Monthly Archives: October 2015

While Sunderland might not be great at football these days (sorry if you are a fan!) they can certainly build a decent SUV up there in the North East. Nissan has just celebrated producing its 500,000th second generation of the highly successful Qashqai. This is apparently a figure reached faster than any other UK-built vehicle.

The model is actually on sale in 84 countries no less, including Uganda, Zambia and St Kitts. The latest model rolls off the Sunderland production line every 62 seconds, which is something you have to stop and think about. The global population of the Qashqai has now topped 2.5 million and later this year production starts in St Petersburg for domestic sales in Russia.

■ Not perhaps quite the same scale as Nissan at the moment, but impressive nevertheless, Jeep has just confirmed that it has produced no less than 135,000 new Renegades at its Melfiplant in Italy.

These particular models have been for built for customers in both Europe and North America and it is noticeable that they are now appearing on UK roads. Indeed, sales for all Jeep models have been looking good this year, Jeep enjoying its best ever August in North America, and the company claiming to be the fastest-growing automotive brand so far in 2015 with the Renegade actually being a class best seller in France, Italy and Austria.


The Wildlife Conservation organisation Rhino Ark was started originally back in 1988 by Ken Kuhie, in response to the threat of extinction of the Black Rhino. The result has been the construction of a 400km fence in Aberdare, Kenya, to keep the rhinos away from local farmlands. Interestingly, the Rhino Charge was an extreme African off-road event that was started with the aim to raise money for the charity – something that it has done very successfully. Rhino Charge UK is, as the name suggests, our version of the event, which also raises money for the charity.

The UK event has John Bowden of Gumtree 4×4 as the enthusiastic co-ordinator and once again credit must go to his team, and all the competitors, who raised £3325 for Rhino Ark. As John explains: “There was a great effort from all the teams who joined us at Slindon Safari 4×4 and we raised some much needed funds for Rhino Ark. “A fence can seem like a simple response to the hugely important role of conserving one of East Africa’s most famous rhino sanctuaries, but it simply works and has done for many years now.

These 4x4s tearing around a small part of West Sussex have helped protect rhinos and conserve their habitat for years to come.” This year the winner of the Rhino Charge UK was Ian Purcell, in his Team Tusker Toyota Land Cruiser. The competition was close with second place going to Vishal Shah, whose Team Crawler Range Rover Bobtail pickup was driven by Dash Patel. Vishal Shah and his team also won the Victor Ludorum Prize, which is judged on a combination of performance and fund raising.

They will now have the opportunity of participating in the Kenyan Rhino Charge 2016; quite a different event in itself, but a fantastic opportunity for some amazing African off-roading. If you want to support the charity, a United Nations Environment Programme report into the Aberdare Fence Project is available at: www.unep.org/PDF/PressReleases/Rhino_ Ark_Main_Report.pdf Many thanks to Tina Hills for this year’s Rhino Charge UK photographs.


The Range Rover Sentinel is the first fully armoured Land Rover to be produced by the company’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO). Based as you can see on the Range Rover Autobiography, the model boasts ‘VR8 level certification’, which confirms ‘impressive ballistic and blast resistance’.

It is a sad state of our times that such a vehicle is now necessary and it made its debut at the Defence and Security Equipment International Show in London last month. The base of the vehicle is a six-piece armoured passenger shell, and all the protection must add significant weight to the Range Rover, which is powered by the 3.0-litre V6 supercharged petrol engine.

Uprated brakes have been fitted to control all this weight. If the doors are jammed or unable to open, then the occupants can actually exit via the Emergency Escape System behind the rear seats. JLR also offer a full driver training programme to ensure drivers are capable of handling the vehicle.

The vehicle meets the homologation levels for UK, Europe, South America, Africa and the Middle East. JLR expect the main markets for the Sentinel to be overseas and the guide price for what will probably be a bespoke vehicle are around £300,000.

A very special collector’s edition Defender pedal car is now available form JLR. This handbuilt product has been designed to celebrate 60 years of Defender production and is built in aluminium with high quality leather interior trimming the seats, steering wheel and rear stowage area.

The chequerplate trims, running bars and serious off-road tyres finish the pedal car off. It has spring suspension and working brakes (including a parking brake) and can be pedalled forwards and backwards.

We have seen the vehicle and it certainly looks great. Whether it is really a collector’s piece or a children’s toy is open to question, and before you suggest that your little darling puts one of these on his or her Christmas list, maybe we should point out that the Defender pedal car concept is expected to be available for ‘around’ £10,000.


To learn more about the six-speed tiptronic gearbox and all JE’s work, go to: www.jemotorworks.co.uk

THE DEMISE OF series production for the Land Rover Defender seems to be a drawn out affair, with interesting new developments and special editions announced almost each month. This latest news is one of the most interesting, yet doesn’t come direct from JLR, but from Land Rover specialists JE MotorWorks.

The experienced engineering company has been modifying and tuning Land Rovers for some 40 years, but this has to be one of the most interesting developments, producing a six-speed tiptronic automatic gearbox for the Defender. The unit is a modifi ed Ford gearbox, currently found in the Mustang, Ranger and F150 pick-ups. The result, claims JE, is a gearbox, which improves a Defenders fuel consumption by up to 12 per cent, while offering signifi cantly better acceleration and drivability.

The conversion isn’t cheap at £8860 (plus VAT), but will be an ideal option for people looking for one of the JE MotorWorks performance Defenders from the Zulu range. The company has told 4×4 Magazine that there is now a demonstrator ready for customer drives, so if you are interested, you can try it for yourself. We certainly intend to!

Ford Kugar

Ford has announced that the company plans to launch five ‘all-new or redesigned’ vehicles to compete in the European SUV market over the coming five years.

The company expects the SUV market to have grown by 200 per cent in 2016, when compared to 2013 and obviously wants to make sure it can get a large slice of that profitable cake. Indeed Ford claims that by early next year, the European model range will have no less than eight four-wheel drive options, and that is actually 50 per cent of its total range. Some of these models are the all-wheel drive sporting saloons like the Focus RS, of course. Indeed, surveys have suggested that much of this staggering SUV growth is because the models are now seen as highly desirable by ‘Millennials’ – the statistical qualification for 17 to 34-year olds.

Whereas only a few years ago, SUV ownership was for a more mature driver, it seems the moves towards the outdoor, adventure and sporting themes for new SUVs is actually appealing to a younger owner. Ford has a new mid-size Kuga and new EcoSport compact coming later this year, along with the all-important Edge.

We saw the Edge for the first time in Frankfurt and must admit it was somewhat underwhelming. It will, of course, do a highly competent job, with its ‘intelligent’ AWD technology, but probably won’t set our hearts racing. It seems that if you want a proper, serious 4×4 Ford then it’s got to be the Ranger pick-up with its driverselectable 4×4 system and a proper low range transfer box. Shame that Ford couldn’t use this technology and build a top end 4×4 SUV to compete directly with Land Rover and Jeep…

This funky new pick-up concept is the Alaskan, from what might appear to some, to be the unlikely manufacturer, Renault. A good mixture of butch and practical, the Alaskan would indeed appeal to the private owner and the working customer.

Does that sound a little familiar? Check out Renault’s new Alaskan with the new Nissan Navara; anything strike you as similar? Before you get any ideas that the French manufacturer has plagiarised the Japanese manufacturer’s latest design, it’s worth remembering that these days the global motor industry is a complex association of joint products and associations, and Nissan and Renault have worked together before with products like the Nissan Leak electric hatchback and the Renault Kangoo commercial van.

Although it was not announced with the Alaskan, it looks pretty obvious to us that should Renault put the Alaskan into production, then it will have an awful lot in common with the Nissan Navara. Indeed, on the Nissan stand at the recent Frankfurt Motor Show, the drivetrain display for the Navara was actually described as a Nissan-Renault Alliance. It was also interesting that the Renault Alaskan didn’t make it to Frankfurt, probably not to take any of the spotlight away from the excellent new Navara.

And there’s the rub really The new Navara is said to be directly targeting the private pick-up truck owner, with the new model bulging with all the specification that should appeal to private consumers, making it what Nissan have actually called, ‘a crossover pick-up’. However, the promotional blurb that comes with the Alaskan describes the concept as ‘designed for business, leisure and everyday use’.

While it has not been announced that the Alaskan, as shown here, will go into production, Renault has said that it will have a new pick-up ready in the first half of 2016. Surely, these two trucks will be aiming at exactly the same market? Add to this the possibility that Mercedes-Benz might also have an agreement with Nissan to produce a pick-up and it all gets very confusing! We certainly like the look of the Alaskan concept pictures shown here, and certainly all the technical details released about the Navara promises a great truck, so the future looks very interesting.

The pick-up sector of the commercial market is growing significantly and the fight for new owners looks like being intense – even among business partners. Great for the consumer, though!

Suzuki Grand Vitara (2005)

There could be two reasons for buying an older Grand Vitara, one being for use as a well-priced and reasonably comfortable compact family car, now made possible because early examples of the all-new sleeker and more refined 2005 model are becoming available for around £3000.

Most of those we’ve seen are the three-door with 1.6VVT power, some with surprisingly low mileages, but there are some of the five-door estates around, with a choice of the 2.0-litre 16v petrol or the 1.9DDiS turbodiesel. All versions have impressive convenience and comfort equipment including remote central locking, electric windows, a stereo with steering wheel-mounted controls and climate control air conditioning. The ‘+’ version has alloy wheels, heated door mirrors and driving lamps. The automatic, originally available only with the 2.0-litre petrol engine, added around £1500 to the original purchase price.

The other reason for wanting a Grand Vitara would be as a cheap and cheerful off-road plaything, but don’t be tempted to buy one of the cheeky-looking post-2005 three-doors as a serious mud-plugger, because it doesn’t have low range gearing; the five-door does, but it would be a pity to trash one off-road when the previous generation Grand Vitara is much more at home in rough terrain.

One reason is that for 2005 the Grand Vitara shed the separate chassis and opted for a monocoque bodyshell on an all-independent suspension, while the earlier model had a proper separate chassis and a rigid rear axle, making it a more sensible choice for hard-core off-road action.

The one failing that model had was the lack of ground clearance, the good news is that Jimny Bits (www.jimnybits.co.uk) do a choice of suspension lift kits for the Grand Vitara at a reasonable price, for instance under £500 for a three-inch hoist, though there’s a limit to the increase in tyre size you can fit because the wheelarches are quite tight.

Without doubt the best fun car in the range is the GV2000 Soft Top, quite rare but we have seen a few clean, reasonable-mileage examples at the price. It’s not a full convertible, just the rear part of the roof has a fold-away canopy, but the front-section sunroof can also be removed to give an almost completely open feel.

Though clearly aimed at rivaling the Toyota RAV4 and Honda HR-V, the Grand Vitara was always a cheaper option, one reason being that the only ‘luxuries’ included as part of the standard trim were a stereo, electric front windows and electric mirrors, though both driver and front passenger had airbag protection. Other refinements – including anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, central locking with remote, electric sunroof and CD player – were optional, so when buying an older car check what you’re getting for the money.

The upholstery and trim is a bit on the cheap and cheerful side, so expect to find worn and patchy upholstery and to hear a few rattles and squeaks on a test drive.

Just £500 should be enough to secure an early example for conversion to off-road use, though most will be petrol-engined, if you’re not planning long mileages the 2.5-litre V6 is the one to go for, you might as well enjoy the much livelier performance than the dull 1.6, or the even duller early 85-horse 2.0-litre turbodiesel. With £3000 to play with, however, you’d be looking at a good selection of cars with the much more refined 107bhp common-rail unit, which not only also boasts much more torque but this peaks at a lowly 1750rpm, ideal for mud-plugging.

The five-speed manual is the preferred transmission, the four-speed auto even when new seemed sluggish and on the 2.0-litre cars tended to shunt between third and fourth while cruising because the engine didn’t have enough power to keep it in top.

The V6 petrol engine has a chain camshaft drive, but the tensioner has a habit of slackening so it’d be worth having it checked. The main problem to look out for on turbodiesels is the exhaust gas recirculation valve, which leads to poor and erratic performance, so look for cars that have had the valve replaced or at least make sure the engine runs smoothly and strongly.

Start a turbodiesel from cold to make sure the glowplugs are working properly, if the indicator lights flash on and off look for another car. Oil leaks are quite common, sniff for the scent of burning oil on a test drive as a worn rear gearbox seal tends to drip oil on to the exhaust catalyst.


Subaru Forester (2007)

The Forester is an unusual crossover, not the usual estate-car-turned SUV. For most the name Subaru is synonymous with the high performance Impreza WRX with its rally car styling, 280bhp boxer engine and sophisticated permanent four-wheel drive system – then, out of nowhere, appears the Forester, a modest estate car with the most conservative styling ever applied to a new model, seemingly aiming it at older middle-aged gents with trilbys and tweed jackets, with interiors upholstered in cloth taken from the suits of even older gentlemen.

Badged X (for ‘crossover’) and touted as a rival to the Freelander, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and others of that ilk, the Forester appeared as fashionable as a pigeon at a peacock parade. Yet under that desperately ordinary body lies the same drive train as the car that in its time showed the way in the World Rally Championships. The turbocharged XT has a beefy 174bhp on tap in its original 2.0-litre form, the later 2.5XT has a hefty 226bhp, giving it the power to out accelerate many a hot hatch, while since the undertray is pretty much the same as the Impreza’s, the Forester also has almost unbelievably good high-speed handling and impressively comfortable ride on and off the road.

The non-turbo versions – slower but still a lot of fun to drive with their excellent handling and ride comfort – even have low range (with the manual gearbox) giving them, despite Subaru’s refreshing reluctance to clutter the bodywork with chunky ‘off-road’ cladding, truly impressive off-road ability. Oddly, although the Forester is patently a Freelander rival, Subaru seemed rather more keen to push the car’s performance credentials by offering a ‘style pack’ of front and rear bumper spoiler, rear roof spoiler and sill extensions as a £700 option which unfortunately did little to disguise the basically boring styling.

The result is a car that looks like the back of a small bus but is a total joy to drive and, in non-turbo dual-range mode is one of the most competent off-roaders in its class. Hence there’s no better choice if you want a practical compact estate with truly dynamic driving behaviour – whether it’s on the road with the turbo or off it with the low range gearing – as long as you don’t mind the uninspired styling or, possibly, if you’re in the habit of wearing a trilby and a tweed jacket and just happen to think the Forester’s styling is the absolute bee’s knees.

For all our mockery – and surprisingly since this generation lacked a turbodiesel variant – the Forester has proved popular, as is reflected not only in the wide range of cars available second-hand, but the wildly varying prices being asked for used examples, with £3000 buying anything from a high-mileage ’02 X to a ’06 XE with XTs, XTEs and Turbos inbetween, so it really will pay to shop around for the best-looking purchase.

Your first decision has to be whether you want normally aspirated or turbocharged, bearing in mind that the former still makes a sound family estate with good driving dynamics, and of course if you intend to do any off-roading with it the non-turbo manual is the only one that has low range gearing.

Whichever model you choose you’ll find acceptable luxury, since all versions of the Forester are well-equipped, standard features throughout the range including air conditioning, electric windows, remote central locking and four-speaker stereo with a CD player. The XT gets alloy wheels, which are also part of the optional ‘all-weather’ pack for the X, which includes a huge sunroof, front driving lamps, heated front seats and cruise control. Most of the X versions we’ve seen appear to have had the all weather pack – you’ll spot them by the big driving lamps in the bumper and the huge sunroof – so it’s worth making sure you get one with the full equipment package. Leather-trimmed special editions tend to command significantly higher prices, so much so that we’d happily do without the leather.

Probably the most significant concern if you’re buying an XT is to remember that the early examples had the racy but highly-stressed 2.0-litre engine, after ’04 the more relaxed 2.5-litre engine was fitted, but even then it’s worth finding the extra for an ’05 model with the higher-performance engine, 226bhp up from the original 208.

Reliability is better than many, though there have been some clutch and gearbox problems, make sure changes are slick and noiseless.


Honda CR-V (2002-2007)

What’s good about the second-generation CR-V is that it retains much of the character of the practical estate original though with a more stylish appearance. It’s a slightly larger car with a stronger bodyshell but also with more power, enhanced instrumentation and equipment and better ride and handling. Early examples all came with 2.0-litre petrol power, there’s a good selection of these available second-hand in good shape and with reasonable mileage priced from £2000, more importantly within our £3000 budget you should be able to get one of the 2005 models with the 2.2-litre CTDi turbodiesel engine.

Pricing, even more so than with other models, appears to depend more on condition and mileage than age, so you might prefer to consider an older car exhibiting less wear and tear. The interior of the CR-V is rather drab, with the oddball exception of the centre console with its metallic trim and complex air conditioning controls. It sprouts what appear to be a pair of grab handles, the one on the driver’s side turning out to be the handbrake lever, a wacky touch contrasting with the otherwise plain interior.

There’s also a surprising lack of oddment storage, and what there is, isn’t that practical – there’s an open shelf in the dash which sheds anything stowed there the moment the car accelerates.

The lack of a centre console gives the interior an airy feel, but leaves the driver short of somewhere to store a phone or a bag of sweets. Otherwise practicality is good, the rear seats for instance not only fold up to enlarge the cargo area but also have independent fore-aft and recline adjustment, they also drop flat to provide a load bay that’s long enough to take a couple of mountain bikes.

It does have rather fiddly load bay access, a two-piece arrangement whereby the rear window first pops up, then the lower door section, carrying the spare wheel, swings open sideways. It does at least allow smaller items of shopping to be popped in without having to open the entire door, useful if you’ve parked in a tight spot. All versions are well-equipped, the SE includes air conditioning, antilock brakes and driver, passenger and side airbags, electric front windows, height-adjustable driver’s seat, folding table between front seats and an RDS stereo with CD player.

The SE Sport adds an electric sunroof, headlamp washers, alloy wheels and a hard spare wheel cover, while enhancements for the SE Executive include satnav. The petrol engine with its variable valve timing is particularly pleasant to drive, since it not only revs and pulls well delivering quite lively performance, but also has surprisingly good low-rev torque, which is useful in awkward off-road situations where slow progress is required.

Standard transmission is a smooth-shifting five-speed manual, some will have the four-speed automatic. On the road the CR-V has a comfortable ride, so much so that although the steering is light and direct the car can feel a little vague in fast corners.

The softish suspension can also make the Honda feel a little bouncy when driving over unmade surfaces, but otherwise it insulates the occupants quite well against more serious ruts and bumps on an off-road outing. Not that the CR-V cries out to be taken off-road, the four-wheel drive system is a “real-time” arrangement where the front wheels are driven most of the time with drive being fed automatically to the rears when needed. Besides, the suspension lacks articulation, there’s no low range gearing nor advanced electronic aids such as hill descent control. Things to look for include a weak starter motor, either insist a replacement is fitted or look for another car.

High mileage cars can suffer from worn cylinder bores and valve guides, on a test drive watch for tell-tale wisps of blue smoke from the exhaust on acceleration or on the overrun. Make sure the engine runs smoothly without flat spots or misfires, usually caused by ECU glitches difficult to diagnose and expensive to repair.

A common problem is the degrading of the lubricant in the ‘dual pump’ mechanism in the rear differential, which results in groaning noises when turning on full lock, a problem that is often misdiagnosed as a fault with the steering. Caught in time the cure is simply a matter of replacing the lubricant. Check that the air conditioning works, as air con pumps have been known to fail.