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.
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
Words 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.
The concept of a plug-in hybrid 4×4 reflects Mitsubishi’s position among the leaders of modern automotive technology, but in their drive for safer, environmentally friendly motoring have they strayed too far from their 4×4 roots? We take a drive in one of the first Mitsubishi 4x4s to find out…
Words: Bob Cooke Photography: Nigel Fryatt
There’s something somewhat ethereal about driving Mitsubishi’s cutting edge Outlander PHEV. It’s not the silence when cruising around town on its electric motors; it’s more the feeling of remoteness from the driving experience, which leaves the driver feeling rather like the captain of a ship relaying instructions for someone else to perform the required manoeuvre. Certainly the unearthly silence as the car pulls away adds to the overall effect, but it’s not the hybrid technology that drains the car of any feeling of excitement, it’s just the growing trend among most mainstream manufacturers to cosset the occupants of their cars against the harsh realities of bustling traffic by engineering the feel and feedback out of controls and switches so driving becomes more like playing a computer game, while packing in worthy but control-sapping technologies such as lane departure warnings, parking sensors and even automatic accident avoidance systems to counter the consequent loss of concentration as the driver fiddles with the multi-media touch-screen display. In the Outlander hybrid, the effect is enhanced by a transmission controlled by a computer-like joystick devoid of the positive action of a proper gear lever, the driver’s attention meanwhile being drawn from the road ahead by the large graphic dashboard display showing whether it’s the electric motors or the petrol engine or both at work, as if the driver a): needed to know, considering that the whole idea of seamless interaction of the various propulsion and battery charging modes is that it requires no input from the driver and b): couldn’t tell when the petrol engine cuts in by the added noise and vibration. There isn’t much of that, but only the most insensitive soul wouldn’t notice it.
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.
Following a career in 4×4 design is certainly an attractive job, however where do you start? Howard Sherren visits Harper Adams University to hear how they are one of only a few that offers a specific Off-Road Vehicle Design course, in addition to a flourishing 4×4 club
Words: Alan Coutts Photography: Alan Coutts and supplied
Off-Road Vehicle Design has proved to be very popular in recent years and still remains a key course at Harper Adams University. located just outside Newport, Shropshire. In addition, the university is the only higher education establishment in the UK where students can study the topic to honours degree level. The course is designed to help students develop technical and business skills so that they may pursue careers as design engineers, test and development specialists, technical advisors and engineering and dealership managers within the 4×4 sector.
The department boasts a number of specialist facilities including a purpose built soil hall, off-road track, tractor and telescopic handler training area, well-equipped workshops and the JCB Design Centre fitted with the latest CAE technology. They also maintain an extensive fleet of the latest off-road machines through a policy of purchase, loans and gifts, an attractive asset to most potential students!
Off-road motorsport is a highly competitive business – and that’s not just at the events. The world of the Challenge truck is one full of amazing products and accessories, many of which are suitable for your 4×4. We take a comprehensive stroll through who does what…
Words: Alan Coutts Photography: Alan Coutts and supplied
Factory fresh 4x4s are capable vehicles, but any owner can opt for a huge choice of extras and upgrades to give a more personal, customised, competition aware look. A truck designed for Challenge events can give an owner one of the most purposeful, versatile and best looking 4x4s out there. The prospective Challenge truck owner can happily outsource the work to a specialist to turn their dream into reality, whether that means supplying and fitting accessories, or completing turnkey Challenge builds ready to rock ‘n’ roll. Perhaps there’s a need to do it all yourself; many owners take a huge amount of satisfaction in doing the work themselves or with friends and fellow clubmates, and it’s a tribute to their individuality that no two Challenge 4x4s are ever the same.
The sky’s the limit when looking to take Challenge builds further, but there are basic questions to ask, such as – will the vehicle meet the regulations for the competition series it is intended to enter? Is it for off-road use only, or is it to be fully registered and taxable for on road use? How safe is it going to be? Will it have a co-driver? All these help to decide what truck is required, what level of Challenges it is to do, i.e. pay and play days, clubman events, International X-Trem Challenge Trophy cups, or all three? What modifications and build requirements will it need to meet, what extras will be fitted, and will your 4×4 be a work in progress, or built to a budget with the best materials and ancillaries that can be afforded at the time?
The race is on to create the most refined, road-friendly SUV. Fortunately off-road enthusiasts are still able to lay hands on the one car that holds true to the original concept of the recreational off-roader, the spiritual successor to the charismatic CJ-7
TARGET RANGE: £2000 – £10,000
Some 4×4 enthusiasts might be excused for thinking that most manufacturers of four-wheel drive cars have lost the plot, putting the emphasis on sleek style, comfort and refined road manners at the expense of off-road capability. The truth is they’ve written a new script in which the SU of SUV stands for Significantly Upperclass rather than Sports Utility, with very profitable results. Even Jeep, the company that set the whole recreational off-road ball rolling 60 years ago, has succumbed to the lure of the mainstream big buck by aiming their new Cherokee squarely at socialite suburbia with none of the genuine utility of the original Cherokee.
Jeep has at least clung to one small element of its iconic past, in the form of the Wrangler. The Wrangler had a tough act to follow – it was the replacement for the CJ-7, which back in the 1970s in Renegade form with punchy V8 power, launched the whole concept of the high-fun Recreational Activity Vehicle. In reality the first Wrangler, developed and produced under AMC ownership, was a bit of a cost-cutting compromise, basically fitting CJ-lookalike panels to a shortened Cherokee uni-body frame and hanging the axles on leaf springs, so although the stated aim was to make it a more refined, driver-friendly car, it actually had little more refinement than the CJ-7 and significantly less off-road ability in its standard road-safe low-riding form. Enthusiasts were therefore over the moon when in 1996 Chrysler upgraded the concept with the TJ Wrangler, reverting to a separate chassis, reinventing the iconic styling cues of the CJ-7 while also achieving the double-whammy of better on-road refinement and enhanced off-road performance by adopting long-travel coil springs all round. This car is, unquestionably, the true conceptual successor to the CJ-7.