Hils BlogIt wasn’t long ago that we were all being encouraged to buy diesel engine vehicles. The result is that many 4x4s today are so powered. Things are changing now, there’s even a scrappage scheme planned…

Were you one of the 4×4 owners who were seduced into buying a diesel-powered vehicle, along with millions of other car owners, back in the early noughties? When Chancellor-at-the-time Gordon Brown increased excise duty for petrol cars with higher carbon dioxide emissions, it made diesels appear quite a bargain. So much so that almost 11 million people have been tempted, by successive governments, to abandon petrol cars and buy ‘greener’.

Hils BlogThis month our columnist has been ‘off-road’ in two-leg drive, traversing the Italian Dolomites, where she spotted some very interesting 4x4s – but very few of them being posh SUVs

have been on my travels again. As usual, I have been chilling and doing some tromping in the mountains; this time the Italian Dolomites. I was based at Cortina d’Ampezzo, a ski resort for the rich and famous, but in the summer it is buzzing with mountain bikers, road cyclists, trekkers and walkers, mountaineers and those having a go at via ferrata.

Whenever I am in the mountains of Europe I always come across loads of 4x4s of various shapes, sizes and ages. Old, loyal, rust-ridden and battered vehicles that are properly ‘worked’ as they should be, make a refreshing change from the big, shiny, expensive 4x4s on the school or supermarket run that I see more often in the south east of England.


Hils BlogA recent hand injury has seen our columnist spend more time in the passenger seat, and time to watch the horrors on our roads…

Before I witter on about anything else this month, can I just say, please pay attention to the tyre special feature this month starting on page 29. I know many of our readers are pretty savvy about their vehicles and know that tyre purchase and maintenance is very important, but there will be those who don’t give a second thought to them until the garage doing the servicing says ‘your tyres need replacing, they’re below the legal 1.6mm limit’. Don’t leave it ‘til it gets that far, because you are driving a potentially dangerous vehicle as well as an illegal one: just saying.

There’s a lot of other useful and practical stuff and the lowdown on what’s going on in rubber wear from the industry experts. You will learn a thing or two, and if it makes you go out and check your tyre depth and general wear and pressure then that’s even better. It may give you pause for thought about whether you have the right tyres on your 4×4 for whatever you use it for. As you will read, the world of tyres is changing, thanks to those legislative busy bodies in the EU, and it particularly affects 4×4 owners.

Hils BlogAfter celebrating the Toyota’s RAV4’s 20th birthday, our columnist remembers the Suzuki X-90 and asks, will there ever be another small off-roader?

Earlier this year, I highlighted the fact that the 2014 Geneva Motor Show marked 20 years since the pioneering Toyota RAV4 was launched to an unsuspecting 4×4 world. I was hoping that Toyota would mark this major landmark in some suitable way and indeed it has, as you will see on p52.

Toyota thought it fitting to invite journalists from all over the world to join a Toyota RAV4 adventure in the Greek mountains. We had a great time trundling up the steep, rocky mountain tracks and haring around fast gravel stages that formed part of the WRC Rally earlier this year. You can read all about it in the feature. We didn’t take part in any serious off-roading as, let’s face it, the modern RAV isn’t an off-road machine any more. It was good, however, to clap eyes once again on the original RAV three-door (pictured below right), with its independent suspension and permanent four-wheel drive, and reminisce about the old days when the little compact SUV was a mighty fine little off-roader that also offered a very pleasing on-road drive. It was a reminder of times past and how the world once was. How the 4×4 market has changed! Indeed, the term ‘SUV’ is really no longer synonymous with off-roading and 4x4s, at least not in any meaningful sense.

Hils BlogThere have been a few miles clocked up this month chasing features; but for once, some of those off-road miles have been in great comfort!

I have been on my travels again this month, spending a few superb days in and around Exmoor National Park, which spans west Somerset and east Devon. You can read two of the features from that trip this month: the Defender Challenge Series and a review of an excellent tour of Exmoor, courtesy of Experience Exmoor.

The Exmoor tour was a real treat as, for once, I was being chauffeured around in a luxury 4×4. I have experienced the joys of greenlaning from the passenger seats of old Land Rovers, Land Cruisers and Jeeps, which is superb. But there is hardly enough room to breathe with all the kit stacked in, and jumping in and out as I do to take pics (and generally admire the scenery) can be a right old palaver – particularly in Defenders! Don’t get me wrong, I love Defenders and Series Land Rovers, but their lack of comfort and ease of entry and exit, for a vertically challenged sort like me, can become a bit of a performance, much to the delight of onlookers.

Hils BlogWith all the latest high tech, and often highly expensive new 4x4s arriving on the market, it’s worth remembering when things were… a little simpler!

Good grief ─ at the moment, if you blink you miss it. There is such a stream of new or updated 4x4s coming out just now that it would be easy to miss something if you took your hands off the wheel for a second. Many of these latest 4x4s hail from the bounteous upmarket SUV class. According to CAP, out of the £50 billion-ish we Brits spent on new cars in 2013, the class of car we spent the most on was the SUV, to the tune of a momentous £10 billion.

No manufacturer can now afford be without an example of the genre. At the extreme, Bentley finally revealed the long-anticipated, but inconclusive, teaser pic of its new SUV in late March (in News, May issue). All we get is a front-end image surrounded by camouflaging smoke effect. It does look, however, like a Bentley and, no doubt, will be huge but rounded off at the edges to create the classic SUV look. As Bentley is owned by VW, expect a rear end of Touareg proportions and ilk. It will be classy, outrageously expensive and powered by a Bentley 6.0-litre W12 engine (with Hybrid and diesels on the cards), and be built right here in the UK at the Bentley Crewe works in Cheshire.

Hils BlogIt seems that the planned withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan will mean the end of a serious, iconic, and much-admired off-roader

We are now well into 2014 and it will prove a momentous year for UK and US troops, as they finally pull out of Afghanistan before it is over. A recent episode of BBC2’s Top Gear saw James May travel out to Helmand Province to see just what a mammoth logistical task the British forces have in transporting all the Land Rovers, Jackals, Ferrets and other military machines back to the UK. They are worth millions and millions of pounds and cannot be left out there, quite rightly.

For the US troops, however, it is a very different story. And the shame of it is that the pullout also represents a major change in military transportation and the end of a very long and iconic era. It has been suggested that tens of thousands of AM General Humvees probably one of the conflict’s most recognisable combat vehicles, along with our own Jackals and Ferrets are expected to be left behind. And, according to Pat Ware, the author of Haynes’s new AM General Humvee Manual (available from www.haynes.co.uk, priced £25.00), the end of US involvement in Afghanistan will mean the end of the Humvee’s combat role and the beginning of the end of its military career altogether.

Hils BlogThe digital era has much to be admired, but every now and then, a good old piece of paper trumps anything electronic

As I sit and write this, I am looking resignedly out at the rain pouring down in torrents and the wind whipping up round the house. Luckily, I live on a hill and have not been flooded, but I know people locally who live near rivers and who have been inundated with water; and the pictures from the Somerset levels and Worcester, where I also have friends, are just awful. Parts of Surrey and Berkshire and all along the Thames Valley are dreadful, too.

When the deluge finally stops it will still take months, or maybe years, for some to recover from this. I hope that, by the time you are reading this, some form of spring will have arrived and brought more settled weather. During the flood crisis, the emergency services, Environment Agency, AA, RAC, RSPCA and power companies have been working at breaking point, many of them wholly relying on their own 4×4 vehicles and those of volunteers. And those volunteers include the incredible 4×4 Response teams around the country, who have been working around the clock. The official services mentioned above probably couldn’t do without them, and the public owe them a great debt.

Hils BlogToyota’s RAV4 celebrates 20 years in the business, as does our columnist! And even after two decades, the world of the SUV continues to surprise

So, here we are, now well into 2014. I hope you all had a great Christmas and fun New Year and managed to survive the awful weather that the end of 2013 brought us. In recent years, this has been a busy time of year for 4x4s, dealing with heavy snow brought to our shores from Siberia. This time it’s been high winds and terrible floods bought by weather systems from the northwest. But, once again, 4x4s have been prominent in responding to the floods, and the emergency services, in their Land Rovers and pick-ups, have been invaluable.

We all know, however, that even a traditional 4×4 with a higher air intake than your average saloon car isn’t immune and careless people still manage to kill their vehicles by thinking they can just drive through any deep standing water because they have an ‘SUV’. Even our impressively capable vehicles can be washed away in deep water: it’s a very strong element. You, dear 4×4 readers, would not be so reckless, of course.

Hils BlogOur columnist waves goodbye to a couple of true intrepid adventurers, and wishes she could join them…

A few months ago I reported on my latest trip to Iceland, in particular an amazing trip to the Langjökull Icecap in one of the superb Arctic Trucks Toyota Land Cruisers. On that day, we were driven by Antarctica-specialist and all-round off-roading legend Gísli Jónsson. Joining us, and keeping a very low profile, was his partner Felicity Aston.

On that day I found out that Felicity just so happens to come from a small town in Kent – just a few miles from where I live, which was quite a coincidence in itself. But what is far more fascinating is that Felicity is a true legend as well, in her own right. She is the first woman in the world to ski across Antarctica alone, led a team of Commonwealth women to the South Pole on skis, has raced in the Canadian Arctic, led a team of women across Greenland’s inland ice and skied along a frozen river in Siberia, as well as spending three years living and working in Antarctica, where she met Gísli.