortable enough to accommodate seven adults.

After 35 years of hand-built production, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class remains an iconic off-roader. We get our hands on the 2014 G 350 BlueTEC both, on and off the road

Words: Nigel Fryatt and Bob Cooke     Photography: Nigel Fryatt

MERCEDES-BENZ G-CLASSIf you visit the Natural History Museum this summer, there’s an exhibition called Mammoths, and the promotional poster shows a small inquisitive child standing before the massive, imperious beast, wide-eyed in wonder, but with just a touch of cautious apprehension. Standing on my drive beside our test Mercedes-Benz G 350 BlueTEC, I too felt that child-like awe. It’s hard to really understand quite why this thing isn’t extinct. And with an on the road price of a staggering £106,150 for a vehicle we intended taking off the road, there was a cautious nature to control my natural enthusiasm as well.

The first G model rolled off the production line in Graz, Austria back in 1979. That first model was effectively hand-built, and despite all the high tech production developments that have hit the motor industry over the past 35 years, that remains the case. Equally surprising is the fact that more G-Class models were hand built in 2013 than ever before, with a total of 10,000 being registered. Only 160 were sold in the UK, but the machine is a global icon, with the US its biggest market. At present, some 60 are produced daily in Austria. Here, the base model starts at £83,830, but there is also a more powerful AMG 5.5-litre V8 engined version, which has a starting on the road price of £124,000. So, taking our test vehicle as an average price, multiply that by 10,000 models sold and this venerable off-roader is still worth well over £1m in sales to Mercedes-Benz each year. Extinction is not likely any time soon, especially as the company has announced a significantly revised model will be launched in 2017 (see News, July 2014).

Probably one of the most unusual countries to go off-road. We climb a volcano with a team of ancient Suzuki Vitaras and some very odd confectionary. Ecuador is a very special place indeed

Words and photography: Robb Pritchard

 

VITARAS AND VOLCANOESThere are a few off-roading meccas in the world; Russia, Morocco and the Australian Outback come to mind, and Johnson Valley of course… but after this amazing weekend, Ecuador should be added to the list.

My trip involved joining up with the guys from Ecuador’s Terreno Extremo magazine, and the day started with guinea pigs for breakfast, roasting on a street side barbecue, followed by a bad headache as we hit 3800m above sea-level… At this point, I was told that cocaine leaves help alleviate the symptoms. Cocaine? Surely that’s all very dangerous not to mention illegal? No need to worry, it comes in candy form from a kiosk at the entrance to the National Park. It’s a great introduction to off-roading in Ecuador. And all before a cup of coffee!

The Ford BroncoThe Ford Bronco was originally launched to compete with Jeep, Land Rover, and even Toyota’s Land Cruiser. If you love 4x4s, you have to enjoy this retrospective of this great Stateside off-roader. Such is the Bronco’s following, you can even buy a new one, if you’ve got a healthy wallet!

Words: James Maxwell

The US product planners at Ford Motor Company had been eyeing the growing light-duty four-wheel drive off-road sport utility market in the 1960s and in August 1965, the company debuted its answer. The Ford Bronco was a small and nimble 4×4, designed to compete with the Jeep CJ, as well as the International Harvester Scout, Toyota Land Cruiser and even the Land Rover. The new 4×4 from Ford was called ‘Bronco’ as a second horse in their product stable, to sit alongside the famous Mustang sportscar range.

During the launch of the Bronco, Ford General Manager Donald Frey characterised the vehicle as: “Neither a car nor a truck, but as a vehicle that combines the best of both worlds. The Bronco can serve as a family sedan, sports roadster, snow plough, or farm and civil defence vehicle. It has been designed to go nearly anywhere and do nearly anything.”  Snow plough, eh?

The small, lightweight contender ran on a 92inch wheelbase and was highly versatile, both off-road and on tarmac. Featuring a boxy, steel body on a separate chassis design, the front suspension was known at the time as the ‘Mono-Beam’ anti-dive system, based on coil springs and forged radius rods located from the transmission area, forward to the solid front axle. Tubular shocks located rearward of the coils were used and a tubular track bar was incorporated into the design to maintain axle alignment. Turning radius was a tight 34ft circle.