OFF-ROAD HEAVEN: THE 4x4 MAR­KET KEEPS ON GET­TING BIG­GER AND BET­TER

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

THE 4x4 seg­ment just keeps on grow­ing – and so does the range and qual­ity of ve­hi­cles that qual­ify as 4x4s, or SUVS as many peo­ple call them.

From large, proper off-road­ers to ‘cross­over’ sa­loons to com­pact SUVS (Sports Util­ity Ve­hi­cle), there is al­most lit­er­ally a car to suit ev­ery­one these days: whether that be new, ap­proved or used.

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 is the high driv­ing po­si­tion, loads of in­te­rior space and in­ge­nious cubby holes, and other de­sign fea­tures that make them very us­able.

Then, for the ones with proper grunt, there’s also the added ben­e­fits of large tow­ing ca­pac­i­ties, and sig­nif­i­cant off- road abil­i­ties.

There has been sig­nif­i­cant evo­lu­tion in the so­phis­ti­ca­tion of this mar­ket. Once, for ex­am­ple, fuel econ­omy was fairly far down the list of man­u­fac­tur­ers’ pri­or­i­ties.

How­ever, these days, mpg and emis­sions are never far from mind, and con­se­quently 4x4s are much cheaper to run these days.

Back in the day, the 4x4 seg­ment was dom­i­nated by lum­ber­ing gi­ants – the Range Rovers, Toy­ota

Land Cruisers and Mit­subishi Shoguns of this world.

And while they are still stan­dard bear­ers of the genre, the mar­ket has grown sig­nif­i­cantly more com­plex since. Not only has it headed down­wards in terms of size – it even goes right down to smaller crossovers like the Fiat Panda Cross.

But there’s been an ex­plo­sion in terms of the num­bers of mid-sized cars, and at the top end, too, since BMW’S X5 blazed its trail.

For in­stance, Porsche now makes two SUVS – the Cayenne and its lit­tle sis­ter, the Ma­can– and even man­u­fac­tur­ers who once shunned the sec­tor un­til re­cently have now piled in: in­clud­ing Bent­ley, Maserati and Jaguar.

It’s worth noth­ing that many 4x4s or SUVS are more com­fort­able on tar­mac than with any se­ri­ous mud-plug­ging, but gen­er­ally they do have at least some off-road abil­ity par­tic­u­larly if they are four-wheel or all-wheel drive rather than 2WD.

Big play­ers in this sec­tor in­clude Nis­san’s X-trail, Honda’s CR-V and Land Rover’s Free­lander. SEAT and Skoda have made de­ter­mined plays into the mar­ket of late, too, with the Ateca and Ko­diaq.

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.

Many 4X4/SUV mod­els have stretched to ac­com­mo­date seven pas­sen­gers. 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. Legroom in the mid­dle row tends to be quite ad­e­quate but the rear seat­ing in most mod­els is best re­served for smaller chil­dren.

So com­fort­able have many pick-up trucks be­come that they are now start­ing to nes­tle in the 4x4 sec­tor.

SIX OF THE BEST

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 pur­chase as well.

Here’s a quick run­down of some of our favourites. The list is not ex­haus­tive as there is so much choice these days and other man­u­fac­tur­ers also build great ve­hi­cles.

As al­ways, the best ad­vice is to shop around for what suits you and your life­style:

4x4 ac­tion: Subaru Forester

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