Probably one of the most unusual countries to go off-road. We climb a volcano with a team of ancient Suzuki Vitaras and some very odd confectionary. Ecuador is a very special place indeed

Words and photography: Robb Pritchard


VITARAS AND VOLCANOESThere are a few off-roading meccas in the world; Russia, Morocco and the Australian Outback come to mind, and Johnson Valley of course… but after this amazing weekend, Ecuador should be added to the list.

My trip involved joining up with the guys from Ecuador’s Terreno Extremo magazine, and the day started with guinea pigs for breakfast, roasting on a street side barbecue, followed by a bad headache as we hit 3800m above sea-level… At this point, I was told that cocaine leaves help alleviate the symptoms. Cocaine? Surely that’s all very dangerous not to mention illegal? No need to worry, it comes in candy form from a kiosk at the entrance to the National Park. It’s a great introduction to off-roading in Ecuador. And all before a cup of coffee!

The Ford BroncoThe Ford Bronco was originally launched to compete with Jeep, Land Rover, and even Toyota’s Land Cruiser. If you love 4x4s, you have to enjoy this retrospective of this great Stateside off-roader. Such is the Bronco’s following, you can even buy a new one, if you’ve got a healthy wallet!

Words: James Maxwell

The US product planners at Ford Motor Company had been eyeing the growing light-duty four-wheel drive off-road sport utility market in the 1960s and in August 1965, the company debuted its answer. The Ford Bronco was a small and nimble 4×4, designed to compete with the Jeep CJ, as well as the International Harvester Scout, Toyota Land Cruiser and even the Land Rover. The new 4×4 from Ford was called ‘Bronco’ as a second horse in their product stable, to sit alongside the famous Mustang sportscar range.

During the launch of the Bronco, Ford General Manager Donald Frey characterised the vehicle as: “Neither a car nor a truck, but as a vehicle that combines the best of both worlds. The Bronco can serve as a family sedan, sports roadster, snow plough, or farm and civil defence vehicle. It has been designed to go nearly anywhere and do nearly anything.”  Snow plough, eh?

The small, lightweight contender ran on a 92inch wheelbase and was highly versatile, both off-road and on tarmac. Featuring a boxy, steel body on a separate chassis design, the front suspension was known at the time as the ‘Mono-Beam’ anti-dive system, based on coil springs and forged radius rods located from the transmission area, forward to the solid front axle. Tubular shocks located rearward of the coils were used and a tubular track bar was incorporated into the design to maintain axle alignment. Turning radius was a tight 34ft circle. 

BUYERS’ GUIDE: NISSAN QASHQAI For many city folk the lure of 4×4 ownership is such that a car only has to look like a 4×4 to succeed. Nissan’s prescience in tapping that resource has made their ‘urbanproof’ Qashqai a best seller

TARGET RANGE: £5000 – £23,000

We have to admit to being somewhat baffled by the mass appeal of the Nissan Qashqai. It certainly seems to be a good-value package as a family hatchback, with sensible pricing and good equipment throughout the range, but that has nothing to do with any four-wheel drive pretensions it may have, and we’ve always considered the interior to be somewhat featureless and unexciting. The Qashqai has smart enough modern exterior styling, if you like that very Eastern rather startled bug-eyed expression on the bluff front and can live with the swept-down roofline and rising waistline that starves rear occupants of headroom and visibility, but it’s hardly a design that stands out among a dozen other modern mid-range SUV-type hatchbacks. Still, it’s good news that the Qashqai is doing so well, because it shows that the British automotive industry is still a force to be reckoned with.

Korando Sports pick-upThe Yeti has proved an impressive sales success for Skoda and the latest revised version is likely to gain more converts, thanks to the fifth generation Haldex clutch

Words: Nigel Fryatt

It seems Yeti sightings are becoming a lot more common. Indeed, unlike the fabled ‘big foot’ itself, it’s now quite common to spot one, since a quarter of a million Yetis have been built since the launch in 2009. And after sightings in China, Russia and Germany, the UK is the Yeti’s most popular home with just under 30,000 having been sold. That makes it a popular SUV, and in its 4×4 mode it has achieved our Highly Recommended Award in its class for the last two 4×4 Of The Year group tests. It’s a very popular machine, and owners tend to be extremely enthusiastic, this is one SUV that you make a decisive decision to buy. In looks alone, this is not another ‘copycat’ SUV design and for 2014 the Skoda Yeti has received a facelift, which actually goes a lot further than just tarting up the somewhat idiosyncratic exterior. It’s the changes underneath that interest us.

Top Ten review of family 4x4sNo need to keep the family standing around in the rain waiting for a bus to come along when you can have an all-weather people carrier parked right outside the house. We look at the Top Ten seven-seaters…

With fuel prices and the cost of public transport rising to ever more ridiculous heights with every passing day, the lure of the seven-seater SUV seems more attractive than ever. Who, after all, would board a bus or take a train when there’s a comfortable minibus parked right there on the driveway? How many families will be considering a single seven-seater as an alternative to two five-seater family cars, thereby saving on insurance and maintenance costs as well?

The car manufacturers have anticipated this surge of interest with the result that more and more have been offering seven-seater versions of their family estates. Four-wheel drives are no exception, seemingly offering the best all-round all-weather solution for the active family. There’s a good selection of seven-seater SUVs available; here we’ve chosen to feature our top ten, ranging from the patently old-fashioned to the hi-tech trend leaders, from affordable yet still well equipped budget models to prestige limousines reflecting the heights of luxury. We’ve chosen to look at cars not more than seven years old, settling on a lower price limit of £5000; naturally much of what we have to say about these lower-end models will apply to earlier examples that could be available – albeit with more signs of wear and higher mileages – for much less. At the other extreme the sky’s the limit, epitomised by the £60,000 being asked for a nearly new Mercedes-Benz GL with all the luxury trimmings.

Floating 4x4 As we all know, 4x4s come in all shapes and sizes, but few can actually float. We meet with Tim Dutton, an endearing character, and founding father of the this country’s kit car industry, with his latest 4×4 creation. Let’s go off-road Surf-ing in the UK…

Words and photography: Nigel Fryatt

For most people, an amphibious car answers a question that never gets asked. Surely you only ever want one or the other; a road vehicle, or a boat. Strange, therefore, that when Tim Dutton asks the simple question, “Would you like a coffee?” the only answer is an amphibious four-wheel drive.

When the cappuccino in question awaits you on the other side of the River Arun in Littlehampton, logic says you take the road away from the river to search out the nearest bridge. Not so, of course, when you have a Dutton Surf, since the journey to the local barista merely involves negotiating the gluttonous mud of the river bank, before ploughing into the water, deselecting the four-wheel drive, initiating the jet motor and powering across the fast flowing river to the somewhat slippery slipway, where four-wheel drive is re-engaged for the effortless, and remarkably drama free, exit from the water up to the café.

Jumping Jeep Now we don’t usually cover classic military Jeeps… but then this amazing vehicle is nothing of the kind! For one Polish 4×4 enthusiast, the Jeep ‘look’ was what he wanted, but with reliable running gear, in this case, from standard Nissan parts! Yes, that’s right, this is a Jeep CJ7 Nissan. Sort of….

Words: Jakub Chelmicki  Photography: Igor Kohutnicki

The idea for this car came about by chance while I was doing an engine replacement in a friend’s passenger car. My colleague Michael was helping me and he casually mentioned that he’d give me one of his four (!) Jeep CJ7s, along with all the documents and suggested I rebuild it. Now I had a set of axles from a Nissan Patrol 260, a Nissan Patrol 160 gearbox with a transfer box, together with some other junk, so since I had the axles and gearbox, the engine was not going to be a problem, and I could do the wiring by myself. This would mean that working at my own pace, I could build a car in the shape of a classic Jeep, but based on my favourite Nissan mechanics. Michael is known for really outlandish ideas, so this one was no surprise. But the more I thought about it, the more I became hooked, and the project got under way.

4x4 OF THE YEAR 2014It’s hard to believe that we are now into our third decade of publishing this magazine’s annual 4×4 Of The Year mega test. Needless to say there isn’t another magazine that can claim anything close to that kind of experience and dedication to its subject. The knowledge and experience that such a heritage creates cannot be easily matched, and it’s fair to say we are proud of what we achieve; especially in today’s more frugal times, which limits the resources available. Or to put it another way, this group test is produced by a small, dedicated editorial team. At all times, our testers are as objective as possible; of course we are all human, we love our 4x4s, and so include some necessary subjectivity to our test regime.

As before, we have split the 30 vehicles tested into groups, each of which has its own class winner and a Highly Recommended, runner-up. Those winners are then matched together for us to decide an overall titleholder for 2014. To get to our final decisions, we look at each vehicle’s on and off-road ability, its overal competence, we consider value for money, and whether the machine is fit for purpose. This later category is how we match a £15,000 Fiat Panda 4×4 with a £100,000+ Range Rover, to surprising results at times!

Suzuki SX4 S-CrossSuzuki’s 4×4 range extends further with the brand new SX4 S-Cross. A ‘soft roader’ certainly, but one fitted with the new driver selectable four mode ALLGRIP system

Words and photography: Nigel Fryatt

Things seem to be going well for Suzuki in the UK, the company having nudged its way into the top 20 best selling manufacturers, overtaking Mazda and Volvo and, in the words of Managing Director Dale Wyatt, ‘going to give Renault a bloody nose soon.’ Even allowing for exuberant marketing bravado, there’s no denying that Suzuki appears on the up; and it’s a growth built on a 4×4 heritage. The Grand Vitara is a well established model, we wrote about the introduction to the UK of the Swift 4×4 in the last issue, and the ever youthful Jimny continues to sell, entertain and bring a smile to all owners, and now the company enters probably the most competitive segment of the SUV market with its Nissan Qashqai competitor, the SX4 S-Cross. This introduction comes at a time when Suzuki can boast at being the UK’s fastest growing brand.

The specials – when ordinary isn’t enoughIf you find the idea of a brand new Land Rover Defender, Range Rover or Porsche Cayenne just that bit too ordinary, you might be in the market for a bespoke model created by one of the UK’s custom-build specialists. Paul Guinness takes a look at these exclusive, hand-built specials

There was a time when anybody cruising the leafier parts of Cheshire or the mean streets of Notting Hill in a brand new Range Rover would have turned heads. It was one of the ultimate ways of saying “I’ve arrived – and I want you to know it”. But times have changed. Oh sure, the Range Rover is still a superb choice, being highly praised by all those who come in contact with it; but no longer is a bog-standard example the ultimate way of announcing your success and wealth to passers-by.

The last few years have seen an increase in the numbers of custom-built 4x4s based around existing models, aimed at clients seeking the ultimate in exclusivity and individuality. We’re not talking about vehicles modified for off-road use, of course; no, we mean the 4x4s created for turning heads out on the street, as well as those built with supercar-like performance in mind.