JulyHilsFaceWith the explosion of the SUV market in the last few years, it’s great to see that equipment and accessories’ manufacturers have embraced the latest craze for these ‘pseudo’ 4x4s

On our big camping weekend, featured on page 20, we included the very latest in tent options specifically for an SUV and the pick-up. For many years the roof-top tent was the thing, as it was deemed that only serious off-roaders with serious vehicles would be camping and anyone else could just use the normal ground tent, as lived in by the general camping fraternity.

That may well be the case for serious overland trips, for which, in recent years, the flip-up option has become very popular. Then we had the demountable camper that fits onto a pick-up’s loadbed, which has created something like a caravan on the back of your truck. With prices in the £10,000-plus bracket that’s a lot of money and you need to use it a lot to make it worth that cost.

Having spent a few nights in one, however, I can vouch for its comfort and convenience, with great kitchen space and a fridge. And don’t forget you can heat it up, too; useful even on those cold UK nights, never mind in more extreme latitudes. Apart from the price, the biggest downside is you need to be able to store it somewhere spacious when not using it. When you drive around with one on the back, you hardly notice it’s there, but you wouldn’t want it on a day-to-day basis and, of course, it uses up all your loadbed space.

JulyHilsFaceCan we stop building ‘bland’ 4x4s? A plea to bring back some individuality into 4×4 designs and stop everything looking the same

Have to say, I love my job; and I particularly love it when I meet those amazing enthusiasts who have an intense respect for a certain type of vehicle, know everything about it and have spent years buying and restoring loads of models to keep their dream alive.

You can read about one such enthusiast, or I should say a family trio of Grandad, Son and Grandson, all with the same penchant for historic military vehicles in this month’s issue (page 60). Grandad Paul has been a huge fan of anything military since he first spotted a Dodge Command car in his home town during the Second World War and has since transformed many stunning wrecks into impressive restorations with a delicate and loving attention to detail.

The Dodge Command car we feature this month is a beauty and even if you are not into such military gems, you can’t fail to admire its design and style. It was loved by top military commanders and represents the glorious past of our great passion, the 4×4. Seeing this Dodge in the flesh, after having first spied it at a military show, again, makes me yearn for the days of 4x4s with some real character and class. I think the closest we come to that these days is the magnificent Mercedes G-Class – see the latest update to the luxury true off-roader in the News pages – or Jeep Wrangler. Yes, the Land Rover Defender is clinging onto some dignity, but that is all about to change when we find out exactly what the DC100 will look like (and we have a pretty good idea…).

JulyHilsFaceVehicle theft is rife, especially in rural areas, and we must protect our 4x4s, just as much as our right to drive on legitimate greenlanes by doing it properly

This month’s issue contains some hot topics that are particularly important to any 4×4 owner who wants to ensure the security of their 4×4 and use it as god intended in the right and proper way.

Theft of our beloved vehicles is currently at its highest ever level. Land Rovers, and Defenders in particular, are especially sought-after by thieves, and rural areas are being systematically targeted. One of our colleagues who lives high up in the Pennines has friends who have lost several Defenders and are now considering changing to other marques because it has become an epidemic. We really can’t emphasis enough the importance of protecting your 4×4.

West Yorkshire police did apprehend a gang last year and were stunned by the slickness of the operation. Vehicles were being stolen and stripped for parts within hours or ‘shipped’ off to various places around the UK and overseas. Many entire vehicles end up abroad, particularly in North America, apparently, as demand is so high. Spot checks on the road here in the UK are being carried out and everyone is on high alert, but the police can only do so much. So it’s up to us to do our bit in trying to protect our own vehicles. Anything that makes them more difficult for the criminal to steal will mean they move on elsewhere.

JulyHilsFaceThe future of Electronic Driving Aids: a truly marvellous development or a step too far in dumbing down off-road driving skills? Guess which way Hils veers!

Over the last two months our man Down Under, Robert Pepper, has brought you features on the latest in Electronic Driving Aids (EDAs), specifically for the new Ford Ranger, and what the future holds for the 4×4 enthusiast.

His feature this month (April 2012 – see page 62) may make you think ‘this is just too way out and surely can’t be happening anytime soon’. Well, think again and take note, because this is what is being developed right now, according to Mr P. Vehicles, and particularly 4x4s, are going to have a real mind of their own and our input, as the driver, is becoming less and less significant.

For those of us who enjoy off-roading and the challenges it brings, the whole experience will become so clinical that, in my humble opinion, will it be worth bothering to take your over-electronicised (if that is the right word to make up) 4×4 off the tarmac at all?!
Now, I’m not going to get all grumpy and old fashioned and ‘bah humbug’ the whole EDA issue – far from it. I embrace modern technology and am a very impressed fan of Land Rover’s Terrain Response, Toyota’s Multi Terrain Select and Jeep’s Selec Terrain and now Ford’s latest wizardry. Already great off-roaders have become even more sophisticated and can now reach parts that we could only perhaps dream of once upon a time. But what I really do have an issue with is that these systems do not teach people to ‘drive’ off-road. And it’s going to get worse.

JulyHilsFaceThis month, Hils remarks on the lack of Land Rover presence in the Dakar Rally, the ultimate off-roading competition. Is it too tough for Land Rover?

The baby Range Rover Evoque has taken the motoring world by storm since its official launch, and we were expecting to see a team take this year’s Dakar Rally by storm and provide all the headlines and excite plenty of attention, along with the other new entrants, the Mini All4 Racing (Countryman) team. With the decision by Volkswagen to withdraw from the famous rally this year, after taking all the plaudits from the last two events, all was to play for.

Last September the Excite Rallye Raid team announced it was running three Evoques on the upcoming 2012 rally, specially commissioned from RaBE race cars and driven by Martin Rowe, John Hardy and Andrew Coley. The vehicles were to be based on the Evoque body with a tubular chassis, ZF six-speed transmission and powered by a 3.0-litre BMW engine and held up by BFG desert racing tyres. But they were not there and the statement from business manager David Jones said: ‘We’ve been working on this project for a long time; we haven’t disappeared, but we need to change our approach due to the economic climate’.

JulyHilsFaceThis month Hils ponders the highly competitive, yet rapidly progressing pick-up market that promises a bright future for some manufacturers

Following on from our mega 4×4 of the Year 2012 in last month’s issue, in this edition we look at the pick-up of the year (page 66). This year’s test, erring towards the lifestyle genre, has been hampered somewhat by the lack of availability of two important new models, their arrival in the UK having been delayed by floods and other natural disasters in the Far East that have prevented some parts’ manufacture.

It could have been one of the most significant comparison tests for some years with Toyota, VW and Ford all contributing their new vehicles. We had the VW, which has been around in various parts of the globe for almost two years now but only for a short time in the UK, but sadly not the 2012 Hilux and Ranger. A real shame, particularly since the Ranger features its new Traction Control System that now means the VW Amarok is no longer in a class of its own as a stylish and highly competent off-roader with electronic 4×4 technology.

JulyHilsFaceThis month Hils gets all ‘designer label’ on us and has a moan about terrible seasonal TV – which, funnily enough, does have a connection…

As you will see, this month’s issue contains the annual extravaganza that is our excellent 4×4 of the Year test. We always look forward to the week in autumn when we get to drive the best 4x4s available to us here in the UK and then spend long hours evaluating them to decide which will be crowned the winners of the specific groups and, of course, the overall winner.

I won’t divulge or comment on any of the results here, as I have no idea in which order you will be reading the various features in this magazine, and would not want to spoil your enjoyment of anticipating which have earned top honours.


JulyHilsFaceWriting this issue’s group test of soft-roaders/crossovers/SUVs – whatever you want to call them – was quite an enlightening experience.

Here at 4×4 we are often rather dismayed by the lack of ‘real’ off-roaders left in the world; vehicles that offer a proper low-range transfer box and the sort of ground clearance that will make sure you can clear more than just a small, muddy hump or a patch of slippery grass in the gymkhana field.

But the world is changing and manufacturers are all competing to produce the best, compact, but still useful ‘soft-roader’ (my preferred term for the genre). The 4×4 has become a hot property in buyers’ guides and at auctions, as harsh winters seem now to be the norm in the UK. The Siberian weather that the east coast of the USA is experiencing as I write this, appears to be heading our way…

JulyHilsFaceThis man has set our reputation back again and it makes me sad that we will have to work hard to regain hard-won ground – all thanks to a tiny minority of idiots

I am sitting here looking out on a beautifully sunny and warm early October day having just written the special feature on winter driving and tyres – see page 24. It’s rather surreal to be honest, and I am finding it quite hard to believe that, this year, the heavy snow we now seem guaranteed to get each winter is forecast to arrive in just a few weeks’ time!

For the last two years we have been badgering you, about preparing your 4×4 for the severe weather and also about considering fitting winter tyres for those cold wet days and not just for the predicted snowfall and icy roads.

OctBlogHilsPhotoThis month, Hils takes some R’n’R in the Swiss mountains but, as you would expect, still manages to seek out some fascinating 4×4 life

One of the best parts of this ‘At Large’ role is that I get out and about and meet people and their 4x4s. One of my particular favourite features is the ‘Professional User’, as getting close to real everyday, sometimes hard-core action is what this is all about.

However, much we get pilloried and abused in the press for our 4×4 use in this country, there will always be a need for the four-wheel drive vehicle to provide certain essential services.