GO­ING FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH

Once the choice for se­ri­ous off-road­ing, the 4x4 has carved out a niche in the lux­ury car mar­ket

Belfast Telegraph - NI Carfinder - - Front Page - PAUL CON­NOLLY

THE 4x4 mar­ket just keeps on grow­ing — and so does the range of ve­hi­cles that qual­ify as 4x4s.

From large, proper off-road­ers to ‘cross­over’ sa­loons, to com­pact 4x4s, the choice can ap­pear end­less th­ese days.

It can seem strange, but it is of­ten the very fea­tures that 4x4s evolved to help them out of muddy tracks that have en­deared them to fam­ily buy­ers in our towns and ci­ties.

Par­tic­u­larly ap­peal­ing are the high driv­ing po­si­tion, loads of in­te­rior space and in­ge­nious cubby holes, and other de­sign fea­tures that make them so very us­able. There is ba­si­cally a 4x4 to suit ev­ery­one th­ese days — whether that be new, ap­proved or used.

That’s not to say that 4x4s have had an en­tirely free ride. Par­tic­u­larly in the early days of their pop­u­lar­ity, they were mocked as gi­ant gas-guz­zlers eat­ing up the planet.

Much of this was based around size, whether it’s in terms of the ac­tual size or en­gine ca­pac­ity.

Like much of pol­i­tics, there was a grain of truth in the crit­i­cism, but it didn’t re­flect the com­pli­cated re­al­ity of the sec­tor.

If you want a huge off-roader with pa­thetic ur­ban fuel econ­omy, it is pos­si­ble to get one, but most peo­ple don’t. And that’s why the ma­jor­ity of 4x4s sold are from the com­pact sec­tor.

Th­ese ‘soft-road­ers’ typ­i­cally takeup no more space on the road than the av­er­age fam­ily saloon and have mod­est en­gines.

Most — but not all — are more com­fort­able on tar­mac than they are with any se­ri­ous mud-plug­ging, but gen­er­ally they do have at least some

off-road abil­ity, par­tic­u­larly if they are four-wheel drive rather than 2WD.

Big play­ers in this sec­tor in­clude Nis­san’s X-trail, Honda’s CR-V and Land Rover’s Free­lander, with Subaru’s Forester be­ing a pop­u­lar choice for those that like to tow car­a­vans.

Many 4x4 en­thu­si­asts of a more prac­ti­cal na­ture have started to con­sider pop­u­lar 4x4 pickup mod­els like the Mit­subishi L200 and the Isuzu Rodeo. Th­ese are tougher, with their roots in the more manly end of the genre.

Fam­ily 4x4s like the Hyundai Santa Fe are big­ger and more ex­pen­sive than their com­pact coun­ter­parts. Many fea­ture an ad­di­tional row of seat­ing in the rear, boost­ing ca­pac­ity to as many as seven per­sons. In­creas­ingly, they also in­cor­po­rate Mpv-style seat­ing sys­tems, where the in­di­vid­ual chairs slide, fold or lift out al­to­gether to give greater flex­i­bil­ity to the cabin space. Leg room in the mid­dle row tends to be quite ad­e­quate, but the rear seat­ing in most mod­els is best re­served for smaller chil­dren.

The lux­ury 4x4 sec­tor is pop­u­lated by ve­hi­cles which at­tempt to bring the re­fine­ment and lofty spec­i­fi­ca­tions of high-end saloon cars such as crafted leather to the 4x4 mar­ket.

Lead­ing play­ers in­clude BMW’S X5, the Mercedes M- Class, the Range Rover, the Porsche Cayenne, Lexus GS450H, Audi Q7 and the Volk­swa­gen Touareg.

The lat­est mem­ber of this sec­tor is the Sports Util­ity Ve­hi­cle or — as they have come to be known — SUVS. Th­ese ve­hi­cles, as their name would sug­gest, of­fer a more sport­ing flavour in their de­sign and per­for­mance than the stan­dard 4x4 and are epit­o­mised by mod­els like the Ford Kuga, Nis­san Juke, Nis­san Qashqai, Suzuki SX4 and the up­mar­ket Range Rover Evoque.

Six of the best:

From large lux­ury ve­hi­cles to sporty com­pacts, the choice is al­most end­less for 4x4 driv­ers th­ese days. There are of course some se­ri­ous mud-plug­gers, but most mod­ern 4x4s are more com­fort­able on the road. Resid­ual val­ues hold up well, so 4x4s make a great sec­ond hand op­tion as well.

Here’s a list of some of our favourites (all prices ap­prox­i­mate and for new mod­els): 1. SUBARU FORESTER: Subaru’s doughty Forester has been around for a while, and is un­doubt­edly a proper off-roader. If you need some­thing roomy, rugged, re­li­able and to use as a good tower, look no fur­ther. The Forester has had a loyal band of fol­low­ers for many years now. Prices range from £24k to £30k.

2. ISUZU D-MAX: If a mod­ern, life­style pick-up is your re­quire­ment, the Isuzu D-max, in­tro­duced in 2013, is a great choice. It comes in a range of choices, in­clud­ing a util­ity truck and lux­u­ri­ous dou­ble-cab ver­sions that will suit the fam­ily at the week­end. The price range is good, too: £14k-£20k. Plus, there’s a five-year war­ranty.

3. NIS­SAN X-TRAIL: The old X-trail’s rather boxy de­sign never struck a chord with me, but Nis­san has now re­paired this rather ob­vi­ous gap in its line-up with a stylish makeover of the X-trail. The new model is a great leap for­ward, fea­tur­ing ex­cel­lent build qual­ity, great looks and a mod­ern de­sign. Price range: £25k-£31k.

4. HYUNDAI SANTA FE: Korean brands like Hyundai and Kia are light years away from where they were when they first en­tered the Euro­pean mar­ket as value com­peti­tors. Now they are build­ing so­phis­ti­cated and stylish cars in­clud­ing the Santa Fe, a very well ap­pointed large 4x4 which is bet­ter styled and kit­ted out than its pre­de­ces­sor and which fea­tures a very tasty 2.2-litre diesel en­gine choice. Price range: £26k-£35k. 5. FORD KUGA: The sec­ond gen­er­a­tion Kuga is big­ger, smarter and bet­ter. It’s also got clever tech­nol­ogy and is per­fect for familes, hav­ing been packed with kit and clever ad­di­tions. Women in par­tic­u­lar love the re­mote en­try and start, which means that the keys never need to leave your hand­bag. Price range: £20k-£29k.

6. NIS­SAN QASHQAI: This is the ve­hi­cle that in­vented the ‘cross­over’ seg­ment, where 4x4s meet fam­ily sa­loons. The all-new gen­er­a­tion car is out now and is sleeker, bet­ter ap­por­tioned and more ef­fi­cient than ever be­fore. Nis­san has made the de­ci­sion to drop the seven-seater Qashqai +2, but over­all this is an even bet­ter car than its pre­de­ces­sor. Price range: £16k-£27k.

NIS­SAN QASHQAI

FORD KUGA

SUBARU FORESTER

NIS­SAN X-TRAIL

HYUNDAI SANTA FE

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