top4x4sTo welcome the New Year in style we bring you our biggest and best test of the year. The top 4×4 vehicles, split into six groups tested on- and off-road, but which is the ultimate production 4×4 for 2011?

Words: Kevin Baldwin; photos: Wayne Mitchelsn

The past 12 months has been a funny old year within the car industry. Cars that had been set for launch have been put on the backburner while manufacturers get their finances in order, and low-volume sellers have been chopped from model ranges. With the industry tightening its collective belts, just getting 4x4s on loan from scaled-down press fleets has been a tricky business. In the case of Jeep, it had the added complication of a corporate buyout, which resulted in an almost no-show at this year’s event from the oldest manufacturer of 4x4s in the world.

Last year Jeep won three groups with its Patriot, Cherokee and Wrangler models. We managed to secure a Wrangler model this year – only just mind – but that was from new owners Fiat. One does have to worry about Jeep in the UK. It offers decent 4x4s, packaged at the right prices, but in spite of this the UK buyer seems reluctant to buy into the Jeep brand. There’s a new Grand Cherokee in the US this year:

ssanThe original was panned for its rather ugly looks but it was a credible offroader. SsangYong’s 2011 update of its Korando model is labelled a ‘Classy Utility Vehicle’, but how much class does the new crossover really have?

The SsangYong Korando – these are names that don’t mean too much to us in the West, but there’s been a Korando model around since 1974 and SsangYong claims it as the longest running brand in Korea; the SsangYong element has seen rather less continuity.

polaris3After pressure from farmers and estate workers Polaris rewarded their pleas and has launched the first Ranger side by side diesel-powered ATV.  

Words & photos: Hils Everitt

When the invitation came through to view the hot-off-the-factory-floor new Polaris Ranger Diesel side by side ATV at the Soltex – the show for everyone who works in the estate and sports ground management industry – the first thought was, not much we can tell about it sat on an immaculate trade stand bustling with smart management and no mud in sight.

So, it was with delighted surprise that we learned Polaris had secured the use of Soltex’s venue, the Royal Windsor Racecourse’s purpose-built offroad route secreted in the trees. The downside was that I wasn’t allowed to drive the Ranger in the mud, despite my off-roading credentials, but a quick blast on a stretch of tarmac was the best I’d get, although it did demonstrate the excellent top speed of 35mph. Okay, so that is 5mph less than the previous 455cc single cylinder four-stroke petrol unit, but this isn’t a vehicle built for speed.

1stThe revised Nissan Pathfinder has been refurbed to create a more luxurious feel and takes the road less travelled  

Words: Graham Scott; photos: Matt Fowler

In the UK the Pathfinder is almost a bit of an anomaly, an unusual vehicle to see out and about, but in Europe, and particularly Spain where it’s made, you’ll see them all over the place. The Pyrenees seem to be full of them at the weekends, being used as God, or Nissan, intended.

Nissan UK’s range, outside the passenger cars, focuses more on its crossover vehicles. The Qashqai is indeed the cash cow here and in Europe. You have to have a minor rummage beyond the headlines on the Nissan site to find its ‘intelligent 4x4s’. No hardcore Patrol here any more, but instead the X-Trail which you could argue is a crossover, and the Navara pick-up. That leaves just one large 4×4 in the range – the Pathfinder.

1stdriveThe Range Rover is celebrating a significant birthday this summer. In company with most of its customers, Land Rover’s flagship 4×4 has passed the big 4-0, and by way of celebration it has been equipped with a new, more powerful and cleaner diesel engine plus a few cosmetic touches.  

Words: Sue Baker; photos: Sue Baker & Nick Dimbleby

In place of the previous 3.6-litre TDV8, the Range Rover, at a rather fabulous 40 years young, has acquired a new 4.4-litre double turbo unit. The gearbox is new too, an eightspeed ZF auto accompanied by steering column paddle shifts.

vw1Volkswagen’s new T5 4Motion Transporter van continues the impressive pedigree of its predecessors.

Words & photos: Toby Savage

Perhaps unusually for vehicle enthusiasts, Volkswagen van fans are equally keen on the new breeds as the old. The owner of a Wolfsburg built, 1950s’, ‘Barn Door’ Type 2 is rarely such a purist that he will turn his nose up at the latest model. The key to this broad acceptance is, perhaps, that the concept of the VW van has remained faithful to the original design.

drive1Nissan’s well-proven Navara truck picks up a power, emissions and consumption upgrade plus meaty V6 turbodiesel that oozes torque. Of course there’s been the inevitable cosmetic tweak, too.

Words: Graham Scott; photos: Nissan

Peeking into the cargo box in the bed of the Navara showed that Nissan takes hardcore seriously. I’d been thinking the ride wasn’t bad for an unladen pick-up with leaf springs and the sneaky peek confirmed what I thought – the box was full of hardcore, helping settle the ride. In case you’re thinking of buying a Navara and getting enough free hardcore to sort your garden path out – this is not standard fitment.