It was a nervous few minutes early on a Saturday morning as I eased the transfer lever back a notch. The yellow indicator lamp saying ‘part time’ lit up on the dash, but had four-wheel drive actually engaged? I eased the gear lever into reverse, felt it clonk into gear, and the car eased gently backwards. No graunching, clicking, rattling or screeching sounds, just a gentle creep backwards. Then I selected Drive and eased the Cherokee back up the driveway. Then the lever went back another notch; no sign on the dash of a green ‘full time’ indication, but the Jeep drove backwards and forwards again without hesitation. I then yanked the stick all the way back to low range. The ‘part time’ lamp lit up again, and as I eased the Jeep up and down the drive again it did, at least, seem to be in low range.
Hils Everitt – Editor at Large
It’s not often I get to ride in the back seat of a car as a passenger. I do often sit in the privileged position of co-pilot and, in our long-term Subaru Forester; it is a reasonably comfortable ride. This is an SUV that hugs the bends quite well, considering its somewhat ungainly stance as a 4×4, and you don’t feel too much wallowing or juggling around.
The same cannot quite be said of riding in the back seat, however. It is billed as a five-seater, but there isn’t really enough comfort room in the back for three adults. On a recent journey to a birthday party, I was sitting with two average-sized ladies in the back, and by that I mean not overweight nor excessively tall. I was in the middle, naturally, as I have very short legs and the transmission tunnel isn’t so much of an issue for me, although there is not a lot of room as the invasive centre console bulges back into the rear. At five feet tall and a size 8, I am petite: basically, the size of a 13-year-old child, according to some clothing manufacturers. Yet, even with two slim friends, we were still a little bit cramped in the back. I could easily have got my Jeep Grand Cherokee out of the garage to give us all abundant luxurious space in the back, but I wanted to test the Forester’s credentials. Luckily, it was a late afternoon garden party, so none of us was clad in slinky and vulnerable-to-creases silk cocktail dresses. If we had been, the Jeep would have been essential.
Nigel Fryatt – editor
There it was, ahead of us. As the Freelander eased forward, at a relaxed snail-paced crawl, up the slight incline it was obvious where we were as ahead was the famous Big Sky that you find in Norfolk. There was a brisk northerly wind (something else you get in this part of Norfolk), but the sky was a pale blue, the sun was shining and we were driving one of the oldest known transport routes in the UK. It struck me then, that this is what 4×4 ownership was all about. In this weather, the route was simple, the Freelander’s wheels occasionally scrabbling on the loose chalk and flint surface in some of the ruts, but that wasn’t the point. It wasn’t technical off-roading, it was getting-away-from-it-all off-roading along a section of Peddars Way, in north Norfolk and all was well with the world.
Peddars Way is an intriguing route. Check out the Ordnance Survey map and it declares it is a Roman road – and for sure a lot of its 46 miles is arrow straight. The name is also believed to be from the Latin ‘pedester’ meaning ‘on foot’, but there are some historians who believe the actual route is much older than that. Officially, it starts at Knettishall Hall in Suffolk, near Thetford and ends right at the north Norfolk coast near the coastal villages of Brancaster and Brancaster Staithe, close to the site of the Roman fort called Brandodvnvm, where it joins the Norfolk Coastal Path. The section we were driving has probably changed little in the hundreds of years that have passed, save for the thrum of the massive farm vehicles working on the cultivated fields either side of the track. Sadly, however, for off-road enthusiasts, much has changed for Peddars Way.
Bob Cooke – contributor
I watched with a certain amount of awe as Axel Seedig drove his Grand Cherokee up the narrow, steeply angled climb. It was more like a gulley than a track, with a couple of big humps and dips on the left which looked as if they’d not only get a car cross-axled, but would also tip it sideways into the steep gulley wall to the right if you weren’t very careful. Axel’s car, a well-modified off-roader (that has previously appeared in our Your 4×4 Life section), made it look easy, partly because the rear diff was locked up and partly because it didn’t look as if Axel cared one jot about smacking his truck sideways into the earth wall if it all went wrong.
Robert Pepper – contributor
The Ranger is going well. In fact, better than well, I love it. The Ranger has that rare quality these days of driving enjoyment. Most modern cars have the driver involvement engineered out of them like the taste is processed out of food. But the Ranger has that certain interest, that feel that appeals to the enthusiast in me. I can’t quite identify what it is exactly, so it must be the sum of a few parts. Certainly the steering has the right amount of feel, and it’s true the car isn’t as refined as many wagons, but that means you are more part of the car and less isolated above it all. Either way, I love driving my Ranger.
Hils Everitt – Editor at Large
Last month I pointed out a few negatives about our long-term Forester in the mechanical department. But there are many things I do like about it. Apart from the styling, which many find bland, but I rather like, and its typical Subaru solidly-built body work, excellent electrical seating adjustments and unfussy interior which retains its credentials as more of a workhorse than its prettier and more cluttered peers within the huge SUV crossover sector, there are some great practical attributes that have impressed.
For starters there’s the rear view camera that our XC Premium spec includes. My 09 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland which would have been many tens of thousands of pounds new, has a rear view camera, but it is rather blurry with not the best reproduction. The Subaru’s, however, is very un-blurry to the point that I was very surprised at its clarity and definition. Rear view cameras have always perturbed me (and the Editor it seems, in his report on the Freelander this issue!) and it has taken a while to get used to them and trust them without looking in door mirrors while reversing. As my Grand’s is not the best view, I tend not to look at it a lot and follow the old traditional method of constantly flicking my eyes from each mirror. The Subaru’s, however, is so clear and with the guiding red, yellow and green lines makes you put your wholehearted trust in that little screen on the dash.
As June and MOT time approached, the ominous bumping sounds from beneath the Freelander became louder. I’d say, ‘surely you can hear that now?’ as we’d encounter a minor road hump and looking round the delightful leather cabin. I’d think, ‘it’ll never pass its MOT and the costs will mean sayonara for our well travelled friend’. One day, taking my daughter, two grandsons and my mother-in-law around Southport, I realised that the familiar strange creaking from under the rear seat that accompanied every journey had stopped. Some weight on the rear seat was all that was needed to cure that noise! I felt sure the other rumblings were serious and was dumbstruck when my regular mechanic Phil emerged to say there was nothing wrong with the elderly Land Rover; not even the tiniest advisory.
Nigel Fryatt – editor
When Suzuki’s small, three-door Grand Vitara arrived at the magazine, I did wonder if it would actually impress. It was effectively replacing my tough, black Toyota Hilux – as ‘macho’ a truck as you can find on and off the road; the Vitara certainly had a softer appearance. Despite this, it fitted the bill, being one of the few remaining ‘soft-roaders’ that actually has a low range gearbox, which certainly increases its capabilities.
Ours was the three-door SZ4 model, powered by the 2.4-litre petrol engine. That makes a lot of engine in what is actually a small SUV. Interestingly, Suzuki sells equal quantities of three and five door Grand Vitaras here, and this despite the fact that the three door does not come to the UK with a diesel option. It has to be the largest engined small off-roader available and the high revving 164bhp unit certainly entertained. The 16v unit is not particularly well equipped in the torque department, but does offer 225Nm (166lb ft). The engine is a peach of a unit really, free revving and gives the Suzuki more of a ‘hot hatch’ than SUV on-road characteristics. Helped by the relatively short wheelbase of the three-door, the stubby Suzuki does not roll and wallow when driven quickly, and can be hustled along. The downside is, of course, that despite weighing only 1830kg the thing does drink fuel with equal enthusiasm; we struggled to average 30mph, and that’s emphasised by a surprisingly small 55-litre fuel tank (around 12 gallons). I suppose it does mean that as we never let the tank run ‘into the red’ for fear of running out, at least we could only get 50 quid’s worth of fuel in there at each top up! Indeed, the fuel economy confuses the vehicle’s computer, which estimates how many miles you have remaining – we ‘ran out’ on numerous occasions, once in a dreadful traffic jam on the M25 – yet always managed to drive when ‘the computer says empty’.
Bob Cooke – contributor
Had it been a rainy day we probably wouldn’t have got anywhere. At first glance, especially from the superbly scenic viewpoint of our picnic spot overlooking the green expanse of Bedfordshire extending to the horizon, it’s hard to understand why they call it Devil’s Pit because the first view of it is a broad field with a bit of a rise at the far end. There are, however, two factors that lift it above the seemingly mundane bit of field-crossing – one being the chalky surface of the tracks which turn treacherously greasy when wet, the other being the demanding selection of rutted, steep-sided hollows hidden away behind the trees in the north-west corner of the site. No wonder the site personnel are so keen to ensure that cars using the black-run section in this area are roll-caged and all occupants are harnessed in and protected by helmets.
Bob Cooke – contributor
There are places I wouldn’t take my Cherokee, and that includes some of the holes at John Morgan’s Slindon off-road site. I go there quite often because it’s not that far – I reckon just over half a tank’s drive there and back, and but for the price of petrol I’d go more often – and there’s such a good variety of off-road terrain that anything from standard 4x4s to heavily modified specials can find terrain that’s challenging enough to excite without damaging the vehicle. Of course if you don’t mind a bit of damage there’s plenty of suitable terrain for that as well, such as when a couple of over-excited lads sent their Discovery sideways down a serious slope or when an overconfident chap drove his Range Rover into a puddle without thinking to check how soft the bottom was…