If you’re not one for following the crowd and are keen on customising and upgrading your trusty 4×4 then read on. We talk to some of the best-known bespoke specialists in the UK for inspiration… 

Words: Sarah Harrington-James

SPECIAL FORCESNot everyone who buys a 4×4 wants to keep it looking like any other that rolls off the production line, similarly not every 4×4 turns a wheel in anger off-road. These days it’s just as common to see a suited-and-booted city gent behind the wheel of a Defender, as it is a tweed-obsessed farmer tending to his sheep. Indeed, the respected utilitarian Land Rover has turned into a must-have for a whole range of enthusiasts, who don’t mind an automatic boost to their street cred, too.  

Unsurprisingly this latest craze hasn’t gone unnoticed by the independent bespoke specialists which have been quick off the mark to cater for the more discerning customer; in particular those who want to individualise their 4×4 a lot further than just ticking boxes on the manufacturer’s extras list. Some specialise in offering bespoke exterior/interior styling, but others have made a name for themselves creating one-off, individual vehicles with the wow factor. If money is no object then you can literally have anything you want when it comes to customising; chrome-plating, carbon fibre, Bentley Nappa leather, power-boosted engine conversions… and of course you’ll order two identical versions and give one away as a gift.

Bold styling and enhanced refinement for the 2005 model year made the Grand Cherokee a more suitable competitor in the crowded luxury SUV sector – with the added appeal of heavy depreciation making it a particularly good-value second-hand purchase


When the Jeep Grand Cherokee first appeared here in 1994 it was a clear declaration of Chrysler’s intent to expand into new markets, particularly in Europe where the marque was hardly known. The car was deliberately designed to appeal to a more discerning European clientele, shrugging off the boxy truck-like styling of earlier Jeep SUVs and offering more mechanical refinement and ride comfort than was the rugged norm in its home market. It was quite an advanced design for an American SUV at the time, since it did away with the concept of a separate steel chassis opting instead for a monocoque bodyshell, although the floorpan was reinforced to such an extent that Jeep engineers claimed it was stiffer and stronger than a chassis-based 4×4. It did, however, retain rigid axles front and rear, sprung on coils. It quickly became apparent that in spite of its sleek outward appearance the first generation Grand Cherokee still lacked the levels of luxurious refinement exhibited by its major British and Eastern rivals, so the Jeep gained limited acceptance more for its good-value pricing than for its aesthetic qualities, while the 4.0-litre petrol engine was thirsty and the 2.5-litre VM turbodiesel offered in later examples was rough and underpowered. The updated model for 1999 had a more pleasing interior, but suffered from having a no-win choice of lively but thirsty petrol V8 or dull-performing turbodiesel engines. For the 2005 model year Chrysler got it almost right, the completely revised Grand displaying a bolder front end and a more stylishly sculpted interior, along with a smooth-revving 3.0-litre Mercedes CRD turbodiesel as the mainstream power source. For those who craved the typical American power of a big petrol V8 the legendary Chrysler Hemi in 5.7-litre form was offered as an alternative for the first year, some early versions also had the 4.7-litre V8, but the weak demand for these is reflected in the second-hand marketplace where the turbodiesel predominates.

The Land Rover Defender: a true icon of the off-roading world and, some would argue, still the best off-road machine around. So it’s not been traditionally known for on-road prowess or super speed over any terrain. But that was then, and this is now. Solihull’s machine has now entered the lofty ranks of high-speed rally car…

Words and photography: Hils Everitt   Additional action photos courtesy of Land Rover


DEFENDER CHALLENGEYes, that’s right, the Land Rover Defender is now regarded as a bona fide rally entrant, to be found lining up in rally stages alongside such luminaries as Mitsubishi Evos, Subaru Imprezas/WRXs and the ubiquitous Ford Escorts of various guises. And this is all down to Bowler Motorsport. Founder and MD Drew Bowler and his incredible team have masterminded the transformation of standard, factory-produced Defender 90s into the impressive rally cars that are now competing in the Defender Challenge.

The Challenge has been introduced to encourage those who want to get into Rally Raid, and perhaps, ultimately, the mighty Dakar Rally, but are perhaps rather daunted by the prospect of motorsport licences, rules and regs and prepping a suitable vehicle. Drew explains: “It all started when a customer said he wanted to get into rallying, but didn’t really know how to. He wanted to make it to the big races such as the Dakar and other global rally competitions. The Defender Challenge is a great feeder series for preparing potential competitors in their bids to get there; it gives them a perfect training platform. And it was time to bring some new blood into the sport.” It is also open to existing off-road and circuit competition drivers.

Own a 4×4 and fancy trying a different sort of off-roading? In that case, look at what the UK can offer for your 4×4 adventure adrenaline fix! Here’s a round-up of just some of the off-roading adventures you can enjoy. So come on, go get involved…

Words: Sarah Harrington-James

4x4 AdventuresIf, like us, laying on a beach for a week for your hols sounds about as interesting as doing your tax return, then read on. There has been much hype of late about doing a ‘staycation’ in the UK and we’re all for that – albeit for a day trip, short break or longer – even better if it’s combined with your hobby. And we’re pleased to reveal that there are some fantastic opportunities out there to get mud-splattered to your heart’s content doing 4×4 driving courses in your own vehicle or in ones that are supplied on a whole variety of terrain. But if you fancy something just that little bit different and are up for a challenge, why not try piloting a hovercraft, have a go at tank driving or quad biking? We’ve put together a wide selection to cater for all tastes and levels, so we’d suggest go make yourself a brew, kick back and get inspired from this selection.

Avalanche Adventure
Operating from a 400-acre site in the Midlands, Avalanche Adventure can offer adrenaline junkies everything from quad bike safaris, off-road 400cc racing buggies to eight-wheeled amphibious vehicle driving and Land Rover off-road driving experiences. You can take to the ‘tough terrain track’ that incorporates steep inclines, shallow and deep water, side slopes and axle twisters in one of Avalanche Adventure’s Defender 90s and a BORDA-qualified instructor will tailor a route to suit your own ability. Or, if you’re planning on paying them a visit as a 4×4 club for a Pay and Play session, you can hire the entire site for £200+VAT a day with the exclusive use of the track and nearby woodland to test your mettle; a list of available dates are on the website.     

Web: www.avalancheadventure.co.uk
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 01858 880613

Two cars of very different character striving to achieve the same end – the Subaru struggling to shake off its dowdy image, the Yeti crashing the SUV party with bold styling and gimmicky features. But which is the most sensible second-hand buy?

Buyers' Guide: Subaru Forester V Skoda YetiTARGET RANGE: £10,000 – £23,000

There’s something about the combination of keen pricing, the promise of legendary reliability, impressive practicality and unconventional styling that makes the Skoda Yeti hard to resist, a situation backed up by its maker’s boast that it’s become one of the most successful vehicles in its class worldwide, and one of the best-selling compact SUVs in Europe. How is it, then, that we were hardly aware of its existence for several years before its first appearance in our magazine as a contender in our 4×4 Of The Year comparison for 2012? Almost certainly because of its rather oddball appearance, a design exercise that exhibits a total lack of any of the 4×4 or off-road styling cues that would more immediately have brought it to our attention. However, when we did sample the car we couldn’t have been more impressed, awarding it the winner’s spot in the mid-range class with the comment: “Looks, and slightly odd names, can be deceptive; the Yeti seems to have passed us by, which it is now obvious is our loss.”

From a practicality point of view the Yeti scores in being a more estate-like design than most other crossovers, which gives it a significant advantage not only in luggage carrying capacity but also the extra headroom and, thanks to its wrap-around rear window design, better visibility for rear seat passengers.

Thinking of going camping this summer? Paul Guinness explains what’s involved and offers some useful advice for first-timers

Camping with your 4x4The whole image of camping has changed immeasurably over the last few years, as increasing numbers of people look to the great outdoors for fun and adventure – and realise that camping is no longer the back-to-basics activity that it once was. These days there’s no shortage of fantastically well-equipped campsites offering clean and pleasant facilities. And, of course, the tents themselves are also vastly improved.

For many of us who own 4x4s, camping is an even more logical way to enjoy our leisure time. We own vehicles that can head off-road when necessary, and can carry more ‘stuff’ than your average family saloon. So why not make the most of the sheer usefulness of our 4x4s and get to enjoy some holidays (or weekend breaks) under canvas?


Most first-time campers still opt for a ground tent rather than a roof tent, often with good reason. But as even the biggest camping novice knows, ground tents come in many different shapes and sizes – so how do you choose the tent that’s ideal for your needs, and what are the advantages of a ground tent over a roof tent?

Buying a 4×4 for the very first time can be a confusing affair. To help you out, the Editor gives some initial advice on how to get started, to make the best decision, and our contributors and industry experts confess on just what they chose for their first 4x4s…

BUYING YOUR FIRST 4X4Looking to buy a 4×4 for the first time? Well, as you might expect, our first reaction is, well done – and our second is, what took you so long? But to be serious, a fatuous comment like that is of little help to someone considering a 4×4 vehicle for the very first time and if that’s you, hopefully we can offer some pointers for you to consider and ensure you make the right first choice.

One of the most exciting things about the world of 4×4 ownership is that it is so broad; the variety of vehicles on offer to you is enormous. If you are buying new, then at one end of the market you can have a Fiat Panda 4×4 for around the £14,000 mark, or you might consider a top spec Range Rover which has a starting price of £71,310 or for the long wheelbase option a staggering £102,120 (and that’s before you look at the impressive option list and start personalising your machine). Now, would someone sit down and ask: ‘Shall I buy a Panda or a long wheelbase Range Rover?’ Of course not, but what is true, and what makes 4×4 ownership such an excitingly broad church, encompassing such an enormous breadth of vehicles, is that they are linked, they have a similar basic DNA; they are both 4x4s and they are different to other vehicles on the road.

With so much excitement over new Range Rover and Evoque models it’s hardly surprising that the baby of the Land Rover range has drifted out of the spotlight. The Freelander 2 is still a superb compact luxury SUV, available and affordable with it

TARGET RANGE: £6000 – £36,000

BUYERS’ GUIDE: FREELANDER 2 A drive last year on the icy roads of a Canadian winter reminded editor Nigel Fryatt of what a competent, comfortable and pleasant car the Freelander 2 is. It was a reminder, rather than a sudden realisation, because we’ve always liked Land Rover’s compact SUV, it’s just that little has changed since the introduction in 2006, so we’ve not felt the need to reappraise the model on more than a few key occasions.

From launch the Freelander appealed to us more for its technology than for its styling – we felt some disappointment that it had lost some of the traditional visual off-road appeal of the original, describing it as ‘a baby Discovery, though it looks more like a road-going SUV.’

Like the original the Freelander 2 has ‘intelligent’ four-wheel drive, though with a more advanced Haldex central coupling which ensures quicker engagement of drive to the rear wheels when needed. A key improvement is that all but the base S versions have the clever Terrain Response system aimed at enhancing off-road capability. Build quality is also significantly better than the original, while the interiors are also more stylish and better equipped, with top versions offering Bluetooth connectivity and premium sound systems.

Stuck for where to start improving your 4×4? Then follow our guide to find out more about the most popular modifications

Words: Rob Hawkins

MODIFYING YOUR 4X4There’s always going to be the potential to improve a 4×4 or add more accessories to it, but the list of options can be bewildering and choosing the right ones isn’t always that easy. It is, however, easy to throw a lot of money at a vehicle, but be left wondering whether it was really all necessary. We’ve all been there; purchasing products from the Internet and Shows, sometimes only to gather dust in the garage.

We’ve spoken to a number of 4×4 specialists to find out which upgrades are the most popular for these vehicles, especially when it comes to using them off-road, on expeditions, for carrying loads and pulling themselves out of trouble. Over the following pages, our findings are detailed in various categories to help group them into relevant subjects, with advice from specialists, prices and which vehicles they can be fitted to.

The growth in SUV ‘soft-roaders’ continues apace. For the traditional, more serious mud-plugger, such vehicles are often dismissed, disparagingly. Armed with some knowledge to aid your driving ability and the soft-roader will go a lot further than is often considered. And at the end of the day, isn’t it great that the soft-roader needs some driver input rather than just switching the super sophisticated terrain control to ‘Auto’ and ploughing on regardless?

Words: Robert Pepper  Photography: Robert Pepper and Wayne Mitchelson

soft roadersThink 4×4 and vehicles like the Discovery, Land Cruiser and Grand Cherokee come to mind, or maybe pick-ups like the Hilux or Ranger. These vehicles are capable of carrying heavy loads over rough terrain, but are not cheap to buy or to run. Smaller, certainly lighter vehicles such as the Santa Fe, Freelander, SX4 and others offer rough-terrain capability at lower prices – these are soft-roaders designed for lighter duty work and they lack low range gears. The question is whether the trade-off is worth it, and how far can you go in a softie?

First off, any 4×4, whether it has low range or not, needs two basic features to be seriously considered for off-roading. The first is front and rear recovery points, which doesn’t mean screw-in eyes but might mean a rear towbar. If there is no front recovery point then at least use two screw-in eyes and use a long bridle (at least 5m) to equalise (but not halve) the load.

The second is a full-size spare wheel, or at least the option to take one somewhere. Spacesaver spares or worse yet, the aerosol can option you spray into a punctured tyre, just don’t cut it off-road. These two criteria alone cut the wide field of soft-roaders to far fewer, and it is these which are your real candidates for any terrain rougher than a dirt road.