4x4 OF THE YEAR 2014It’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!

Suzuki SX4 S-CrossSuzuki’s 4×4 range extends further with the brand new SX4 S-Cross. A ‘soft roader’ certainly, but one fitted with the new driver selectable four mode ALLGRIP system

Words and photography: Nigel Fryatt

Things seem to be going well for Suzuki in the UK, the company having nudged its way into the top 20 best selling manufacturers, overtaking Mazda and Volvo and, in the words of Managing Director Dale Wyatt, ‘going to give Renault a bloody nose soon.’ Even allowing for exuberant marketing bravado, there’s no denying that Suzuki appears on the up; and it’s a growth built on a 4×4 heritage. The Grand Vitara is a well established model, we wrote about the introduction to the UK of the Swift 4×4 in the last issue, and the ever youthful Jimny continues to sell, entertain and bring a smile to all owners, and now the company enters probably the most competitive segment of the SUV market with its Nissan Qashqai competitor, the SX4 S-Cross. This introduction comes at a time when Suzuki can boast at being the UK’s fastest growing brand.

The specials – when ordinary isn’t enoughIf you find the idea of a brand new Land Rover Defender, Range Rover or Porsche Cayenne just that bit too ordinary, you might be in the market for a bespoke model created by one of the UK’s custom-build specialists. Paul Guinness takes a look at these exclusive, hand-built specials

There was a time when anybody cruising the leafier parts of Cheshire or the mean streets of Notting Hill in a brand new Range Rover would have turned heads. It was one of the ultimate ways of saying “I’ve arrived – and I want you to know it”. But times have changed. Oh sure, the Range Rover is still a superb choice, being highly praised by all those who come in contact with it; but no longer is a bog-standard example the ultimate way of announcing your success and wealth to passers-by.

The last few years have seen an increase in the numbers of custom-built 4x4s based around existing models, aimed at clients seeking the ultimate in exclusivity and individuality. We’re not talking about vehicles modified for off-road use, of course; no, we mean the 4x4s created for turning heads out on the street, as well as those built with supercar-like performance in mind.

Jankel Jeeps Anyone wanting to equip their 4×4 fleet with the best protection in the world should head to Jankel, where the increasingly popular Jeep J8 is the gold star option for military and also civilian use; and that includes a pick-up version

Words: Hils Everitt     Photography: Supplied by Jankel

The Jeep J8 is not a vehicle you are likely to see gracing our highways and byways in the UK. Jeep designed the J8 primarily for those in uniform who work in the harshest environments and terrains, preserving our safety.

You will find various governments and international agencies operating the many versions of J8 all over the world, but there is a tiny corner of England where the J8 is a very important product. Jankel, based in the South East, was established in 1955 and is currently the world leader in the design, testing and mass manufacture of light vehicles, including those based on Toyota Land Cruisers. Improving safety and security of occupants in threatened and vulnerable vehicles is a major part of its work.

KAPsAfter establishing a well-earned reputation in the world of off-road competition, KAP Motorsport has moved in an intriguing direction. Check out these excellent Suzuki Jimny specials. Admit it, you want one…

Words: Hils Everitt    Photography: Hils Everitt, KAP Motorsport, Alan Coutts

KAP (originally Keighley Automotive Painting) has veered away from the Suzuki 4×4 racing side, preferring to concentrate on saloon cars, but its Suzuki credentials are still very much to the fore. Converting Suzuki Jimnys into pick-up trucks for commercial and utility purposes has become a core part of its business and it is proving highly successful. “We have converted five so far this year; it’s a very steady, good business and they are becoming more and more popular,” explains KAP founder and owner Darren Wilson. “It takes about two weeks to do the conversion; it has to look right and be totally in proportion, which has taken a while to perfect on a compact-sized vehicle.” He loves Suzukis, especially Jimnys, and is extremely proud of the fact that his trucks are dotted all over the British Isles, working very hard for a living.

Farmers, groundsmen, foresters and all manner of people working on the land and in the great outdoors make up his customers. “They want something light, easy on fuel, easily manoeuvrable, but offering more comfort, safety and space than the traditional Mule or ATV, whatever you want to call them,” he continues.

Grand CherokeeThe new upgrades to the Grand Cherokee have been announced earlier than many would have expected. They are significant, designed to make a positive impression

Words: Hils Everitt   Photography: Hils Everitt, Jeep

It was way back in 2011 that Jeep, under the auspices of Fiat, gave us the WK2, a remarkable and impressive improvement on the rather disappointing WK Jeep Grand Cherokee that ambled along in 2005.  The 70th anniversary year WK2 has done well, but Fiat is not content. Oh no, already it has decided that its flagship 4×4 born in the USA needs an upgrade, and not only that, to quote the big bosses in the US, has leaped a couple of upgrades in one go.

In other words… well, the way we read it, they feel it is a bit ahead of its time. Not sure we can concur with that, but it definitely has gone up a significant notch, and is even more ripe as a credible alternative to rival luxury SUVs when you look at the price you are now paying for a seriously well-equipped, capable and impressive off-roader. And now the revamp has been designed to make this serious off-roader a more impressive on-road drive.

THE LAST HUSSARDeciding he needed a second-hand 4×4, or rather, he needed a cheap second-hand 4×4, Paul Guinness went searching for a bargain buy. He ended up with a Lada Niva Hussar – here he explains the reasons why 

Photography: Paul Guinness

On paper at least, I had a simple requirement: a 4×4 workhorse. Nothing fancy, nothing expensive and certainly nothing complicated. It had to be a good old-fashioned 4×4, of the type that proved popular back in the days when only farmers and country folk bought all-wheel drive vehicles. Most certainly not the kind of 4×4 that would appeal to the school run brigade.

So why this sudden urge for a real four-wheel drive machine? In truth, a number of factors were coming into play, not least the fact that a cheap but capable 4×4 is a hugely entertaining thing to own. More seriously though, I needed a vehicle that could double-up as a van when the need arises (which it does regularly during the on-going redesign and revamp of my garden). And, with a farm in the family, it also had to be a genuinely capable off-roader that wouldn’t be embarrassed by any visiting Defenders.

Range Rover SportFirst impressions of the all-new Sport are that this is going to be the Range Rover that everyone wants, such are the options available – a real Sport for all. Even low range is an option…

Words: Nigel Fryatt

When you hear announced that the new Range Rover Sport is ‘one of the most road focussed vehicles we’ve ever produced’, there could be a tendency to worry. But then the Sport has always been the more road-biased of the range, which has, since its introduction in 2005, opened the model up to a new market segment. It’s been a great seller, with some 380,000 sold around the world, the majority of which have been in the US, with New York the model’s best-selling city. But as enthusiasts, are we to bemoan that the latest Sport is taking too big, and too fast, a step down US highways and turning its back on its true heritage?

Given those sales statistics, it’s no surprise that the new Range Rover Sport was unveiled in New York at the end of last month, in a particularly clever, hi-tech and glitzy fashion. If you always thought that the previous Sport was the brash younger brother in the range, not aimed at true enthusiasts, and too often fitted with big wheels and tasteless body kits – more a modified Range Rover for owners who don’t appreciate what they are driving – then there are some more surprises for you.

Polaris Ranger XP900For some years the Polaris Ranger has been the side-by-side ATV to beat. For 2013, it’s got a new chassis and engine. Is it still the best ATV on the market? We froze to death in January to find out. Boy, it was great fun!

Words and photography: Wayne Mitchelson

The terrain was harsh, heavily potholed and the pace was faster than I would have liked. My mind and body was expecting spine-jarring impacts as the Polaris XP900 skipped its way across the rough terrain of the Peckforton Castle Estate. But the impacts never materialised as the 10inch long-travel, adjustable suspension at the front, and fully independent at the rear, fitted to the all new chassis, seamlessly ironed out the challenging Cheshire Estate tracks.

It was sub-zero temperatures aboard the new Polaris Ranger XP900 ‘sideby- side’, my fingers were frozen and my face chilled by the passing cold air, but that didn’t seem to matter. Having used Rangers for many years and witnessed the moderate progression of the now iconic, ‘side-by-side’, this year’s improvements are more impressive, for one the power plant is all new. The British-designed Pro Star 900 engine is a parallel twin cylinder, four stroke, producing 60bhp and more importantly, a class leading 54lb ft of torque.

Pinzgauer 6x6If four-wheel drive is good, then does that mean six is better? We take a trip in a recently restored Steyr-Puch Pinzgauer 6×6 to find out. Now this is a real man’s off-roader!

Words and photographs by Robert Pepper

I’m standing halfway down a very rocky hill, one I’ve had to winch up in the wet before now, and even competition trucks take a second look in the dry. The line, shown by recent tyre marks, zigzags out to one side, around the worst of the rocks that protrude high from the track. I’m waiting for Peter “Professor Pinz” Farrer to come along in his Steyr-Puch Pinzgauer, and I reckon as he curves the vehicle around those rocks I’ve got my shot.

Except he doesn’t. The Pinny comes straight down the track. Right over those rocks, under complete control, with just the barest of scrapes. I quickly reposition myself and shoot anyway. As the Pinny passes, I turn back to what it just drove over and take another look. Yep, it really did just drive over rocks that Jeeps and Nissans on 37inch tyres couldn’t handle. Takes a bit to impress me after all the years of off-roading, but I’m standing here in appreciation. And you know what? This is a completely standard vehicle.