The Westcountry may be 4x4 country but how many of us really know how to drive properly and get the most of them once we leave dry tarmac?
It is easy to forget many drivers of these capable cars do little more than a daily commute, local shop or school run in them and the closest most get to going off road is bumping over the kerb outside the school gates, let alone trying to tackle floods, ice and snow when autumn and winter arrive.
So Vospers recently gave some customers an opportunity to really put some 4x4s to the ultimate test with an off road driving day at Newnham Park, Plymouth.
Nick Agg-Manning of Outdoor Adventure Consultants, and his team, woke up in the morning rubbing their hands together, while the rest of us were simply wishing we could just close the curtains and go back to bed. The rain had been lashing against my windows all night and the forecast for the day was for more heavy rain, perfect conditions for off roading.
Vospers supplied a selection of 4x4s, ranging from the Jeep Wrangler, down to the basic Fiat Panda 4x4, with family favourites, Ford Kuga and Mazda CX-5 in the middle.
First up was the Jeep Cherokee, with all the electronic wizardry you would expect on a Range Rover. With settings for snow, sand, rocks, mud, hill descent and the option of a low range gearing, for those steep inclines.
Nick was on hand in the passenger seat to talk through each setting when needed. As we approached the first steep incline, Nick asked me to stop, and select low range and hill descent, with a puzzled look on my face, “Hill decent on, I thought we were going up the hill, not down”.
“We put hill decent on just in case we get stuck half way up, and have to come back down, it’s one less thing to think about” said Nick.
So off I went up the incline like I was driving up Telegraph Hill on the A38, albeit a bit slower. The Jeep didn’t even break sweat, and this was with standard road tyres. Then I had my first experience of hill descent. “Just point the car down the hill and take your feet off all the pedals, all you have to do is keep it in a straight line” said Nick. It’s all very alien especially as when you first go over it takes what seems like 2 or 3 seconds before the system kicks in, my right foot did make a move to the brake pedal. In technology we trust, and I must say it worked a treat, the car descended the hill the same way in went up it, without a fuss.
Next up was the Ford Kuga, all this car had to help was Intelligent All-Wheel Drive (AWD), and Ford’s Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), no hill descent control, low range gearing or multiple setting for the AWD. Just AWD and an auto gearbox with the option just put it in sport mode, which lets you manually select a gear.
As we faced the same steep incline the Jeep cruised up like it wasn’t there, with its settings for every condition, all we had in the Kuga was AWD and ESP. Again we stopped at the bottom and Nick instructing me to put it in sport and select 2nd gear, the only difference to the Jeep was we had to avoid a few of the bigger ruts as the ground clearance wasn’t as good, but apart from that it didn’t miss a beat, again on standard road tyres.
Now for the return journey, back down the very muddy and ice like mud hill, without hill descent, this is going to be a bit tricky I thought. But Nick knew his stuff, telling me to keep it in second and just cover the brake pedal this time, and let the engine braking control the decent, and once again we arrived at the bottom right side.
Nick and his team off instructors were great and really showed me what these cars are capable of. I was really amazed at how capable they were, especially as they were fitted with road tyres and didn’t even show any signs of getting stuck. And yes even the humble Fiat Panda could make it up and down the hill, without a fuss.
So the next time the snow comes and I’m stuck at the bottom of a slight hill in my front wheel drive car, going nowhere fast, I’ll wish I had a 4x4.