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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.
Time for a confession. I’m getting rather interested in tyres. When discussing with any of my non off-roading friends that I’m about to write a feature on 4x4 rubber, I regularly get the rather tedious, and not very funny, comment that tyres are ‘black and round – what more is there to say?’ Plenty as far as I am concerned, and a lot of it very interesting in my humble opinion. In this month’s issue is the report of my recent experience driving 250 miles through the Mexican Baja, testing the new 4x4 tyres from BFGoodrich. This was an illuminating, entertaining and at times alarming experience, driving Baja Challenge buggies over some of the most testing off-road tracks and rocky trails this writer has ever experienced in 30 odd years of motoring journalism. For once it was not driving with a bunch of fellow journos, some of whom may think they are hotshot aces when getting behind the wheel, my fellow drivers in Mexico included actual Baja 1000 winners, and professional off-road specialists, including Rod Hall – the only person to complete all 46 Baja 1000 events! Humbling? You had better believe it.
For many, SUVs are just plain ugly. Too big, too brash and too much. These people had a field day when Porsche unveiled its Cayenne. The company’s desire to make sure everyone knew it was a Porsche by grafting a 911 sports car nose on to the front was thought by some to be a hideous piece of automotive design. It’ll never sell… The Cayenne is now the largest selling model in the German manufacturer’s range; fair to say that, when looking at the sales figures, Porsche is now really an SUV manufacturer that side-lines in quirky sports cars.
SUV design is primarily a case of function taking first place over form. Few are designed just for design sake; a Defender is hardly svelte with smooth lines that make you want to run your hands along the bodywork – and not just for fear of catching yourself on a protruding rivet. It’s built to do a job and its looks are secondary. Much has changed at Land Rover with the high-class designs rolling from Gerry McGovern’s studio. When the Evoque was first shown, its dramatically different looks made traditionalists declare it was not a proper ‘off-roader’, it was soft and an example of design over function. Sales of the Evoque destroy such comments with sales being 50/50 between male and female customers, and driven properly the Evoque is a competent off-roader. And like the Cayenne, the Evoque is a huge sales success.
This is being written on the last day of football’s ‘transfer window’, a time where seemingly ludicrous amounts of money are paid for players around Europe. Now, while I’m something of a football fan, of both the game and the even more ludicrous ‘soap opera’ machinations that surround it, I am also aware that many readers are probably not – some people seem to dislike all things football with an almost religious zealotry. I mention it solely because you could say that this was our ‘money issue’, where we take a look at what is available in the 4x4 market for very little – and it also coincides with some ‘deals’ in the market that make football transfers appear almost reasonable. After all, would you pay £83,000 for a Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40 of 1980 vintage? Probably not, but it shows that some interesting model 4x4s are now making it into the international classic car world, in this case the FJ was sold at the super-posh auction at Pebble Beach, USA. And then there’s the very first Range Rover, chassis number 001, going under the hammer just after we closed for press. Initial estimates are that it will go for around £140,000 (see Marketwatch, page 96). As you read this, you’ll know what has happened, but you can be sure that even if I had the money, my hand would not be raised at either auction. And you are not likely to see either vehicle at your local pay ‘n’ play site any time soon!