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
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
If 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
There 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 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.
For many city folk the lure of 4×4 ownership is such that a car only has to look like a 4×4 to succeed. Nissan’s prescience in tapping that resource has made their ‘urbanproof’ Qashqai a best seller
TARGET RANGE: £5000 – £23,000
We have to admit to being somewhat baffled by the mass appeal of the Nissan Qashqai. It certainly seems to be a good-value package as a family hatchback, with sensible pricing and good equipment throughout the range, but that has nothing to do with any four-wheel drive pretensions it may have, and we’ve always considered the interior to be somewhat featureless and unexciting. The Qashqai has smart enough modern exterior styling, if you like that very Eastern rather startled bug-eyed expression on the bluff front and can live with the swept-down roofline and rising waistline that starves rear occupants of headroom and visibility, but it’s hardly a design that stands out among a dozen other modern mid-range SUV-type hatchbacks. Still, it’s good news that the Qashqai is doing so well, because it shows that the British automotive industry is still a force to be reckoned with.
The Yeti has proved an impressive sales success for Skoda and the latest revised version is likely to gain more converts, thanks to the fifth generation Haldex clutch
Words: Nigel Fryatt
It seems Yeti sightings are becoming a lot more common. Indeed, unlike the fabled ‘big foot’ itself, it’s now quite common to spot one, since a quarter of a million Yetis have been built since the launch in 2009. And after sightings in China, Russia and Germany, the UK is the Yeti’s most popular home with just under 30,000 having been sold. That makes it a popular SUV, and in its 4×4 mode it has achieved our Highly Recommended Award in its class for the last two 4×4 Of The Year group tests. It’s a very popular machine, and owners tend to be extremely enthusiastic, this is one SUV that you make a decisive decision to buy. In looks alone, this is not another ‘copycat’ SUV design and for 2014 the Skoda Yeti has received a facelift, which actually goes a lot further than just tarting up the somewhat idiosyncratic exterior. It’s the changes underneath that interest us.
No need to keep the family standing around in the rain waiting for a bus to come along when you can have an all-weather people carrier parked right outside the house. We look at the Top Ten seven-seaters…
With fuel prices and the cost of public transport rising to ever more ridiculous heights with every passing day, the lure of the seven-seater SUV seems more attractive than ever. Who, after all, would board a bus or take a train when there’s a comfortable minibus parked right there on the driveway? How many families will be considering a single seven-seater as an alternative to two five-seater family cars, thereby saving on insurance and maintenance costs as well?
The car manufacturers have anticipated this surge of interest with the result that more and more have been offering seven-seater versions of their family estates. Four-wheel drives are no exception, seemingly offering the best all-round all-weather solution for the active family. There’s a good selection of seven-seater SUVs available; here we’ve chosen to feature our top ten, ranging from the patently old-fashioned to the hi-tech trend leaders, from affordable yet still well equipped budget models to prestige limousines reflecting the heights of luxury. We’ve chosen to look at cars not more than seven years old, settling on a lower price limit of £5000; naturally much of what we have to say about these lower-end models will apply to earlier examples that could be available – albeit with more signs of wear and higher mileages – for much less. At the other extreme the sky’s the limit, epitomised by the £60,000 being asked for a nearly new Mercedes-Benz GL with all the luxury trimmings.
As we all know, 4x4s come in all shapes and sizes, but few can actually float. We meet with Tim Dutton, an endearing character, and founding father of the this country’s kit car industry, with his latest 4×4 creation. Let’s go off-road Surf-ing in the UK…
Words and photography: Nigel Fryatt
For most people, an amphibious car answers a question that never gets asked. Surely you only ever want one or the other; a road vehicle, or a boat. Strange, therefore, that when Tim Dutton asks the simple question, “Would you like a coffee?” the only answer is an amphibious four-wheel drive.
When the cappuccino in question awaits you on the other side of the River Arun in Littlehampton, logic says you take the road away from the river to search out the nearest bridge. Not so, of course, when you have a Dutton Surf, since the journey to the local barista merely involves negotiating the gluttonous mud of the river bank, before ploughing into the water, deselecting the four-wheel drive, initiating the jet motor and powering across the fast flowing river to the somewhat slippery slipway, where four-wheel drive is re-engaged for the effortless, and remarkably drama free, exit from the water up to the café.
Now we don’t usually cover classic military Jeeps… but then this amazing vehicle is nothing of the kind! For one Polish 4×4 enthusiast, the Jeep ‘look’ was what he wanted, but with reliable running gear, in this case, from standard Nissan parts! Yes, that’s right, this is a Jeep CJ7 Nissan. Sort of….
Words: Jakub Chelmicki Photography: Igor Kohutnicki
The idea for this car came about by chance while I was doing an engine replacement in a friend’s passenger car. My colleague Michael was helping me and he casually mentioned that he’d give me one of his four (!) Jeep CJ7s, along with all the documents and suggested I rebuild it. Now I had a set of axles from a Nissan Patrol 260, a Nissan Patrol 160 gearbox with a transfer box, together with some other junk, so since I had the axles and gearbox, the engine was not going to be a problem, and I could do the wiring by myself. This would mean that working at my own pace, I could build a car in the shape of a classic Jeep, but based on my favourite Nissan mechanics. Michael is known for really outlandish ideas, so this one was no surprise. But the more I thought about it, the more I became hooked, and the project got under way.
It’s hard to believe that we are now into our third decade of publishing this magazine’s annual 4×4 Of The Year mega test. Needless to say there isn’t another magazine that can claim anything close to that kind of experience and dedication to its subject. The knowledge and experience that such a heritage creates cannot be easily matched, and it’s fair to say we are proud of what we achieve; especially in today’s more frugal times, which limits the resources available. Or to put it another way, this group test is produced by a small, dedicated editorial team. At all times, our testers are as objective as possible; of course we are all human, we love our 4x4s, and so include some necessary subjectivity to our test regime.
As before, we have split the 30 vehicles tested into groups, each of which has its own class winner and a Highly Recommended, runner-up. Those winners are then matched together for us to decide an overall titleholder for 2014. To get to our final decisions, we look at each vehicle’s on and off-road ability, its overal competence, we consider value for money, and whether the machine is fit for purpose. This later category is how we match a £15,000 Fiat Panda 4×4 with a £100,000+ Range Rover, to surprising results at times!