Hils BlogA trip skiing in the Alps just proves that good 4x4s never die, they just keep on off-roading. And long may that continue

I’ve been ‘off-piste’ rather a lot lately; and by that I actually don’t mean off-road in our traditional sense, but mean hitting the snowy slopes, and the very snowy roads, of the French and Swiss Alps. I am an avid skier and spend a lot of time in mountains whether for work or pleasure. And, when I am in the mountains, I always take a keen look at what the locals are driving and how they cope with conditions.

Our recent bout of heavy snow here in the UK caused the usual chaos; roads shut, accidents everywhere and stupid people driving stupidly without thinking about what they are doing and displaying no common sense at all. A lot of people always say: ‘Well, we’re not used to it in this country as it only happens for a few days’. Yes, that’s all very well, although hardly a decent argument to excuse the terrible winter driving skills that many possess; and, anyway, the last few years have offered up bad winters with plenty of awful weather to get us used to the rubbish conditions.

Hils BlogAfter all the excitement of this year’s Dakar Rally, isn’t it time that we had some more decent off-road racing on the TV?

Don’t know about you, but I have been glued to the British Eurosport TV coverage of this year’s Dakar Rally. It’s been especially interesting for us Brits and 4×4 lovers, as the Race2Recovery team of disabled British and US servicemen has been taking part.

You are, no doubt, well aware of this amazing challenge that the R2R team set itself and you may also be aware of the heartache and pain that has gone hand in hand with the team: the early retirement of team leader Capt Tony Harris’s Wildcat, the subsequent retirement of two others due to mechanical failure and a nasty roll that hit previous Dakar competitor Ben Gott (who was driving for the R2Rteam), and the horrific road traffic accident in which two Peruvians died and three R2R members were airlifted to hospital.

Hils BlogThe famous AA phone box has just celebrated 100 years. Sadly, there are now only 19 ‘listed boxes’ left, though none in use. And that is a great shame…

The recent wintry weather has brought to mind the brave and overworked AA teams who are always there to assist us motorists when we get into trouble. Yes, even 4×4 drivers are finding it tough in the floods. And the tragic death of the 4×4 owner who got caught in a flash flood gives us all food for thought – 4WD doesn’t mean invincibility. So I hope you are all taking care in the floods, snow and ice wherever you are and your 4×4 gets you home safely this winter.

Getting us stricken motorists home safely is at the heart of the AA. And at the end of 2012, (which it is, as I write this), it’s interesting to note that the year marked the 100th anniversary of the famous AA phone box. Yes, we all know that they are no longer used, since mobile phones have made them rather redundant. In fact, they were decommissioned way back in 2002, but there are still some excellent examples of the traditional old-fashioned box dotted about the countryside.

Hils BlogSurely we’ve had too many Land Rover shows, we need a broader outlook with these events. The recent Adventure Overland Show was a great example of what can be done…

Land Rover Shows – there are loads of them. But now, refreshingly, we have another, catering for all 4x4s, as reported in our News section last month, which is the Adventure Overland Show.

The plethora of Land Rover shows that litter the calendar from spring to early autumn is dominated by trade stands offering all measure of bolt-on parts to adorn your Land Rover and there is always a packed auto jumble spilling over with rusty old engines, doors, winch bumpers, wheels, seats, steering wheels, shackles, ropes, strops, winches. You name it, it’s there.

That is all well and good for those who spend all their waking hours away from the day job tinkering with their beloved Solihull-built vehicle. It’s a passion and they love all the old kit lying around in the rain with little attention to finesse or an attractive, ordered layout.

Hils BlogYou can never keep a good off-roader down, and in the case of the Hummer, it’s not just good… it was great!

It’s been all over the news that the mighty car manufacturer Ford is shutting its plant in Southampton and the stamping operation at Dagenham, with the loss of 1400 jobs, as the economic crisis hits the European car industry.

Of course, that may not be the full extent of the job losses. Suppliers will be hit, and unions are predicting anything up to 10,000 job losses altogether. Ford says it hopes voluntary redundancy and relocation can take care of many of the losses.

DecHilsPhotoA recent trip across the Pond saw our Hils bowled over by the F-series Ford pick-up trucks. Talk about torque…

Last month the subject of my column was the Ford Escape, a huge-selling compact SUV in North America which was my mode of transport during a superb wildlife watching and adventure sports trip to Canada. It’s a real shame the Escape’s not available over here in the UK. But being in North America really brings home just how 4×4-aware our cousins over the Pond are, at least by comparison to most people over here.

Before that Canadian visit, my most recent venture over there had been to Utah and Arizona, two states I overlanded through and fell in love with, dazzled by the quantity and variety of cool trucks I encountered. This time the destination was British Columbia, and I was equally impressed and delighted by the array of humongous trucks and SUVs.

JulyHilsFaceA trip to North America allowed our Hils to try out the Escape, Ford’s best-selling SUV, and brought back memories of when the Explorer was here in the UK…

I recently took a spot of R&R and spent some time in Canada, British Columbia to be precise, to get up close and personal with some amazing wildlife in their natural habitat; grizzly bears, hump-backed whales and orcas, eagles, seals, and all sorts. But while there I also had the chance to drive the length of Vancouver Island, from Port Hardy in the north to the state capital, Victoria, in the south. That’s the equivalent of Kent to Edinburgh, roughly, so a good chance to see the glorious landscape and perhaps drive something a bit different.

It’s not often we get the chance to get behind the wheels of vehicles not available in the UK, so when the nice man at Budget car rental said, “You’re down for an SUV; you have a choice of a RAV4 or a Ford Escape, which do you fancy?” I was slightly disappointed, as the confirmation email had said ‘Ford Explorer, or equivalent’ and I really wanted to experience the latest incarnation.

JulyHilsFaceAfter all the emotion and successes at the London 2012 Olympics, Hils wants to know why there couldn’t be a new sport for 2016 in Rio; let’s welcome 4×4 off-road racing as a new Olympic event…

It’s right in the middle of the London 2012 Olympic Games as I write this and I am enthralled and highly emotional. At this point I’d like to say that if you were not similarly impressed, especially after Team GB won three athletic Golds in one night, then there is something missing in your soul; the whole shebang is the most incredible event, and that Opening Ceremony was superb.

It had pretty much every ingredient: the stuff that makes us laugh, the stuff that makes us cry, and the stuff that makes us proud. In fact, there really was only one thing missing: at some point Mr Boyle should definitely have included a lovely old Land Rover Series 1, trundling around the perimeter of the magnificent stadium. To include James Bond, a true British icon of course, was fair enough, but not to have a Land Rover of some description taking part – perhaps transporting our very game Monarch across the stadium after her parachute jump – was just not cricket in my opinion! The Land Rover is loved all over the world and is something you see everywhere, particularly in its humanitarian and conservation roles.

JulyHilsFaceQuite possibly the greatest range of modern 4x4s ever built? No, I’m not talking about a Land Rover product, not after my latest test drive…

I’ve been waffling on about pick-ups for the last couple of months: on the negative side, their lack of availability in some cases and, on the positive side, what great alternatives they now are to the Defender, the days of which are perhaps numbered. This month, however, I am pleased to be turning my attention to a vehicle that I have always deeply admired and one that you see plenty of, especially in one generational guise.

Regular readers will guess that I am talking about the Jeep Grand Cherokee. I have owned one for six years and, ever since the first model came out back in 1996 have been a big admirer; apart, that is, from the WK third generation that, I felt, rather let the Grand side down. So I am particularly pleased to have brought you two articles on three different Grand Cherokees this month. Two of them feature the beloved WJ model that I own and the other showcases the very latest addition to the Grand family, the stonkingly fast and furious, yet elegant and refined, SRT.

JulyHilsFaceIt’s been a while coming and we’ve waited way too long, but finally this month we have managed to bring you the twin test pitching the Volkswagen Amarok against the lesser-spotted Ford Ranger. If you want to buy either, you’ll have to wait…

After a long wait, the Amarok finally came out in 2011, its arrival dates having been put back by VW. We loved it for its incredible hi-tech off-road ability, improved cab experience over long-standing competitors, excellent build-quality and reasonable road ride for a rear leaf-sprung truck.

A year ago, Ford showed off its brand new Ranger at the Commercial Vehicle Show at the NEC and attracted swarms of interested commercial fleet buyers, eager for production and delivery dates.

We have waited a year since then to get our hands on one from the press fleet as, although built in South Africa, many parts are manufactured in Asia and, due to the various terrible disasters in that region, getting them across to Africa and delivered into Europe and the UK is proving somewhat difficult.

I had an online chat with a dealer offering a full list of new Rangers with nice discounts. I asked the question: if I was interested in ordering a Ford Ranger 4×4, no specific spec details as yet but just enquiring, what’s the delivery date roughly? My online chat window sprung back immediately in red text: ‘Eight months, we have no stock at all’. Wow! We all knew that supply was difficult, but eight months? That is astounding. I certainly wasn’t quite expecting that. And, of course, you can always take estimated delivery times with a very large pinch of salt anyway, so maybe 10 months might be nearer the mark?