Rapidly developing technology is a fact of life. Everything gets more sophisticated, and more mind-bendingly baffling. You see youngsters using tablets while still strapped in pushchairs. Of course, it’s not for them to reflect on how all this stuff actually works, they just accept this technology as ‘normal’. Quizzical reflection and head shaking is left to us mature members of society, who can remember the world before everything became digital. Now, before you get the idea that this is going to be a ‘grumpy ol’ man’ rant, let me confess that the latest 4x4 technology absolutely fascinates me. As regular readers will know, this magazine proudly covers the very latest developments of companies like Jaguar Land Rover; we are often astonished learning what is now possible. We have visited that company’s Virtual Reality Cave in the design department and stood slack-jawed in our 3D-glasses, completely amazed at what is now possible. Absolutely brilliant. However, there are times to reflect…
Well, who would have thought? While this is the time of year when many 4x4s are purchased by people seemingly caught by surprise that the winter months mean poor weather and difficult driving conditions, meaning 4x4 sales rise dramatically, finding the Volkswagen Touareg as top of the second-hand sales league table is still something of a surprise. The claim is made by the respected Glass’s Guide, the largest vehicle data provider in Europe, traditionally ‘the book’ that keeps tabs on all UK second-hand vehicle prices. According to these guys, the Touareg was top, with the Skoda Yeti also in the ‘hot five’ fastest selling cars in January. Our decision to have the VW Touareg as the Buying Guide for this issue can therefore be considered as an example of how we have our editorial finger firmly on the pulse of 4x4 second-hand sales in the UK, or merely a coincidence. We will let you decide on that one.
There’s no denying, however, that the Touareg – especially the earlier models – is an excellent, large, family, off-roader. My memory of turning the ignition key on an early V10 model is still strong. Come on, a V10 diesel engine in a family SUV! Astonishing. Rupert Pontin, head of valuations at Glass’s Guide describes the Touareg as offering “fantastic build quality, superb engines, great handling and subtle looks. This is the thinking man’s Porsche Cayenne.” We’re not quite so sure of the last bit, but agree with the rest, especially the ‘subtle looks’. To support this month’s Buying Guide, we have also been able to drive the very latest model (First Drive on page 26) and one thing that disappoints is the way that the design has morphed into looking like every other VW. One amusing, and surprisingly accurate, description of the design of the latest Touareg is that it looks like a ‘bloated Passat’.
Itchy feet? There are many benefits of owning a 4x4, especially at this time of the year when the weather provides some people with difficult travelling conditions, but perhaps the most significant is the ability to ‘go anywhere’. Now, while this makes a great marketing slogan, and one that has been flogged somewhat over the years, but there are limitations, of course. Plus some vehicles are better options for serious overlanding than others, and there will always be surprises. This is our special issue where we look to tempt you to consider a trip; whether it’s a serious cross continental trek, our a wild camping holiday to Europe with all the family. What we hope to have done with this issue is to show that there are a variety of ways that you can have that much dreamt about adventure with your 4x4. The UK four-wheel drive market is blessed with some excellent companies that will help prepare both you and you vehicle, but at the end of the day, there’s mental approach that’s needed. We have a great story this month from Nick and Claire Marr and their 16-year old Toyota Land Cruiser. It seems that when they announced their plans, friends and family all thought they were mad, some even predicting fatal consequences. Of course, not they have returned and regaled the experience you can bet that the comments changed somewhat! Envy and admiration in equal quantities you would imagine. It’s a real family story, and one that sums up when 4x4 overlanding is all about.
With the marvels of social, and regularly unsocial, media allowing what appears to be near instant global communication, it’s refreshingly traditional to be the Editor of a ‘paper’ publication. As it happens, this is being written two weeks before Christmas Day, yet if indeed anyone does read this, you won’t be able to until 2015 is a full 12 days old. Tradition you see, that’s what it is all about. A two day public holiday, only one of which has any religious significance, seems to cause such serious confusion in the magazine industry that we all complete our issues some weeks before they will be read, the digital files sitting in things called file servers slowly gathering static. It’s a tradition and I am all for it, probably more so as I age and gather my own covering of dust and static. You can tell when it’s happening; in my case, that process involves reading obituaries and finding them enjoyable, collecting vinyl records and looking on eBay for old Scalextrix sets, thinking how great it would be to race again…
This month’s feature on the Mitsubishi Shogun (see page 94) has a traditional theme as well. It’s a superb off-roader, people carrier, towing champion and complete all-rounder. So it’s a tad old-fashioned in its looks and has few whizzy buttons, sensors and magical electronic abilities. Does that matter? Our relatively more high tech Long Term test Freelander has recently been playing a fun game of do-you-trust-my-sensor? Apparently one rear tyre is under inflated, yet when checked appears fine. On one trip the warning light came on, yet as I was looking for a safe place to stop and check, it went out again. Good game, good game.
Of course, the Freelander is no longer to be produced in 2015, in its place is the Discovery Sport, and we will have our first full drive report next month (to follow the first impressions that are on page 10 of this issue). It’s a very clever vehicle, but did get me wondering. This month we have the latest report from a couple of our regular intrepid overlanders, Andrea and Rene, in their battered but brilliant Nissan Patrol, this time discovering the delights of the Republic of the Sudan. We also have the mad, mad drive in a Land Rover Defender 110 to the coldest place on earth, following the Pole of Cold expedition – you’ll want to put a warm jacket on before you even read that story. All these wonderful trips have one thing in common; they are only possible because of the four-wheel drive abilities of traditional off-roaders – just like the Shogun. Fast forward 10 years and you have to wonder whether a future Editor of this magazine will be reporting on such amazing travelling tales involving overlanders driving the Discovery Sport? Would anyone crossing a frozen lake or thrashing through a scorching desert want a vehicle with a sensor regularly telling the driver one tyre is losing pressure?
Welcome to the 2015 4x4 Of The Year. This is our annual special issue where we look at the latest 4x4s on the market, from the seriously hardcore, the seriously expensive and the seriously competitive SUV market. Hopefully you won’t mind me blowing the magazine’s well used trumpet to explain that this magazine was the first ever to do such a major four-wheel drive group test back in the 1980s, and we have managed to continue every year since. As you can imagine, we are genuinely rather proud of that record, and since I was in on the very start, I can also be personally proud (and somewhat surprised, if I’m honest) to be still around and involved.
It’s always a massive undertaking to get all these vehicles together in one place, and the logistics were managed impeccably as ever by Sue Loy. We then need a photographer who understands the special demands of a 4x4 test, and once again we relied heavily on the many talents of Wayne Mitchelson. Our thoughts go to Wayne as he has managed to injure his back since the test – thankfully he got the images to me before the accident! Here’s hoping you are back behind the wheel soon, Wayne. In charge of most of the testing were previous editors of this magazine, Hils Everitt and Bob Cooke; add myself to the mix, and the team is complete. Our thanks also have to go to Peter and Heather Morgan who let us use the extensive facilities at their Motor Safari site. Without their help and support we would not have been able to complete the test. Thanks, guys.